Honey We’re Home
Burnley 1 Crystal Palace 0
Hull City 0 Burnley 1
Burnley 0 Millwall 3
It was good to be back in little old homely Burnley after a week when Ashley Cole shot someone, Wayne Rooney blatantly elbowed someone on the back of the head, Kole Toure failed a drugs test and Craig Ballamy was cautioned for smacking someone at 3 am in the morning… role models huh. Caligula was more civilised.
Anyway, back to more important things, Burnley, where the nearest thing to scandal was the player who legged it to the pub at halftime last year, and a few years ago reports of a player found having rumpy pumpy in a cupboard at the club one morning; and although there have been occasions when players have walloped each other in the heat of the moment, in all my years as a Burnley supporter I cannot remember anyone shooting anyone. Stan in his biog did say he had poked someone in an adjacent car through the window with his crutch whilst they drove up the motorway at high speed. But that wasn’t really football related.
The striker injury problem was the big talking point in the run up to the Palace game; Thompson unlikely to play before the season’s end, Wes Fletcher out with a bad ankle, Paterson out for the season, and Austin out for the season with a dislocated shoulder. That left just Iwelumo and Rodriguez unless you included Alex MacDonald who was out on loan. I was like a few other folk thinking, why not give Bikey a go. By God he’d put the wind up a few defenders. I drew the line at getting Ade back on loan much as I love him.
It was all to play for as the Palace game kicked off on a damp, cold day with yet another of those leaden skies that make you want to get on a plane to the sunshine somewhere. But by the end of the game there was a clean sheet, three points; a wonder strike from Rodriguez in the second minute that had the crowd on its feet mouths wide open, and a first 45 minutes of superb football that sliced Palace open time and again. Only poor finishing, headers without any power, shots without any direction kept the score to the single goal. True it resembled a pre-season practice game every now and then but all of us were convinced that more goals would come.
And then came the second 45 minutes and left us wondering just how a half time break can alter things so much. Only once did Palace come close to scoring when Grant pulled off a stunning save but Burnley almost vanished from the game in the second half. Wallace and Marney who had had a terrific first half faded. Nothing came off for Eagles. Iwelumo was taken off. Relief came with the final whistle and a puzzled crowd drifted home delighted at the number of sides above Burnley that had dropped points, pleased and relieved by the three points, but baffled at this Jekell and Hyde display; a first half of chalk, and a second half of cheese. Back at home, Moroccan Lamb with crispy dumplings soon cheered things up.
Sunday was notable for two things; the wonderful £16,000 that was raised for the Gary Parkinson Fighting Fund. Your heart goes out to this man and his family. I can remember his goal at Wembley as clear as day.
And then in the Liverpool v Man U game the tackle by Carragher on Nani. It was just atrocious. If he’d had a scalpel he couldn’t have sliced his leg open more neatly. It was a shocker. He wasn’t sent off. Rooney wasn’t sent off for the elbow in the Wigan game. Luiz did enough damage to be sent off twice in the Chelsea Man U game. He wasn’t. And then there was the infamous Celtic v Rangers Cup game when three were indeed sent off. The scenes in that game were X certificate. Football’s image suffered badly in late February and early March but thinking of Gary Parkinson and Dean Richards made you realise how insignificant it all is and left me thinking “am I bothered” about any of these grotesquely overpaid so called Prem superstars.
Certainly more important than Nani’s leg were the pancakes on the Tuesday we played Hull. We had little grandson round as well who the minute he comes in the door now says can I wear my Burnley shirt? (We keep his Burnley stuff here). He sleeps over every Tuesday and then on Wednesday mornings we go to the nearby caff and he eats a sausage roll while I read the papers and have a large bacon sandwich. It works well especially if we’ve won on a Tuesday night.
There were feelings of trepidation before the Hull game. The win over Palace had not been entirely convincing. And Hull were doggedly coming up the table having just beaten Nottingham Forest on their own patch. Manager Pearson was making them difficult to beat. With our depleted firing line, names of loan strikers had been bandied about – Kevin Philips, Robbie Blake indeed, even Robbie Fowler God forbid. Word was that something was in the offing but who? It turned out to be Nathan Delfouneso from Aston Villa, The Fonz, another England U21 player to add to the two already at Burnley; nice work. Thing is, is Nathan old enough to remember who the Fonz and Henry Winkler is.
And boy did The Fonz earn his stripes at Hull scoring in the 5th minute. Again we chose not to listen to Claretsworld; it’s less nerve-wracking watching Soccer Special though by the 90th minute I’d sunk right down into the settee, my head had sunk into my shoulders, and I was covering up my eyes. What a fantastic night it was though with defeats for three of the teams above. That made it just seven points behind 2nd place Swansea with two precious games in hand. Duff was acclaimed man of the match by many, Grant by others; the Hull official report particularly praised the Burnley back line. This was a fine win, Eddie said it was ugly, the fifth from six games, maybe a bit backs to the wall but with another clean sheet and only the third defeat for Hull in over 20 games. We looked at the tables after this win and saw the emerging possibility of automatic promotion and the December pessimism of the Laws era seemed a long, long time ago. After the Wembley season we looked back on certain games and saw them as pivotal, the away game at Blackpool for example. We wondered if the Hull game would have the same significance.
The morning after, little grandson and me wandered up to the café. A big fat bacon sandwich and the newspapers for me and a sausage roll for him. Of course the national papers were full of nothing but Barcelona v Arsenal and Van Persie’s ridiculous sending-off with only the briefest of mentions for Burnley; nothing new there then, so I got a Yorkshire Post and enjoyed the read. Good value for their slender lead it said. It made the coffee and bacon taste even better. Just sometimes there’s a feeling of all’s well with the world.
Alas, Millwall came along and spoiled the party. But truth is it seemed totally surreal to have any interest in any football match at all when half the world away in Japan the most horrendous catastrophe had happened and at least one nuclear plant was facing possible meltdown. The pictures that every newspaper featured showed a level of devastation that made anything else insignificant including Burnley 0 Millwall 3.
Anyway for the record: We lacked our usual spark said Eddie and Burnley were given a lesson in this trouncing and a trouncing it was. Millwall were fit, strong and big… and on top of that could play a bit as well. Everything went right for them. Nothing went right for Burnley including innumerable misplaced passes. Every possible Burnley limitation was exposed with several players having really poor games and Eagles struggling to play in a sort of ‘free’ role instead of being firmly anchored wide where he might do some damage. On top of all that, we seemed to be back to the days of huge, high, wellied goalkicks to central forwards who hadn’t a cat in hell’s chance of winning the headers and included in that is Iwelumo who for a big target man seems unable to jump. True he had the Millwall defenders round his neck with their arms; and the amount of holding that a lenient referee allowed was unbelievable. Then there was the tactic of the goalkeeper lumping goalkicks wide left half the time to poor old Rodriguez who then tries to head the ball on in the general direction of the opposition final third. On these occasions both Burnley and opposition all congregate by the touchline in a condensed bunch leaving the opposite side of the field like a prairie.
I long to see the day when suddenly a Burnley player peels off into this prairie and unmarked receives the ball from the goalkeeper whereupon he accelerates away to the astonishment of the opposition (and us) and slots the ball home. “F**k me,” their goalkeeper will say. “You’re not supposed to do that it’s not fair.”
Anyway: Burnley bit by bit succumbed to a Millwall side that sometimes looked like it had 14 players on the pitch. Everywhere Burnley went they were outnumbered. It was a day when it was hard to see how this side had won five out of the last six and got themselves back into contention with the Grauniad analysis seeing them as a good threat sneaking up on the quiet and Ken Bates too being wary of us. They were still in a good position despite this defeat.
If Delfouneso had done better with a header early on instead of hitting the bar, who knows what might have happened. But after that it was a sorry tale of shots way off target (12 out of 15) either going high over the bar or well wide. It was hard to remember one difficult save the Millwall keeper had to make. Millwall had just four attempts on target and three went in. It was their day whilst Burnley were just weak, wobbly, woeful and wasteful. This dismal display matched the drab grey weather.
It was a case of what might have been. Other results meant that had Burnley won they would have been just 4 points behind second place with two games in hand. It added to the huge frustration. There were clear boos at the end but surely these would have been for the referee not the team. No one can say he cost Burnley the game but how a player can jump for a header in the box when a 6’ 4” defender has hold of him round the waist or shoulders (and on one occasion quite clearly both) and the referee seems oblivious to this, was just infuriating. Twice there were howls for a penalty one of them totally justified. On top of that I lost count of the number of times that Burnley players got up rubbing the backs of their heads.
“On fire Clarets mount Premier charge” said the Burnley Express billboards as we drove down Brunshaw Hill before the game. They were still there as we drove back up the hill. It was a sombre drive home, but at least I had a home to go to that hadn’t been flattened, threatened by radiation, or was under ten feet of silt and mud. I was thankful for that.