Burney have signed David Nugent said SKY News on September 1st. Burnley have signed David Nugent, said the Claretsmad website. Burnley have signed David Nugent, said the official club website. Probably all of us sat and stared at this totally unexpected news, when it came right out of the blue at just before 5 o clock as the transfer window was about to close.
I seem to remember that Burnley could have signed him some years ago when he was at Bury and scoring for fun. Either Cotterill had the chance but dithered because he didn’t rate him, so one story went… or he wanted him but the directors couldn’t come up with the money was the other story. Anyway Preston snapped him up where he continued his form to such a degree that he was awarded an England cap, and by then regarded as a real rising star, was signed by Portsmouth.
Alas our ‘Arry who had signed him soon tired of him and decided he could go for £6million if I remember rightly, but there were no takers, his confidence declined by the minute as his chances of first team action got less and less, and he became simply a bit part player. One minute he was hot property and within months almost a has-been, a forgotten man, and still only 24 years old.
And so to Burnley, presumably as much the result of Portsmouth being in deep financial trouble as anything else, and needing desperately to trim costs and playing staff. At the very last minute in stepped Owen Coyle. Reaction was mixed of course among Burnley support. Against us in the past he had always had an arrogant, conceited streak, and sadly a bit of a nasty side to him, remembered one group. Others, however, said immediately what a great signing this was and if anyone could get the best out of him again it would be Owen Coyle.
Watching the final day and hours of the transfer window was great fun on SKY News. They must have training days there devoted to how to make utter boredom sound exciting. There was absolutely nothing big happening, no massive deals impending, no touch and go drama of any kind. But somehow those presenters had a ball. They even dangled the carrot of a mystery Man City deal of something, somebody, involving a fee of £100million. Of course there was no such deal, nor was one ever likely, but they kept plugging away and harping on about it. My theory is that some producer somewhere had said to them: “Hey lads there’s bugger all happening today, for God’s sake spice it up, viewers are switching off, just make it up as you go along.”
Around the nation at various grounds, motorway service stations and training grounds, reporters were stationed, mikes in hand, ready to report. Trouble is there was nothing to report. But still they rabbited on, “stay with us” they kept telling us “the clock is ticking, something may yet happen.” It didn’t.
Except Burnley signed David Nugent from Portsmouth with just minutes to spare in what really probably was the surprise deal of the day. It sure took Burnley supporters by surprise. We, by then, had been brainwashed into believing that Daniel Cousin was coming from Hull. The gates to Fratton Park was where reporters were indeed hanging about, expecting David James to be spirited away by our ‘Arry to Tottenham. That didn’t happen. They had to make do with an interview with the back of ‘Arry’s ‘ead as he zoomed away from Tottenham in his car.
The international break gave us a respite from the tension of transfer window final day, and more importantly a break from the tension of actually playing games. Mental images of Chelsea slicing through us were still dancing round in my head. Next up was an easier game. It was only Liverpool away at Anfield.
Anfield: the name holds nostalgic memories for me. From ’63 to ’66, I was at college in Ormskirk. Having done ‘A’ level geography in the sixth form I knew that Ormskirk was on the Lancashire coast near Southport and I went there expecting to have a good time and sow a few wild oats. Except it wasn’t a lively seaside town. So much for my ‘A’ level geography skills; it was a sleepy little market town several miles inland, surrounded by cabbage fields, the smell of which permeated every corner of the college grounds. And, there wasn’t an oat to be seen.
Never mind, we made the best of it, and one of the perks was going to Anfield to watch Liverpool on several weekends in the days of Ian St John, Roger Hunt, Tony Hateley, Peter Thompson and Ian Callaghan et al, plus the goalkeeper, Lawrence, whose nickname was The Flying Pig.
The Liverpool game of September 12th was therefore on the list of must-see games seeing as the last time I was there was the mid-sixties when Shankly used to describe Burnley as “that village team.” Shankly always used to be famed for being the inventor of the ‘boot room’. But don’t you believe that. Harry Potts at Burnley invented it with Ray Bennion and Billy Dougal, where they’d sit and plan and talk about things, long before Shankly even thought of it.
Today it’s Mr Dullness, Professor Rafa Benitez, and to be honest I am amazed he is still there. Equally boring are the American owners, their alleged in-fighting, and will they or will they not build a new stadium. Who cares? All of us remember how the Dull One brought a second-string team to Burnley and was turfed out of the FA Cup 1 – 0 thanks to one of the most bizarre own goals ever seen. You can’t help thinking that Liverpool should be a team of glossy swagger and panache led by a Mourhino. Instead they seem to cough and splutter and take away Gerrard and Torres and swagger has been in very short supply so far this season. Nevertheless there’s still an aura about the place and the very name Anfield still brings goosebumps. As the coaches approached and the streets filled with red, the butterflies began.
This was for sure a game that no-one expected to win although memories of that famed 1 – 0 win in the seventies when Ian Brennan scored with a 30 yard piledriver, did make one or two of us wonder if it might just be repeated. Paul Fletcher still tells the tale at his after-dinner performances. Manager Adamson had given each of them specific defensive duties and after he had spoken to them all one by one in the week, at last he came to Peter Noble who would be the one-man strike force.
“And you Peter,” he said, “will be the Lone Ranger.” Fletcher sent him a telegram: “Best of luck – Tonto.”
The game went to plan, every man defended as if it were the Alamo. Alan Stephenson had a world class game and made save after save – and then at last Ian Brennan broke loose and smashed home a thirty-yard screamer. This was grand larceny, Burnley stole the points and Liverpool players and fans shook their heads in disbelief. Who is to say we cannot do the same I wondered, as we filed in through the turnstiles.
For this game manager Coyle elected to put out the first team, the club being in a position where it could field a second-string team with enough quality, experience and flair to probably play comfortably at Championship level. It (Duff, Edgar, Eckersley, Rodiguez, Eagles, Nugent, Guerrero, Gudjonnson, McDonald, Thompson, Easton and Penny) comfortably disposed of Accrington Stanley 4 – 0 in a hastily arranged friendly designed to raise funds for the financially stricken neighbours from just down the road. I read through that line-up several times, looked at the names and all of them were a far cry from the impoverished, austere later days of Stan Ternent and then Steve Cotterill, when money was always too tight to mention, and on some days there were hardly enough players to fill the subs bench. It would perform more than comfortably in the Championship.
For Liverpool, clearly the senior team was needed even though His Eminence, the Venerable Owen had raved about the exciting performances of several of what we might now call our spare team. (I still don’t believe this is all happening, I remember the Orient game – pinch me someone.)
The senior team at Anfield, as it happened, did not do very well. For the first 30 minutes or so it was pretty even stuff but then Burnley sort of allowed Benayoun to dance/waltz/tango his way through the middle to slot the ball home. It came out of nothing but suddenly there he was, salsad his way though and to everyone’s surprise scored, for until this point no side had really looked like scoring even though attacking football had been plentiful from both sides. A rick by Jensen then allowed them to score a second and with the manager unable to see that his preferred formation and tactics were all over the place, with Fletcher a sort of extra right side midfieldcumfullback, the game was as good as lost.
Despite talk of attacking football and attacking with exciting wingers, the away tactics seem to be essentially defensive. Since when has 4 – 5 – 1 been an attacking formation? Wide right of the middle five was Fletcher (a centre forward) and wide left was Blake. Poor displays by all but the back four, with Blake rarely getting forward, McCann anonymous, Alexander creaking, Elliot woeful, Paterson unsupported, and Fletcher ineffective; surely warranted obvious halftime changes to get us back in the game. None came. And that was the disappointment.
Eventually, too late, Eagles and Nugent did come on but somehow from others there was no fight no heart, the ball frequently given away cheaply. Liverpool scored again. Surely we would see McDonald or Guerrero we thought. But no, on came the defensive Gudjonnson, and at 3 – 0 down the logic of that was hard to fathom. It made no difference and a tame second half display ended with a Liverpool fourth.
Somehow the manner of this defeat was totally different to that at Chelsea when we met an outstanding team who put on an outstanding, unstoppable display. Nobody minded losing there. I came away from Anfield thinking that this one at Liverpool needn’t have been a four goal hiding. Some back-to-the-drawing-board thinking was needed at half time. The Fletcher tactic was not working. The Paterson lone forward role was not working. Other players were just not performing.
Only one thing brightened the day and that was the support from 3,000 supporters on a warm sunny day. Before the game the two sets of supporters mingled without trouble on the way into the ground. After the game squashed together like sardines in the narrow lane, there was not one ounce of bother. Inside the ground however what was once an awesome, terrifying place to opposition teams and their supporters was for most of the game more like a silent library. Where was the famed Kop singing and chanting and endless noise? It was non existent. 3,000 Burnley fans outsang and outchanted 40,000 Liverpool fans.
Six points in the bank and October has three home games to come against far easier opposition. If the away tactics we have seen are to be the norm then it is hard to see us winning one single away game. Home wins are crucial then. Everybody is happy with the bonus points earned so far and the one consolation is that two away defeats have been to top four teams. Which of us expected any points from those two games? Which of us expected anything from the first five games? Trouble is, we’re chanting that like some kind of invocation.
Neverthless: Don’t panic Captain Mainwaring.
Dave Thomas September 12, 2009