Dull Day, Dull Tactics, Dull Game. Dull Defeat
Saturday 20th November 2010 @3pm Kick-Off
Burnley were sent to Coventry yesterday knowing they had only won one league game in their last thirty away matches and indeed only three in thirty eight games. Our travelling Clarets fans desperate for some joy on the road though would once again come home empty handed with Coventry taking all three points in a 1-0 victory. The defeat also brought to an end our five match unbeaten run although to be honest on the road these results had been mainly frustrating draws.
It was cold, dull & foggy in the city of Coventry and the grimness of it all was transferred onto the pitch. This was a scrappy, dire game with few chances for either side. Burnley probably had the better of them but once again failed to make them count.
A solitary goal in the 57th minute scored by Coventry`s Michael Doyle against the run of play was enough to give the Sky Blues all three points and leave Clarets fans questioning Brian Laws tactics and team selection. Amidst frustrating chants from Clarets fans to move to 4-4-2, Brian Laws completely ignored their pleas stubbornly sticking with 4-5-1 even to the extent of bringing on Wallace and Thompson in the 68th minute but then taking off Iwelumo and Cork when a double pronged attack up front looked the obvious answer. Many Clarets fans in any case had already been questioning whether it was right to have had Wallace on the bench after his stunning super sub appearance in our last match at home to Watford. It seemed unfair by Laws to stifle Wallace`s enthusiasm when he had worked so hard to try and claim a starting eleven place in the last match after scoring a goal and putting over a cross that lead to a successful penalty kick.
The result saw Coventry leap frog the Clarets with Burnley dropping four places and out of the play-offs positions to 10th. It is not the end of the world considering we are still just one point off sixth but we continue to fail to play with any consistency and continue to fail to make any ground on the top two clubs fighting for automatic promotion. QPR beat Preston 3-1 yesterday to regain top spot after Cardiff went down at home 2-0 to Forest. We are now still ten points behind second-placed Cardiff but twelve behind the league leaders.
The manner of this defeat and the stubbornness of Brian Laws to change things around both before and during this match seem to have opened up some old wounds with many Clarets fans now once again openly criticising the gaffer with many feeling his days should be numbered and a replacement found. The reality is of course had we not reached the dizzy heights of the Premier League last season, 10th spot one point off the play-offs would have been applauded but our expectations are now higher. To some degree this is the fault of the Board who have spoon fed Clarets fans with the notion that we have gone down stronger and have sent out mixed messages about being debt-free whilst making a £14.4 million profit. You watch the games though and you find yourself asking whether we really have really improved significantly compared to the days of Cotterill and Coyle in the Championship with the inevitable answer being 'no`!
All this new found wealth seems to have led to nothing substantial on the pitch. Everybody`s expectations this season revolved around automatic promotion and that is increasingly looking like a distant dream now and we deserve better. It is easy to be critical of Brian Laws, but it was the Board who put him there based on an accountants report and it was the Board who instantly upset the vast majority of Clarets fans by appointing him when a higher-profile, more dynamic manager with proven success at least at Championship level and preferably Premier League was the expectation.
You now also find yourself contrasting our languishing situation in the Championship with the success down the road at the Reebok under our former manager, Owen Coyle. He took his side to 4th spot in the Premier League yesterday and although it is painful to admit, had we kept him on board at Turf Moor that could be us now. Did the Board try everything in their power to keep Coyle at Burnley FC both financially and in terms of releasing the dosh to bring in the players he wanted? They seemed hell-bent on not spending in the Premier League, refusing to even go into some modest debt and now we seem to be tasting the after effects of that frugality with Portsmouth only four points behind us in the Championship and our hopes of automatic promotion evaporating.
You reap what you sow and maybe not enough seeds were planted because at the moment it is difficult to see this club achieving its promotion ambitions at least this season. We just don`t seem to have enough consistency and under Laws you just wonder whether we ever will have. His team selection yesterday was bizarre. He named the same starting eleven and adopted the same formation as the Watford game. Hello wake-up call!! Those tactics failed for the first hour of last week`s game and it was only when Laws brought on a double-substitution after 68 minutes and moved to 4-4-2 that Burnley with the help of a stunning Ross Wallace got out of jail coming from 2-1 down to win 3-2.
Surely that gives a clue to what we should be doing so at the very least you would have expected 4-4-2 and the inclusion of Wallace in the team for the Coventry clash. We have stuck with 4-5-1 or 4-4-3 whatever you want to call it all season with the result being we have still not won away! So what does Laws do? Keeps Wallace on the bench and starts 4-4-2. Ridiculous and it is no wonder many Clarets fans are once more calling for a managerial change.
There was some bad news too before the game when it was announced that former Coventry player, Danny Fox was now going to be out injured for several weeks with an ankle ligament injury. The club are hopeful it won`t be more than 2-3 weeks but in some cases this sort of injury can keep players sidelined for up to six weeks. This news at least gives the opportunity for Brian Easton to make an impression and play a few games at left back
The eighteen was unchanged from the Watford game so we lined up as follows:
Grant, Mears, Duff, Carlisle, Easton, Alexander, Eagles, Cork, Elliott, Rodriguez, Iwelumo
Subs: Jensen, Cort, Edgar, Bikey, Marney, Wallace, Thompson.
The Clarets came out in an unusual kit which was basically a mixture of our away and home kits. In order not to clash with Coventry`s Sky Blue, we played in our white shirts and claret shorts but the referee demanded they wore claret & blue hooped socks which looked kind of bizarre.
Graham Alexander, born and bred in Coventry led out the team knowing this fixture had been a lucky one for him over the years with four wins out of four against his childhood club. Jack Cork played for Coventry City on loan for three months between August and December 2009 before joining Burnley on loan in February 2010 so he too was no stranger to the Ricoh Arena.
This had been a lucky ground for the Clarets in recent times with two wins in their last two visits. We came away with three points after beating the Sky Blues 3-1 in our promotion season of 2008-9 and for Clarets fans this was the first time we got a glimpse of Robbie Blake`s red underpants after he scored his first goal in 25 games on 88 minutes .The season before that we came away with a 2-1 win so could we now make it a triple whammy?
Aidy Boothroyd`s team selection for Coventry City was a typical one. He has a tendency to go for big, physical bruising sides and this match was no exception. You just sensed this was not going to be pretty and so it proved. Burnley got out of jail last week and now they were up against a player who had also just literally got out of jail, Marlon King.
County Durham referee, David Webb got the match underway. This was the first time he had been in charge of any match featuring the Clarets.
Burnley looked the stronger side in the first twelve minutes although Coventry got an early chance when Sky Blues skipper, Lee Carsley charged forward to let rip with a shot that dipped towards goal before Grant parried the ball away.
The Clarets got their first real chance on seven minutes when a long punt by Grant released Rodriguez who was clear in the box with just Sky Blues keeper, Kieren Westwood to beat. It was a difficult angle for Jay Rod though and the keeper stuck out an arm to block his left-footed attempt.
Chris Iwelumo may be our top scorer with nine goals but all those have come at home and he has yet to score on the road. He got a chance to break that duck when Eagles got the ball to him but he seemed to delay his shot giving time for Coventry defender, James McPake to get in and block the shot.
Coventry`s tactics seemed to be to pump the ball up to the two tall strikers up front, namely Marlon King and Clive Platt at every opportunity. Most of the time, Duff and Carlisle were able to deal with the danger with the game now becoming a particularly scrappy stalemate.
In one Coventry attack though, Carlisle was penalised for a foul on Coventry winger, Gary McSheffrey. Taking the free kick himself, McSheffrey belted the ball towards the top corner of the net only for Grant at full stretch to pull off a great save.
Carlisle got his head to the ball from a corner taken by Graham Alexander but his header went over the bar. Burnley looked a threat on the break but they just couldn`t seem to make it count.
With four minutes of the first half remaining, Eagles went on a surge down the middle and linked well with Elliott to bamboozle the Coventry defence. He will have been annoyed though with his tame shot which sailed harmlessly over the bar.
Stalemate then at half-time and it now looked increasingly like the first goal could be the winner.
Laws made no changes at half-time and ten minutes into the second half, the Clarets had their first chance of the half to break the deadlock. Tyrone Mears got a ball over the top to find Iwelumo but once again that elusive first away goal eluded the Scot after he shot just wide from 18 yards out.
Two minutes later though and the pendulum swung strongly in Coventry`s favour when they took the lead. Michael Doyle latched onto the ball from a Gunnarsson corner after Iwelumo had done well to head clear and from 22 yards out he fired past Grant to score his first goal since February 2009.
Alexander shortly after nearly got an equaliser when his long range effort went stubbornly wide but with a restless away following desperate for Laws to make some changes, it was only a matter of time before the gaffer reacted. He did react but not in the way the fans were hoping. On 68 minutes he made a double substitution. Thompson was one of the players coming on so surely he would now partner Iwelumo up front and we would revert to the successful formula of 4-4-2 tried out only last week at home to Watford. You could almost hear the anguish of the Clarets faithful when Iwelumo came off instead and we kept with 4-5-1 with Cork also coming off to be replaced by Wallace.
Chances for the Clarets were now few and far between and there was to be no repeat of the stunning Watford comeback. Thompson had a chance to equalise after a shot by Elliott was blocked by McPake and the ball rebounded back to him but he just couldn`t get the right purchase and direction on his shot.
That was it and the final whistle brought to an end another miserable day out for Clarets fans. Three away wins in 39 outings is clearly not acceptable and something needs to be done and quickly. It is clear we either need to be more bullish up front using a twin strike force or we need to bring in other attacking options in the January window. This result has precipitated a debate over the manager again and if he is not careful things could be about to become untenable for Brian Laws unless he can put together a consistent run of good form especially on the road.
Coventry: Westwood, Keogh, McPake, Wood, Cameron, Carsley, Doyle, Baker (Gunnarsson 54), King (Jutkiewicz 74), McSheffrey (Clarke 81), Platt
Subs Not Used: Ireland, Cranie, Eastwood, O'Donovan
Goal: Doyle 57
Booked: Yellow Cards for McPake and McSheffrey
Burnley: Grant, Mears, Duff, Carlisle, Easton, Alexander, Eagles, Cork (Wallace 68), Elliott, Rodriguez, Iwelumo (Thompson 68)
Subs Not Used: Jensen, Edgar, Cort, Bikey, Marney
Booked: Yellow Card for Duff
Possession: 50% Coventry, 50% Burnley (Source: BBC Sport)
Ref: David Webb (County Durham)