Great Start as Gray adds Colour to New Year
New Year's Day 2011
The Clarets under caretaker manager, Stuart Gray following the demise of Brian Laws in midweek got off to a flying 2011 start thumping Sheffield United 4-2 at Turf Moor on New Year`s Day. This was a far more convincing, confident performance compared to the home debacle against Scunthorpe United only four days before. That shocking 2-0 defeat to the second-from-bottom club led to Brian Laws being sacked after a strong fans protest for him to go. It was quite simply our worst game of the season and surely we could now only get better. Well thankfully we did against Sheffield United who to be honest though were the worst Blades side I have seen at Turf Moor in many a season. You can see why they are struggling and after another defeat they are now 4th from bottom with relegation starting them in the face. Their new manager, Micky Adams found himself at Turf Moor a week earlier after leaving our FA Cup third round opponents next Saturday, Port Vale for Sheffield United only last Thursday. He must have wondered what he had taken on although his team was handicapped by a number of suspensions and injuries.
Clarets fans going to the Blades game seemed to have renewed energy and hope although when Sheffield United took the lead, very much against the run of play and in virtually their first attack of the game after just nine minutes, the new found confidence seemed to evaporate for a short while We soon regained that though after a blistering last 20 minutes of the first half saw the Clarets going into the break 3-1 up! First, Chris Eagles marking his return to the starting eleven hit the target from distance on 29 minutes to even things up from 30 yards out. Burnley kept pressing and remarkably we got two goals in added time before the break. Chris Iwelumo got on the end of a Michael Duff free kick to put the Clarets ahead in the first minute of added time. Jay Rodriguez, not to be outdone then picked up a cross from Elliott to thump home a left-footed shot from 12 yards out a minute later to send the Blades into the dressing room looking completely demoralised.
There was an early shock for the Clarets after the re-start though when the Blades reduced the arrears. Duff tripped Ched Evans in the box with just 40 seconds of the second-half played. Evans took the penalty himself and sent Grant the wrong way to make the score 3-2.
Oh no surely we were not going to surrender a two goal lead again? Clarets fans were certainly nervy at this point with the Blades now playing their best spell. Thoughts of Bramall Lane this season came flooding back, a game of course where we were 2-0 up at one stage and then 3-2 up before the Blades sneaked an equaliser in added time . In addition to that game we have lost two goal leads against Norwich on the road (2-2 draw) and of course at home to Leeds recently, a match which we eventually lost 3-2!
Clarets fans could finally relax though when substitute Steven Thompson sealed the win with a well-taken strike from six yards out on 85 minutes.
The victory sees the Clarets jump two places up the table to 8th. It was a good day with some of our rivals for promotion also missing out. We are now just one point behind the sixth-placed club, Watford and still have one or in some cases a two game advantage over most of the clubs above us. League leaders, QPR lost 1-0 away to Norwich but still remain twelve points ahead of the Clarets albeit having played a game more. Swansea are now the team to catch if we still have automatic promotion dreams. They jumped into second spot with a 1-0 victory over play-offs rivals and the team we meet next, Reading.
The Swans are now on 43 points, eight points clear of the Clarets but they are catchable having played two games more.
All we can hope and pray for now is that we continue our good start to 2011 and get our first back-to-back win this season in our next match, our fourth in nine days when we travel to the Madejski Stadium to play Reading on New Year`s Day Bank Holiday Monday. It is all pretty exciting being a Clarets fan at the moment and I think we have all been lifted by recent developments with most looking forward to the new managerial appointment whoever that might be.
In the meantime let`s give Stuart Gray all the backing we can and hope he can manufacture a run to keep us strongly in contention for promotion by the time the new manager takes over.
Gray certainly seemed to answer the fans concerns by being his own man and wringing the changes for the start of the Blades game. After the debacle of Scunthorpe he had to although it was perhaps surprising he dropped Jack Cork to the bench. Cork by general consent was one of the few players against the Iron that seemed to try, Chris Eagles being the other one. Eagles was rewarded with a starting eleven place but maybe Gray thought Cork needed a rest. He was named on the bench but didn`t get chance to play against his father`s team. Former Blades striker Alan Cork is now Adams' number two.
In total Gray made four changes to the side humiliated by Scunthorpe. Dean Marney was back in the starting line-up and Michael Duff was chosen ahead of Andre Bikey who was dropped to the bench. Chris Iwelumo was chosen up front partnered by Jay Rodriguez in a 4-4-2 formation.
In summary we lined-up as follows:
Grant, Mears, Duff, Carlisle, Easton, Eagles, Alexander, Marney, Elliott, Iwelumo, Rodriguez
Subs: Jensen, Bikey, Edgar, Cork, Wallace, Guidetti, Thompson
Derbyshire referee, Rob Shoebridge got the game underway on a dull and damp day in Burnley. The Clarets made the livelier start and United keeper, Richard Wright was soon in action saving a header from Dean Marney. The Blades responded though forcing Grant at the other end to parry away Jamie Ward`s shot after he cut-in.
The Clarets though looked the most likely to score before against the run of play the Blades took the lead. It was Ward again who forced a save from Grant. This time though the ball was not cleared and it fell at the feet of Yeates who deftly picked his spot shooting coolly into the bottom corner of the net.
That was a body blow to say the least but we showed remarkable determination and resilience this time to come back and wipe the smile off the Blades fans faces. Eagles and Elliott began to systematically tear the Blades defence to shreds down the flanks exposing their weakness. Alexander got in a shot from an Elliott cross but it was blocked. Easton though picked up the ball to cross from the opposite flank and there was Iwelumo to test Wright with a header. He saved it at full stretch though to deny the Clarets a well-deserved equaliser.
Elliott and Eagles then decided to bamboozle the shaky looking Blades defence by switching flanks and it nearly paid instant dividends. Elliott pulled back the ball to Rodriguez and it would have been a certain goal had he managed to put it 3 feet either side of the keeper! Wright gratefully mopped up the danger though.
Alexander on a charge saw his charge blocked on the edge of the penalty area but the ball fell to Eagles 30 yards out from goal. Eagles advanced forward and let rip with a swerving shot that flew into the back of the net with a little help from the inside of the post on 29 minutes. 1-1 with the Clarets now in the ascendency and Micky Adams scratching his head
We were now playing like we meant business but it wasn`t until first half added time that we made the pressure count. Michael Duff from a free kick caught out the stretched Blades defence and there was Iwelumo to head home and score his 10th goal of the season. One minute later and it was 3-1 Clarets. Jay Rodriguez, who had apparently been suffering from a bug before the game, proved it wasn`t affecting him that much when he popped up to get on the end of an Elliott cross. His left-footed shot flew into the back of the net from 12 yards out giving Jay Rod his 5th goal of the season.
Comfortable at half-time, we looked set to completely dominate the second half and inflict a heavy defeat on the under par-looking Blades. We are Burnley though and nothing comes easy to the Clarets. We always seem to make heavy work of things and so it proved after just 40 seconds from the start of the second-half. Michael Duff was alleged to have tripped Ched Evans (although some reports say Leon Britton) in the penalty area although from where I was sitting in the Bob Lord Stand it looked a tame decision. Ched Evans though made no mistake from the spot sending Grant the wrong way to make it 3-2 and ensure game on! Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, not again!
The Blades now looked in the ascendency and those awful thoughts of losing two goal leads came back to haunt the Clarets fans.
Britton forced Grant to save from a corner but gradually after soaking up the pressure the Clarets began to take control of the game again although frustratingly just couldn`t seem to get back a two goal advantage and allow Clarets fans to relax.
Jay Rodriguez had a couple of failed attempts on goal as Eagles and Elliott continued to punish the United full backs down the flanks.
Iwelumo had one last chance to score again before being substituted but it was only really a half-chance and he put the ball wide. Iwelumo made way for Steven Thompson on 80 minutes and within 5 minutes Thommo was on the score sheet to make it 4-2 and relieve all the tension.
It was Eagles who again was the architect after going on a run deep into the Blades defence. He laid off the ball to Thompson just inside the penalty area. Thommo held the ball up well shaking off the attention of the Blades defenders before sweetly and with great composure rolling the ball into the net to score his first goal of the season for the Clarets.
Mears nearly made it 5-2 in injury time but could only put his shot into the side netting. 4-2 to the Clarets then final score and what a great start to 2011. Onwards and upwards!
Burnley:Grant,Mears,Duff,Carlisle,Easton,Eagles,Alexander,Marney,Elliott (Edgar 90),Iwelumo (Thompson 80),Rodriguez
Subs Not Used: Jensen, Bikey, Cork, Wallace, Guidetti.
Goals: Eagles 29, Iwelumo 45+1, Rodriguez 45+2, Thompson 85
Sheffield United: Wright (Simonsen 46), Nosworthy (Parrino 46), Ertl, Calve, Lowton, Britton, Yeates, Williamson (Bogdanovic 72), Evans, Cresswell, Ward
Subs Not Used: Kozluk, James, Harriott, Slew
Booked: Yellow Card for Williamson
Goals: Yeates 9, Evans (pen) 47
Possession: 46% Burnley, 54% Sheffield United (Source: BBC Sport)
Ref: Rob Shoebridge (Derbyshire)
Brian Easton continues to look impressive, particularly going forward although sometimes he does seem prone to panic attacks in defence. His confidence is growing though and Danny Fox could find it difficult to regain the left-back spot.
The fans texted Man of the Match was Chris Eagles and we agree with that finding. He was energetic all afternoon giving the Blades defence all sorts of problems. His well-taken equalising goal was of course an added bonus too!