Burnley Bounce Back
Wednesday the 21st of January will go down in the history of Burnley FC as a proud moment for both club and fans alike, though few can deny that they felt disappointment and heartache at the final whistle. For the players as well, it was a devastating way to go out of a cup, especially having been so close to what they had worked so hard for. That said though, it is now in the past, and if we want this season to account for something, we have to put the disappointment behind us and push on in both the league and the FA Cup. We got the chance to do just that against West Brom, and it was a massive game for us, both psychologically and psychically. Having played 120 minutes of football just a few days before, it was a massive ask to compete against a top flight side, and those who had made the journey were perhaps praying for a spirited performance, as opposed to a win.
Given that I thought most of the lads would be shattered, I was slightly surprised by the team selection. Against Spurs, Eagles and Paterson had both looked dead on their feet from about the 80th minute onwards, and I thought that with Thompson on the bench, we would see changes. Alas, the only change that we did see was Caldwell returning at the back, with Duff moving to the right of defence, and Alexander moving to the midfield to replace Gudjonsson. Whilst being pleased that Alexander was back in the middle, I was slightly bemused that Thompson had been left out, because every time I have seen him play, I have been impressed. He holds the ball up really well, and allows the likes of Elliott, McCann and Eagles to press on from the middle of the park. As well as Thompson, we also had young Jay Rodriguez on the bench, and following his cup heroics in the week, he must surely be pushing for his first start. That said though, these are only observations, and I fully trust Coyle`s judgment when it comes to picking the team.
The opening period of the game was fairly even. What West Brom do so effectively is counter attack, and with the presence of Roman Bednar and the pace of Jay Simpson, they posed quite a threat. That said though, we dealt with this threat quite well. For us going forwards, Eagles had a lively start, beating his man several times, and linking up well with Paterson. On the other side, Blake was once again in top form. His first touch never lets him down, and he was pinging passes to all four corners of the field. It was only a matter of time before the opening goal came, and to the delight of the Burnley fans, it was the away side that scored it. Good work down the right by Eagles saw the ball come in the middle. It was only half cleared by the defender, and it found its way to Blake. With his back to goal, he was clearly pushed in the back by Jonathan Greening, and with referee Mike Dean right next to the incident there was only one outcome. Greening and his teammates looked a bit miffed, but there were no substantial arguments, usually meaning that they knew the right decision had been made. There are reliable penalty takers, and then there is Graham Alexander. He just never seems to miss from the spot, and I had every confidence in him dispatching this one. He didn`t let us down, and thumped us into a deserved one-goal lead.
Whenever you go one goal up against a Premiership side, you have to expect them to come back at you even stronger. West Brom were no different, and looked to attack down the flanks, where they could see that Kalvenes and Duff were struggling. We later learnt that Duff had picked up a hamstring knock, but Kalvenes was supposedly fully fit. He was caught out of position far too many times, and in his eagerness to go to ground, there were actually occasions where players hurdled him and still had the ball. He also nearly scored an own goal, but whilst being great entertainment for the home fans, he left the away support tearing their hair out at times. Ultimately, with so much pressure being applied, it was only a matter of time before we conceded, and in the 31st minute and just 6 minutes after going ahead, that goal came. It came from a corner, which was met by the head of Caldwell. He couldn`t direct anywhere else other than straight to Robert Koren on the edge of the area, who connected with a sweet volley that flew into the back of the net. It was a great finish, but it was ultimately disappointing that we had all 11 players inside the six-yard box. If someone had been on the edge of the area, they could have either closed down Koren quicker, or they may even have got something on Caldwell`s weak header away. That said though, it was probably a deserved equaliser, but it was not all about how we reacted this setback.
Initially, we reacted well. Within a couple of minutes, good work down the right hand side by Eagles meant the ball found its way to Paterson. A superb ball across the six-yard box was met by Blake with a crisp strike, but it thundered against the crossbar and away. As half time approached, it appeared as though we would be going in level. However, a foul just before half time thanks to a mix up between Caldwell and Carlisle meant that West Brom had a free kick in a dangerous position. Carlisle, to his credit, was much stronger and more reliable at the back during this game. After being berated by Duff early in the first half after a poor clearance, he found his composure and won pretty much everything in the air. It was promising to see him find some sort of form, and invaluable given our shortage of defenders at the back. Anyway, back to the free kick, and up stepped Do-Heon. He had already hit one straight into the wall, and this one also hit the wall, but unfortunately the deflection completely fooled Brian Jensen, and the ball found its way into the back of the net. It was a completely undeserved lead, as if anything we had been the better side, but unfortunately as we all know, football is a cruel game.
So at half time we found ourselves behind. This gives me a chance to reflect on the travelling fans, who had come en masse to show support for their beaten heroes. You could tell there was an air of disappointment, but at the same time there was immense pride. The atmosphere was pretty good too, and we sung right up until half time. It was important that as many fans as possible came to the game, as even though the opposition weren`t that exciting, it was imperative that we showed support for the lads who had dared us to dream the impossible.
As the second half got underway, it was the home side that started the half better. They defended very well, and still looked dangerous on the break, a point that was proved when Bednar rounded Jensen after going one on one, only to see his shot cannon off the bottom of the right hand post. Up the other end, it just wasn`t happening for Burnley. Blake was still in magnificent form, but his dangerous balls into the box or across the field to Eagles rarely came to anything. Eagles looked absolutely shattered. He was struggling in extra time against Spurs in the week, and in our league games recently, he just hasn`t been as dangerous as we would have liked. When you look at the rest of the team, nearly every single player has had a rest, be it through injury or suspension, whereas Eagles has the weight and the expectation of the Burnley fans on his shoulders and so has played most games. He needs a rest, and so it was no surprise to see him go off in the 60th minute, to be replaced by Joey Gudjonsson. For me, this was a strange substitution. When you`re chasing a game, you need players on the pitch who have the ability to win you a game. With Eagles going off, one of our players who can do this was no more, so you would expect someone like Thompson to come on. He holds the ball up well, and allows those around him to get into the game. However, whilst I have criticised Gudjonsson in the past, this is because I don`t notice what he does. He`s not like Blake or Eagles in that what they do draws you in. Joey works away quietly, and sure he`ll put one in the stand each game, but you don`t fully understand what he gives you until he`s not in the team. When he went off against Spurs in the first leg, we suffered, and yesterday when he came on, we benefited from his hard graft. Luckily for us (and me), Thompson came on a few minutes later for Duff, who had picked up a knock. Thompson completes our team for me. Whilst he doesn`t win every header, his percentage rate when compared to the number he contests must be quite good. The number of times he won the ball and gave it to McCann who got it out wide for Blake or Elliott was impressive. Certainly, after his introduction, McCann became more prominent in the game, which is something I feel that he hasn`t been doing in recent weeks. Another interesting move was the fact that Elliott went out wide on the right for the first time in ages. That seems to be Eagles favourite position, and so it is perhaps unfortunate for Wade that it is the same for him, but given the performance he put in when moved there, Eagles could have competition for his place.
With Thompson now on the field, the game became more and more stretched. With a target man, we had the ability to hold the ball up, but at the same time West Brom could sense that we were going for an equaliser and so continued to break well, with Jensen being forced into a number of decent saves. Soon after, our best chances of equalising came and went. Great work from Blake down the left allowed him the time and space to pick out the head of Thompson, but his header was somehow clawed away by Scott Carson. The look of disbelief on Thommo`s face said it all really - he couldn`t have done anything more, and it really was a top save. Another chance fell to Elliott, who was put clean through, but he looked like a rabbit in the headlights and panicked, thus meaning he dragged his shot well wide. When a tame Paterson effort was also saved, it really did feel like we were going to be robbed in another cup.
However, I should learn to expect the unexpected. A great ball from the left to Elliott on the right by Blake gave Wade plenty of time and space. He ran forwards, and delivered an absolute peach of a cross right along the six yard box. Carson was indecisive, with Paterson instinctive, and a two-yard tap in sent the Burnley fans wild. It would have been an absolute travesty if we had been knocked out of the cup in a game we played so well in, and it is a testimony to the lads that they kept going for 90 minutes, despite sometimes looking physically and mentally drained. Our second goal oozed quality as well, and it was a great way to book a replay.
So there we are, it finished 2-2 and I have to say that it was a fantastic cup tie. Both teams played the game in the right manner, and both played their football on the ground. It was such an important game after Wednesday, and to equalise in the last minute will give the lads a massive psychological boost, as well as proving to the Burnley faithful that they haven`t given up on the season yet. Difficult to pick a man of the match, but for me Robbie shades it just ahead of the improved Elliott. Roll on the replay!