Jordan Goes 'Tits Up'
THE reality of Burnley's much heralded achievement of reaching the top flight, after a 33 year absence, began in ordinary fashion at the Britannia Stadium yesterday.
In truth, our defending was more League One than Premier League for two crucial first half moments. And that's all it took for a physical and rigid Stoke side to take full advantage and run out comfortable winners.
It was nevertheless a day to remember for the 3,000 travelling Burnley supporters.
Indeed, the significance of our momentous occasion was not lost on the home fans. The walk to the ground, over roundabouts and across retail estates, was punctuated with well-wishing Potters fans who were genial and welcoming, not necessarily to Stoke, but to life in the Premier League. Words of encouragement such as 'we are in the same position as you this time last season,' 'You've just got to win your home games' were the common refrains. The overiding message was that 'whatever happens just enjoy it.' For many of us, it's the best Burnley team we have seen, so enjoy it we will.
A minute's applause for Sir Bobby Robson preceded the players' habitual on-pitch hugging and huddle session. Burnley won the toss and kicked towards the noisy away end first, thus depriving Stoke of kicking towards their own fans at the Boothen End in the second half.
Owen Coyle went for the team that won through the play-off final with three notable changes. Tyrone Mears for the injured Mike Duff at right-back, Stephen Jordan for Steve Caldwell, injured playing for Scotland on Wednesday, and Steven Fletcher in attack, replacing Steve Thompson, who had to settle for a place on the bench.
Stoke's line-up was largely expected. Ricardo Fuller and James Beattie spearheaded the attack with a midfield quartet of new boy Dean Whitehead and Rory Delap flanked by Matthew Etherington and Liam Lawrence. The defence was notable for its sheer size. Last season's Player-of-the-Year Abdoulaye Faye and Ryan Shawcross were giants at centre back, with Andy Griffin and Andy Wilkinson at full back.
There was some good verbal jousting between the supporters from the outset and the atmosphere was electric and well within bounds. Two founder members in top flight combat and the sun was shining. It felt good.
It began at a frenetic pace and Burnley passed and moved with intent. Good work on the right from Wade Elliot concluded with a well driven low cross that Blake connected with only for Wilkinson to get in a great block.
Stoke seemed content to get players behind the ball and leave the onus on the visitors to contrive openings. One such move saw Alexander and Fletcher link-up before Blake shot well from outside the box but Sorenson dived to smother the ball.
Burnley dealt with the first of Delap's prolific throw-ins with ease but Stoke got a foothold in the game in the 19th minute when Fuller used all his savvy to extract a foul from Mears after being sold a little short by an Elliott pass. It looked a dangerous position from our vantage point behind the opposite goal on the left wing 10 yards or so in from the touchline. Lawrence produced a fine dead ball delivery and Shawcross, all 6ft 5 of him, rose to head neatly past the flat-footed Jensen.
Our presence in the penalty area was minimal up against Stoke's big defenders and Paterson was struggling to make any impact from his position on the right. In the 33rd minute the situation for Burnley deteriorated when Stoke doubled their lead. Etherington's run beyond our back-line was checked by a decent Carlisle challenge but that only meant another Delap howitzer from the left wing.
This one was met by Jordan who appeared to mis-time his jump and subsequently his header, serving only to confuse Jensen, who again, was caught horribly out of position as the ball flew past him.
For a few moments, memories of our capitulation at Tottenham in the Carling Cup semi-final first leg flooded back as it looked like Stoke might score from every ball into our penalty area. Burnley's first 45 minutes of Premier League football was in danger of becoming unpleasant.
There were, however, a couple of big penalty shouts that might have provided a lifeline. The first one, a pull of McCann's shirt from a Burnley corner, was probably not sufficient for a penalty to be awarded but when Wilkinson misjudged a cross, the ball bounced up and clearly struck his hand, but Steve Bennett was having none of it.
Beattie received a yellow card for a wild hack at Blake's ankle but the Bat Beat Bob could only send the resulting free-kick high over the bar. The interval could not come soon enough, especially after Fuller almost made it 3-0 with a looping header that Mears acrobatically cleared off the line.
The Clarets took a more direct approach after the break and Elliott cracked a dipping drive from 22 yards that hit the roof of the net. Stoke seemed content to sit deep and invited Burnley on.
Faye took Elliott clean out with a badly timed tackle for which he was booked. From the free-kick, Alexander worked a clever pass to Blake but his shot was deflected before McCann's effort was blocked. The Burnley contingent gained some encouragement and urged their team on.
Sorenson beacame visibly animated at the efforts of his defenders as Burnley poured forward.
Faye was noticeably tested and five minutes after earning his yellow card he went in late on Mears with a scything challenge which drew a free-kick, but incredibly, no card, even though it was just as harsh a challenge as the one he had been booked for.
It was a real let-off for Stoke at a time when Burnley were in the ascendency but Bennett seems rather too proud of his record of not sending players off. The last red card he awarded was to our own Steve Thompson, last season against Doncaster.
Following a quickly taken free-kick, Blake drilled in a low shot that the excellent Simonsen did well to hold before the Stoke 'keeper produced his best stop, turning Fletcher's left-foot shot round the post after the striker had been played in brilliantly by Elliott.
Coyle threw Fernando Guerrero and Chris Eagles into the action with 20 minutes left and both players showed some classy touches. Eagles linked up well with Mears on the right and looked a more viable option than Paterson for that berth. Guerrero looked a bit lost when he didn't have the ball but a real handful when he had it as his feet and he was running at people.
The Burnley supporters began to sense there would be no momentous comeback despite the decent second half showing. As the match became stretched, Stoke threatened to score a third on the break. Fuller and substitute Dave Kitson both had good chances, the latter shaving the crossbar with his shot after Carlisle and Jordan had let him get between them.
Jordan might have been punished more severely than the booking he received for a foul on Etherington when he went through but Bennett gave Burnley the benefit of the doubt with Kalvenes arguably the last man.
It was good to see the visiting supporters in fine voice to applaud the players efforts and the experience was a million miles better than the match at Hillsborough that began last season.
Stoke will again be a handful at home with their percentage football and but for two poor errors and a shaky spell at the end of the first half, we coped reasonably well.
For me, the performance of Mears was very encouraging. He looked composed on the ball, moved quickly and looked sharp. Elliott and Alexander had good games and Blake, although not at his best, did have four shots on target, only denied by some excellent defending and good goalkeeping. Fletcher looked comfortable coming deep but he had his work cut out against Faye and Shawcross. I'd like to see Paterson start from the bench against Man United and Eagles unleashed.
Overall, there's plenty to be encouraged about. Roll on Wednesday!