A Gray Cloud over the Madejski!
New Year Bank Holiday Monday, 3rd January 2011 @3p
The Clarets are still without a back-to-back win all season after going down 2-1 to Reading at the Madejski Stadium yesterday. Hopes were high after caretaker manager, Stuart Gray`s first win in his first game in charge at home to Sheffield United on New Year`s Day. Clarets fans were even more confident after Burnley took the lead on 28 minutes thanks to a sweetly taken shot from Ross Wallace from a Mears cross.
The dreams began to evaporate again though when three minutes later the Clarets defence were caught napping and danger man Shane Long equalised with a soft goal. Long and Hunt were causing the defence all sorts of problems exposing the weakness in the centre of the back four where both Duff and Carlisle were having a torrid time.
The game gradually converted from a scrappy affair into a open game pleasing on the eye for any neutral fans watching the match unfold. Sadly for the Clarets though it would be the Royals who would take all three points and be the first club to get the double over us this season following their 4-0 demolition job at Turf Moor back in October. Their winning goal came on 68 minutes from a corner. Shane Long got up to head home to earn a brace but again it should have been better defended.
One Clarets player must have been wondering what the hell he had to do to score. Dean Marney had umpteen chances all afternoon to bag a handful of goals but each time seemed to panic in front of goal with the ball going anywhere other than on target. It just wasn`t to be in the end and the defeat sees the Clarets drop to 11th place. We now have 35 points from 26 games but alas we are four points off the play-offs with sixth-placed club, Watford getting a late winner in their away game at Scunthorpe.
Stuart Gray certainly seems his own man though and he made three changes to the team that had defeated the Blades although in effect he just tinkered with the same eighteen. Steven Thompson was rewarded with his first start of the season after coming on from the bench and scoring his first goal of the season against Sheffield United. Thompson last started for the Clarets in the Premier League clash at Turf Moor against Stoke City in March last year. Gray also reverted back to 4-5-1 against the Royals. Jack Cork returned as holding midfielder and Ross Wallace also started with Alexander, Rodriguez (under the weather against the Blades) and Iwelumo dropping back to the bench.
Lee Grant, making his 250th career appearance was still preferred in goal over the transfer-listed Jensen although he must have been hoping for better luck at the Madejski than his last two visits having previously suffered a 5-0 and 6-0 defeat playing for the Owls. Brian Easton kept his place at left back despite Danny Fox having now fully recovered from injury. Apart from Chris McCann, only Martin Paterson was still struggling with injury now but he too was back in training
In summary then we lined up as follows:
Grant. Mears, Duff, Carlisle, Easton, Cork, Eagles, Marney, Elliott, Wallace, Thompson
Subs: Jensen, Bikey, Edgar, Alexander, Iwelumo, Rodriguez, Guidetti
Clarke Carlisle led the team onto the pitch as captain in the absence of Alexander and Oxfordshire referee, Graham Scott, in charge of his first game involving the Clarets got the game underway.
The state of the Madejski pitch was woeful and it looked to have suffered from the rugby game played there a few days earlier. It was bare in parts, dry and bobbly and as the game progressed it was clear some of our players were finding it hard to control the ball, notably on the flanks. Reading started the brighter with Shane Long in particular exposing our weakness in defence. He had two early chances to put the Royals ahead in the first 10 minutes but thankfully we survived.
After just five minutes, a slip by Duff put Long in the clear but he could only shoot over the top. He then headed wide from an Ian Harte cross.
The pace of both Long and Hunt were causing the Clarets all sorts of problems at the back. We looked sloppy and found it difficult to keep possession. Burnley had conceded the first goal in eight out of their last eleven games and it looked like we could be heading for nine in twelve.
The Clarets may have won their first league away win of the season against Barnsley on Boxing Day but they were not at the races in the early stages of this game and looked unlikely to improve on the daunting statistic of only four league away wins in the last forty matches on the road.
The game in truth at this stage was very scrappy epitomised by an early booking for Steven Thompson. Clarets fans hearts sank after the foul fearing a sending-off but thankfully the referee decided to be lenient handing out only a yellow card. The Clarets got their first chance to score on 8 minutes when Marney fluffed a golden opportunity to put the Clarets ahead. Cork set up the move and after a clever dummy by Thompson, Marney was clear on goal with just Reading keeper, Adam Federici to beat. He simply shot too close to the keeper and Reading fans could breathe a sigh of relief. Easton and Elliott then linked well on the break to set up Marney again after the midfielder had gone on a storming run into the penalty area. Holding off the attentions of Leigertwood, he engineered space for himself to shoot but this time put the ball just wide of the post.
Clarets fans were just wondering if Ross Wallace was on the pitch when he suddenly popped up to score on 28 minutes. Tyrone Mears was becoming a handful for the Reading defence and he linked well with Chris Eagles to pull back the ball. Elliott helped the ball onto Wallace who calmly picked his spot shooting left-footed into the bottom corner of the net.
The lead was short-lived though and within three minutes, Reading had equalised. A flick from Noel Hunt caused the problem allowing Shane Long to get in behind the Clarets defence with just the keeper to beat. He wasn`t going to miss from there and coolly rolled the ball into the net. It was a soft goal with our defence again all at sixes and sevens. Grant must be wondering if he is ever going to keep a clean sheet for the Clarets. He replaced Jensen co-incidentally following the home game against Reading back in October after The Beast was made the scapegoat for the 4-0 defeat. Grant has kept his place since but has still not managed to keep a clean sheet.
Oh well back to the match! After a scrappy start the game was now much more open and entertaining with chances coming thick and fast at both ends. Marney could have had a hat-trick in the first half, his third attempt being the most unlucky. This time he volleyed a cross from Mears against the crossbar.
It remained 1-1 though at half-time. The Clarets were ok going forward it seemed but were now struggling to contain the advances of Long with Clarke Carlisle in particular struggling from lack of pace against the energetic striker.
Gray might have been tempted to bring on Andre Bikey for the second half. The former Royals defender might just have been able to provide the pace we needed to outfox Long & Co. In the end no changes were made for the start of the second-half and gradually the Clarets found it much harder to make an impression as the half progressed. Brian Easton now started to struggle as well and began to look a little shaky under pressure. 891 Clarets who had made the journey down to Berkshire were now sensing we needed to change things round a bit.
Long was still a handful and he had an early chance to put the Royals ahead but fired wide after being put clean through. Kebe down the right was now also becoming influential and he too got in a shot that was thankfully off-target.
A rare header from Eagles tested the Royals keeper at the other end but it was the Royals who would take the lead. Reading were awarded a corner which was taken by Jobi McAnuff on 68 minutes. The Clarets defence should have handled the danger much better than they did after allowing Long to head home unmarked.
Reading were always a threat and nearly made it game over after a thunderous shot from Kebe luckily hit Easton. Our problem seemed to be stretching Reading by using the flanks more effectively.
We now though had three chances of our own and seemed to step up a gear. With 20 minutes to go, Thompson knocked the ball down into the six-yard box but Marney could only once again volley wide.
The hapless Marney was replaced by Jay Rodriguez on 71 minutes and Jay Rod partnered Thommo up front after changing formation to 4-4-2.
Federici at full stretch then had to save an Eagles effort with the Clarets now looking much brighter.
Gray had made further changes in an attempt to at least get a point from the game. Guidetti had replaced Thompson with 11 minutes to go. This could possibly be his last game for the Clarets with his loan deal expiring after the match. Chris Iwelumo also came on for Brian Easton after 85 minutes to add weight and numbers to our attack.
With only three minutes of added time announced by the fourth official it looked like we were once again going to come away from the Madejski empty handed. We have of course had our most important victory here after beating the Royals in the Play-Offs semi-final in May 3009 but that is our only victory in eleven attempts.
Wallace nearly rescued the day though deep into added time. He thumped in a direct free-kick from 30 yards out only to see the ball clip the top of the bar and fly away to safety.
It was not to be and now we must wait and see who our next manager will be. Things will now hopefully happen quickly with Barry Kilby back in the country and it is understood they will have a busy time with apparently 60-70 job applications to review! I believe mine though has already being turned down for being too ambitious! (HINT!!!)
Reading: Federici, Griffin, Mills, Harte, Pearce, Karacan (Robson-Kanu 67), Leigertwood, McAnuff, Kebe, Long, Hunt (Church 72)
Subs Not Used: McCarthy, Khizanishvili, Cummings, Tabb, Howard
Booked: Yellow Card for Kebe
Goals: Long 31 and 68
Burnley: Grant, Mears, Duff, Carlisle, Easton (Iwelumo 84), Cork, Eagles, Marney (Rodriguez 71), Elliott, Wallace, Thompson (Guidetti 79)
Subs Not Used: Jensen, Alexander, Edgar, Bikey
Booked: Yellow Cards for Thompson, Duff and Mears
Goal: Wallace 28
Possession: 46% Reading, 54% Burnley (Source: BBC Sport)
Ref: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire)
The back four was the problem area today. Both Duff and Carlisle had a bad day at the office and simply could not contain Long, Easton too was particularly shaky in defence and must be worried that he could lose his place to the now fully-fit Danny Fox.
Tyrone Mears though was in good form and caused the Royals defence and midfield all sorts of problems on his forays down the flank.
Difficult choice this one then! Wade Elliott, why not?