Date:Tuesday April 21 2009
Monday 20th April 2009 @7:45pm KO
The importance of winning our game last night against high-flying automatic promotion chasing, Sheffield United was plain for all to see setting up a nervy encounter for all Clarets fans. Swansea and Preston had somehow reduced our seven point cushion to a mere one point and with Burnley sitting in 6th place, the last play-offs spot was still up for grabs with the Swans now breathing down our neck in 7th with local rivals Preston in 8th place.
It was therefore vital to get all three points in a game that Owen Coyle himself described as 'our cup final`
Everything seemed to be stacked against us. If we won this would be our first double over Sheffield United for 88 years after winning 3-2 earlier in the season in a pulsating game at Bramall Lane (the first time we had won there since the 1970s!)
Sheffield United had not lost away this season since October having set up a club record of 15 consecutive away games without a loss and even worse the Blades had not conceded a goal in 4 of their last 5 games. They were pressing for an automatic promotion spot being only 4 points behind second place Birmingham with a game in hand until the match last night.
It all looked positive for the Blades, whereas the Clarets had just lost their first match in 8 league games against Cardiff at Ninian Park on Easter Monday and local rivals Preston last Saturday then thumped the Bluebirds 6-0 at home to ensure our goal advantage over them also evaporated. News had also broke that we could have a number of injury concerns for the Wars of the Roses game with only 12 fit men being able to train in midweek.
If that wasn`t bad enough this would be our 56th game of the season, one of the highest number of games a side had played in Europe and as many as Manchester United! We therefore had to win with one of the smallest squads in the Championship with stamina and injuries now becoming a major issue. Just for good measure, Sky Cameras were also there, not a good omen this season having lost most of the televised games and oh yes, the referee was Graham Laws!
So then things looked so bleak we were bound to win and we did 1-0 in a nervy pulsating game. A well-taken headed goal from Martin Paterson on 23 minutes was enough to take all three points. You have to be proud of the lads after this performance, we looked good on the attack and our defence soaked up all the pressure the Blades strike force could muster.
This victory now ensures we will be in the play-offs if we win just one of our two remaining games either at Southampton this Saturday or our last game against Bristol City on Sunday 3rd May. We have now opened up a four point gap over Swansea and Preston who now have to travel to Sheffield United and Birmingham respectively this Saturday with both home sides desperate to win to maintain their chances of automatic promotion. The Clarets also leap-frogged Reading to sit in 5th place one point ahead of the Royals but having played one game more. That could change tonight unless Reading lose away to Derby County.
Things are looking good and a victory at St Mary`s this Saturday will be enough to reach the play-offs for the first time in the Championship.
Clarets fans had been worried about the injury situation before last night`s match but in the end it was not as bad as first feared. It looks as though some of the psychology may have paid off when it was revealed that leading goal scorer, Martin Paterson was fit enough to play following an hamstring injury that had kept him sidelined in the last match against Cardiff. Steven Thompson though was still suffering from his ankle ligament injury and failed once more to make the sixteen. He has not played now since March after he picked up the injury in the 5-0 thumping of Nottingham Forest.
Paterson was the only change to the starting eleven that faced Cardiff with Jay Rodriguez having to make way by returning to the bench.
The Clarets therefore lined up as follows:
Jensen, Williams, Caldwell, Carlisle, Kalvenes, Alexander, Eagles, McCann, Elliott, Blake, Paterson
Subs: Penny, Duff, Gudjonsson, McDonald, Rodriguez.
If Owen Coyle was trying some selection psychology for the Clarets, with Paterson being announced as fit only late in the day, then it looks like Blades manager, Kevin Blackwell was also up to similar tricks after a major doubt for this game, defender Matthew Kilgallon also made a miraculous recovery from injury (knee) to be named in the Blades starting eleven along with another doubt, Stephen Quinn (back)
Infamous Tyne & Wear referee, Graham Laws got the game underway on a mild, warm night in Burnley in front of 14,884 fans (not a bad crowd considering this was a midweek televised game)
The Clarets were the first to impress in front of the cameras after just three minutes of play when Elliott weaved through the Blades defence to shoot left-footed on target only to see the ball hit the crossbar.
Sheffield United responded a minute later and Jensen had to tip the ball over the bar. The Beast then turned a free kick from Greg Halford round the post on 14 minutes in a short spell of pressure from the Blades.
On 23 minutes though, it was the Clarets who got that vitally important breakthrough after Rhys Williams put over a sweet cross to find Paterson who got in a perfect header to beat Kenny. That was Pato`s 18th goal of the season but more importantly his first in 14 games which should be a great psychological boost to the front man as we enter the final countdown.
It has to be said that Sheffield United looked to be quite a hard, basic side with little finesse and there seemed to be a number of Blades fouls that seemed to go unpunished, none more so than a blatant stamp by Halford on Robbie Blake after 32 minutes. The Sky cameras clearly showed the disgraceful spectacle and Blake was obviously incensed but the referee chose to simply have a word with both players.
Kalvenes came to the rescue with a superb sliding tackle after 41 minutes despite protests for handball by Craig Beattie. Henderson came close from the resulting corner, letting loose a volley at the far post but thankfully it hit Caldwell`s shoulder to go over.
So 1-0 Clarets at half-time with both sides making no changes for the start of the second half. This time it was the Blades who started the half brighter desperate to get their automatic promotion hopes back on track via an equaliser.
On 48 minutes though, Elliott nearly dashed those hopes getting a shot on target that could have beaten Kenny had it not got a deflection with the ball finishing up in the Blades` keeper`s hands.
A minute later, Halford from a Quinn free kick-kick got in a powerful header on target but Carlisle came to the rescue stretching to head over.
A superb bit of magic from Blake then followed as he weaved into the 18 yard box leaving defenders in his wake before pulling the ball back for Chris McCann to shoot on target and bring out a top class save from Kenny.
McCann on the break then fed Blake who shot powerfully on the edge of the box, but again the Clarets were denied by Kenny who managed to safely hold onto the ball.
On 79 minutes, Paterson got the ball in the net again after McCann had crossed. McCann though had been adjudged to run the ball out of play before crossing.
Clarets fans were now getting more and more nervy as the Blades seemed to be getting more and more possession although to be honest the attacks seemed to be more 'hoof and hope` long balls into the penalty area ably covered by the back four, most notably Carlisle.
Owen Coyle decided to freshen things up with Gudjonsson replacing Blake after 80 minutes and then six minutes later bringing on Rodriguez for Paterson after Pato had run his socks off all night in characteristic fashion.
A linesman flag settled the nerves for the Clarets with five minutes to play after substitute Arturo Lupoli looked certain to score. Thankfully he hit the post anyway before Clarets fans also realised he was found to be offside.
More nerve jangling time for Clarets fans came when it was announced there would be a ridiculous five minutes of added time in a game where no player had been booked in either half and where the magic sponge had not made an appearance.
We needn`t have worried though, the match came to an end with no real further incident and the relief when the final whistle went was converted into a huge roar of approval for this great performance by the Clarets we had just witnessed . The importance of these three points cannot be underestimated and this victory well and truly get`s our play-off hopes back on track. So many times in the past we would have bottled these important games but there is something about the fight and resolve in our team this season which surely has to be rewarded.
Burnley: Jensen, Williams, Carlisle, Caldwell, Kalvenes, Elliott, Alexander, McCann, Eagles, Paterson (Rodriguez 86), Blake (Gudjonsson 80).
Subs Not Used: Penny, Duff, McDonald.
Goals: Paterson 23.
Sheff Utd: Kenny, Naughton, Morgan, Kilgallon, Naysmith (Ward 16), Halford, Montgomery, O'Toole, Stephen Quinn (Hendrie 70), Beattie (Lupoli 76), Henderson.
Subs Not Used: Webber, Bromby.
Ref: Graham Laws (Tyne & Wear).
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Date:Tuesday April 21 2009
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