The Day Burnley Reached the Championship Play-Offs
Sunday 3rd May 2009 @ 1:15pm KO
The Clarets have been trying for nine years to get a chance of promotion to the top flight and yesterday in the final fixture of the 2008/9 season they finally achieved it by thumping Bristol City 4-0 at Turf Moor. A superb Elliot strike sandwiched between two penalties by Alexander with Gudjonsson scoring a late goal left Clarets fans ecstatic after a nervy, tense build up to the game.
We knew we simply had to beat the Robins to be assured of a play-offs spot. Anything less and Preston could have robbed us of that play-offs position, starting the day in 7th place just two points behind the Clarets in 6th with a better goal-difference. In the end we had a comfortable win and the victory meant we finished the season in 5th spot on 76 points.
The day was dramatic for a number of Championship clubs, three clubs were fighting over the last automatic promotion spot to join Wolves who had already been crowned Champions. In the end it was Birmingham who would take 2nd spot after beating Reading 2-1 at the Madejski Stadium. The result meant Reading would miss out on automatic promotion finishing in 4th spot and in so doing would be our opponents in the play-offs semi final. We will now play the first leg at Turf Moor this Saturday (9th May 5:20pm KO)) followed by the second leg on Tuesday night (12th May 7:45pm KO). This is quite a good fixture for the Clarets. The Royals could be demoralised after losing out on automatic promotion on home soil and indeed Reading have not won now at the Madejski since January this year. A win by the Clarets at Turf Moor could be a good omen for the trip to Reading, no matter what the margin. Just to complete the picture, the other club with automatic promotion hopes, Sheffield United could only draw 0-0 away to Crystal Palace and so they had to be content with a play-offs spot in 3rd place. Two other clubs of course were in with a chance of the play-offs and it was Cardiff who would lose out after being defeated 1-0 away to Sheffield Wednesday. The Welsh side must be gutted after Preston beat QPR 2-1 at Deepdale to rob them of the final 6th place. Cardiff finished in 7th place on the same number of points and same goal difference as the Lilywhites in 6th. Cardiff missed out by virtue of having scored a goal less than Preston which is rather ironic considering they recently got thumped 6-0 by Preston! So our local rivals join us in the play-offs and will now play Sheffield United at home on Friday 8th May followed by the return match at Bramall Lane on Monday 11th May. Of course, all Clarets fans are wondering if we could be facing our local rivals in the Wembley final now that would be a tense, nervy affair!
That though is all speculation but at least our dream of Premier League nirvana is still alive. All we have to do is beat Reading on aggregate and win one more game at Wembley to be in the top flight for the first time since 1976. Simples!!
Let`s get back to reality for the moment though. The town of Burnley was buzzing in the bars, clubs and restaurants after yesterday`s play-offs clincher and at one point the whole of the centre of town seemed to be singing Owen Coyle, da, da, da, da!! What a day it was and what a relief after all the nervous tension and horrible permutations going through the minds of all Clarets fans for at least the last seven days.
That tension of course had continued right up to kick-off with squeaky bums being heard all around town in all the pubs and was that a green smelly cloud hovering over Turf Moor? Whatever it was all Clarets fans were latching on to one hope and one thought. The hope was of course we won and the thought was surely Bristol City had nothing to play for but pride. Our fate was in our own hands, and to be honest if we couldn`t withstand the pressure and get those three points, then perhaps we didn`t deserve to be in the play-offs anyway. But the thought of being pipped to the post by Preston just wouldn`t go away!
If we were going through nervous hell what were the players going through as they marched out onto the pitch? We would soon find out but first what team had Coyle selected?
The first bit of good news was that Eagles was fit enough to start after recovering from the illness that had led to him being substituted after the first half in our last match away to Southampton and the second bit of good news was that Steven Thompson was fit enough to be named on the bench after being sidelined with an ankle ligament injury for the last seven games.
We therefore had a similar 16 as the Saints game with the only change being Thompson replacing Duff on the bench.
The Clarets therefore lined up as follows:
Jensen, Williams, Carlisle, Caldwell, Kalvenes, Elliott, Alexander, McCann, Eagles, Paterson, Blake.
Subs: Penny, Gudjonsson, McDonald, Thompson, Rodriguez.
Northumberland referee Clive Oliver got the game underway on a sunny but showery day at a packed Turf Moor and it was the Clarets first out of the blocks in an impressive opening spell that dispelled the notion of any match day nerves.
With the sell-out Clarets crowd shouting from the rafters, we had a corner after just 20 seconds of play. Blake took the corner and Carlisle was just inches away with an header over the bar.
Chris McCann then got on the end of an Elliott cross from the right but he could only head straight at the Robins keeper, Adriano Basso. Just five minutes on the clock and the Clarets pressure continued in this exciting early spell. Chris Eagles stormed through Bristol City`s defence like butter only for McCann to put his shot wide.
In the eighth minute we had our best chance yet to open the scoring. Elliott after a run down the right threaded a sweet ball to Eagles. He let rip with a first-time shot but in despair saw the ball hit the underside of the crossbar with Basso well-beaten.
Being typical Clarets fans, our minds then started to play tricks. Would it not now be typical after all this pressure and missed opportunities so early in the game that the Robins would now go down the other end and score? Well they had their first real attempt after 15 minutes which began to strengthen those beliefs. A shot by Iriekpen was wide of the post after the ball flew past Jensen.
However the Clarets still kept up the pressure and a Blake free kick from the right on 22 minutes just failed to get any contact with Elliott close to getting in a header.
News had filtered down to the anxious Clarets fans that Preston were now 1-0 up with eight minutes of the half remaining, so now the nerves were jangling even more.
In the 40th minute though, the deadlock was finally broken after the Clarets took the lead from a penalty. Elliott had charged into the box only to be fouled by McAllister. The nudge was enough for the referee to have no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot so up-stepped penalty king, Graham Alexander to take the kick with his normal coolness. This time he belted the ball into the top corner to score.
Finally the Clarets fans nerves could settle a little and before long we could almost relax as we doubled our lead.
On 44 minutes Caldwell found Elliott twenty yards out and the pacy midfielder let rip. As the ball headed towards goal though a melee of players, it took a deflection and sailed over the line to put the Clarets 2-0 up at half-time. The lead was well-deserved and maybe, just maybe we could dare to dream once again!
No changes by either side as the second-half got underway and again it was the Clarets who began to dominate play with Elliott in particular causing all sorts of problems for the Robins defence.
In the 53rd minute, a typical mazy run by Wado from 40 yards out led to a shot that Basso easily saved but before long Elliott looked to have picked up an injury and he was replaced by Gudjonsson after 57 minutes. Elliott headed straight for the tunnel for treatment but hopefully he will be fit for the play-offs.
Four minutes later and we had another injury concern, earlier in the game Carlisle had been involved in a strong challenge that led to him limping and needing treatment. It was plain to see he hadn`t fully recovered and so was replaced by Kevin McDonald. At least Carlisle seemed to be walking without a limp when the lads did a lap of honour after the match.
However with no defender on the bench, some changes were needed to the back four after Carlisle limped off. For a short time, Williams slotted into central defence partnering Caldwell with Alexander dropping back into the right back role. Williams though looked a little shaky with Caldwell clearly giving our loan defender a few verbals. Bristol City then had a rare attempt on goal when former Clarets loan, Dele Adebola got in a header that was just wide of target.
Coyle decided he needed to tighten up the defence, so Chris McCann dropped back to central defence allowing Williams and Alexander to revert back to their starting roles.
Finally after 75 minutes, Clarets fans could relax once and for all when we were awarded another penalty. Bradley Orr, who looks set to leave Ashton Gate in the summer, became the villain after needlessly handling the ball in the area following an attempt by Eagles to pass the ball to Paterson.
Graham Alexander stepped up again to take the penalty and with ease scored his 10th goal of the season to ensure that the Clarets would be in the play-offs for the first time in nine long years in the Championship. We were not done just yet though.
First of all Clarets fans were delighted to see Steven Thompson come on from the bench after 77 minutes to play in his first game since injuring his ankle in the home match against Forest back in March.
With Clarets heads now swimming about reaching the play-offs, Gudjonsson added a little bit of icing to the cake making it 4-0 with four minutes to play. Basso saved well after a shot from Eagles but it fell to Gudjonsson who slotted home from close range to make it a superb day out for all Clarets fans.
In the end a convincing 4-0 win for the Clarets with Jensen having very little to do. Finally we could look forward though to featuring in the play offs but now all the nerves will return again as we plan the two games ahead against Reading.
Yes, the Day Burnley reached the Championship Play-Offs, let`s remember it well-Sunday 3rd May 2009!
Let`s hope we will soon be remembering another date, the day we played at Wembley and secured promotion to the Premier League. Come on You Clarets!
Burnley: Jensen, Williams, Carlisle (McDonald 61), Caldwell, Kalvenes, Elliott (Gudjonsson 57), Alexander, McCann, Eagles, Paterson (Thompson 77), Blake.
Subs Not Used: Penny, Rodriguez.
Goals: Alexander 42 pen, Elliott 44, Alexander 76 pen, Gudjonsson 86.
Bristol City: Basso, Orr, Fontaine, Skuse, McAllister (McCombe 80), Elliott, Johnson, McIndoe (Sproule 55), Iriekpen, Maynard (Williams 55), Adebola.
Subs Not Used: Henderson, Styvar.
Booked: McAllister, Elliott.
Ref: Clive Oliver (Northumberland)
We too will give him our Star Player award not just for the two crucial penalty goals but for once again showing grit and determination in the holding midfield role.