The Point of Pain!
31st March 2007
This was a dire match between two struggling sides. You could taste the tension between the sides as the Clarets tried to break the 19 match run without a win and Luton, bottom of the table tried to reverse a 6 match losing run.
If Luton had more to get out of this match than the Clarets however, they did not appear to come with any intention of winning it, lining up 4-5-1. Their new manager, Kevin Blackwell appeared to be adopting his usual tactics of frustrating the opposition for as long as possible hoping to get a sneaky, breakaway goal. To be honest they never looked like getting the latter and were awful to watch but the Clarets were equally awful with no idea how to break down probably the worst team to visit Turf Moor this season. In the second half in particular you would be hard put to remember an attempt on goal by any side
It probably came as no surprise that the match finished 0-0. This was described as a 'must-win' match by many Clarets fans and it must go down as a failure of mega-proportions. If the Clarets can not beat the bottom team, especially one who was as poor as this then we have serious problems and on the evidence of this match both Luton and Burnley could be relegated.
Steve Cotterill certainly came up with a Plan B for this match by naming a team that was completely unfamiliar and I suspect one that nobody would have forecast.
The first surprise was that Brian Jensen returned in goal with Danny Coyne relegated to the bench. It is not clear whether this decision was made on the basis of form or whether maybe Coyne had picked up a slight knock after International duty for Wales in last weekend's Euro 2008 match against San Marino. It is however encouraging for Brian and maybe indicates that he has patched up his differences with Steve Cotterill. It will be interesting to see in the Summer whether 'The Beast' remains on the transfer list and indeed whether we retain both keepers for the 2007/8 season.
Further changes to the team saw both loans make their starting line-up debuts with Graham Coughlan partnering Captain,Steven Caldwell in the central back-four positions. Paul McVeigh was also surprisingly selected to start and played in a wider role supporting the front two, Gray and Akinbiyi. Both James O'Connor and Wade Elliott were dropped although the former was named on the bench. Wayne Thomas also returned from injury after undergoing surgery on his knee a few weeks ago.
The team therefore lined up as follows:
Jensen, Thomas, Coughlan, Caldwell, Harley, McVeigh , Djemba-Djemba, McCann, Jones , Gray, Akinbiyi
Subs: Coyne, Duff, Garreth O'Connor, James O'Connor, Lafferty
I am not sure if any Clarets fans also noticed but the manager had decided to change the home kit slightly, ditching the all Claret affair for white shorts and white socks. Sadly it would prove a ploy that didnt have the desired change of fortune.
The first half seemed to take some time to get going and both teams looked nervy in the first 20 minutes or so of the game.The new boys however appeared to be settling in well with Coughlan looking solid in defence and McVeigh putting in some good runs and crosses. Akinbiyi had a shot blocked and then Jones as the Clarets attempted to settle their nerves and those of the fans. A cross from Thomas caused panic in the Luton defence after Coughlan's shot bobbled around before being cleared from the six-yard area.After 28 minutes Brill kept out a flicked header from Gray following a McVeigh free-kick.
That elusive goal would not come though and the fans began to fear the worst as the whistle blew for the end of the first half. The Clarets had effectively dominated the first half without showing convincing signs that they might be able to get the ball in the net in the second half and so it proved.
To be honest the second half was painful to watch with little to remember. The biggest concern seemed to be the lack of passion from our players.There was this awful sense based on this woeful performance that we would not survive the relegation battle. Luton were the team that seemed to briefly come alive after 57 minutes when Morgan headed over from a Spring cross,unsettling the already shattered nerves of the Clarets. There was always that nagging thought at the back of the mind that Luton would nick it with a goal although to be honest they rarely looked like getting one just as much as we did.
Steve Cotterill tried to change things with a double substitution after 68 minutes with Akinbiyi replaced by Lafferty and Jones going off to be replaced by Garreth O'Connor. The continual poor form from Ade Akinbiyi is a major concern and who would have believed we would ever have heard him being booed and condemned as useless by a section of our own fans. Personally I find any booing nauseating but I guess I have to live with the fans frustrations. People say its understandable, but quite frankly all it does is undermine the confidence of players and manager alike making it more difficult to get out of this rut and avoid relegation. The other player attacked in this way, yesterday was Wayne Thomas. I thought some of the abusive shouts were disgraceful but there is nothing you can do about it. I heard one fan in front of me clearly disgusted by another Clarets fan rants shout to him 'If you dont like what you are seeing then dont come on'(I left out the expletives). This was just one sign of the frustration and in-fighting between our own fans as the 'Cotterill out' section compete with the 'Cotterill stay' camp.
Effectively the double substitution did not have the desired effect. Paul McVeigh, a potential Man of the Match was replaced by Garreth O'Connor after 88 minutes but by then all Clarets fans knew our fate.
The final whistle went and to be honest it was a blessed relief in what surely must have been the most dire match seen at the Turf, certainly this season between two of the most dire teams.
Steve Cotterill still had enough courage to come up to 'The Longside' after the match to be greeted by a mixture of booing, 'Cotterill out' chants but also still a dogged determination by some to applaud him and the team. To be honest I admire the latter group. I did neither as the result and performance in my opinion warranted neither. I just skulked away, fearing the worst and wondering what will become of us with the April fixtures looming and with most of the top clubs still to play.
The pressure on Steve Cotterill to go is mounting by the minute. Although I am still not an advocate that he should go before the end of the season, many are saying that despite the financial implications of terminating his contract he should be sacked before the next game.
I have to say with no win in 19 matches, it is remarkable the manager is still with the club. In this results-orientated football world we live in, most managers can be expecting the chop after 10 matches without a win. Bearing in mind also season ticket sales for next season are at the back of the Board's mind, the increasing noises from some fans that they wont buy a season ticket until Cotterill goes must be worrying. Of course if you ask the 'Cotterill Out' brigade why they think he hasn't gone yet, they would not acknowledge its because of the Board's faith in him but rather the financial cost fixed in his contract. Some fans have even suggested its the Board's incompetence for allowing Steve Cotterill to have such financial bargaining power. To be honest I dont know how anybody can say that, I am pretty sure none of us have read Cotterill's contract. On the other hand, if the Board are keeping faith in Cotterill, this is also incredible considering this awful run. It is also incredibly brave and in many ways bucking the trend of modern day sackings.
I felt if we did not get three points against Luton that Cotterill's position must surely be untenable and that he would be asked to go. Cotterill himself claims to not be a quitter so it will be down to the Board to sack him. On Monday morning he is still here so lets see what we can get out of our next match against Plymouth this Tuesday night.
For those still supporting Cotterill (to varying degress), and that includes myself it is getting increasingly more and more difficult to support him and we shall just have to see how the Board react to our plight and whether they will retain faith in our manager. My view remains the same, Steve Cotterill has to show he can turn this round and avoid relegation. If he succeeds then he should get some credit for that and if he survives until the end of the season that will be the time to review the season and the manager's contract. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by sacking the manager now in my opinion. The financial loss would be too great with no guarantee that anybody else could turn this round. If he does survive until the end of the season and indeed to the start of the new season then I think he should be given until December 2007. If there are no improvements under a better financial climate and we are not pressing for promotion or a play-offs place by Xmas then sobeit its time for a change.
It will be a minor miracle if Steve Cotterill is still there by December 2007. We will never know what could have been achieved under Steve Cotterill if he does get sacked before the start of 2007/8. If he does go, I will make one prediction. It will not be the end of his career and you can bet your bottom dollar he will succeed at another club and probably one day get one of them promoted to the Premiership, especially if they are a club rolling in money!
Burnley: Jensen, Thomas, Coughlan, Caldwell, Harley, McVeigh (Garreth O'Connor 88), Djemba-Djemba, McCann, Jones (James O'Connor 69), Gray, Akinbiyi (Lafferty 68).
Subs Not Used: Coyne, Duff.
Luton: Brill, Barnett (Coyne 24), Carlisle, Heikkinen, Davis (Foley 70), Spring, Keane, Robinson, Bell, Talbot, Morgan (Andrew 70).
Subs Not Used: Beresford, Brkovic.