Jose Mourinho recently described his Chelsea side as a “little horse” in the race for the Premier League title. The analogy was met with varying levels of scorn from around the game, but Burnley’s answer to the Special One must have read the description with a wryer smile than most. Sean Dyche, known to Clarets fans as the “Ginger Mourinho”, has spent a little over £700,000 during his tenure as Clarets boss, this spent over a year after he became boss, and yet he has guided one of the pre-season relegation favourites into the top two of the Championship for almost the entire season. Compared to the thoroughbreds of Leicester, QPR, Derby and Nottingham Forest, with foreign owners, big crowds and bigger budgets, Burnley are a mere pony, and yet the Clarets have been taking hurdles at blistering pace and look set, against all predictions, to stay the course.
Dyche himself deserves a huge slice of the credit for Burnley’s league position. His position at the end of last season was, and it seems strange to reflect on this now, slightly shaky – the Clarets only secured Championship football with 7 points from the last 3 league games at the end of last season, and the months preceding it had been marked by inconsistency, some mind-numbingly boring games (the 0-0 bore draw with Middlesbrough a particular lowlight), and an over-reliance on the goals of Charlie Austin that saw the Clarets limp to a flattering 11th place finish. Dyche was not well liked by a sizable minority of supporters (some of whom nicknamed him “Yawn Dyche”), and when the manager attributed poor home form to the over-expectation of Clarets fans, there was a noticeable tension between the two camps, which is still in evidence on occasion this season- “They weren’t calling me that last season!” was Dyche’s reaction to a recent question about the “Ginger Mourinho” moniker. This is perhaps, in part, a reaction from Burnley supporters to the devastating way Owen Coyle went from hero to zero in one fell swoop, but an atmosphere of mutual respect with the odd outpouring of love seems to have developed, and it has been fairly impossible for Clarets fans to resist Dyche’s charm offensive in the form of results since the start of the season. Dyche has the players well-drilled, super fit, and playing a terrific mix of long and short passing, flair and panache in the attack with a rock solid defence, and has brought the best out of some old favourites while bringing in some terrific new additions.
While these new additions have been low price and yet high quality (Tom Heaton and David Jones, solid top-end Championship performers on free transfers, were steals, and Scott Arfield, released by lowly Huddersfield last year, has been an all-action revelation), some praise must be given to previous manager Eddie Howe, who when given money spent it, for the most part, extremely wisely. Danny Ings and Sam Vokes, at £1.4m between them, are the only strike partnership in the country to rival Liverpool’s SAS for goals, and both have become sterling performers from bit-part players under Dyche’s management- Ings is supremely talented and has added goals, goals and more goals to his game, while Vokes has been transformed from a slow, lumbering, Grant-Holt-without-the-goals to a lean, powerful heading machine who has already chipped in with more goals than his most prolific ever season, that achieved at third-tier Bournemouth. Dean Marney, signed for £500,000 by the much-maligned Brian Laws, looks a new man, a box-to-box ballwinner and sprayer nicknamed “Deaniesta” by the same fans who grumbled when Dyche handed him a new contract in the summer. £1m a piece full-backs Ben Mee and Kieran Trippier rarely look troubled by opposing wingers and Trippier has continued his scintillating attacking form from last season, already achieving double figures in assists from the right-back berth. £1m captain Jason Shackell looks a class above in every department and he is assisted ably by 36 year old Michael Duff- an incredible performer in his testimonial year, and a steal 10 years ago for £30,000.
Dyche didn’t inherit as bad a squad as the pre-season doom mongers would have you believe, then, but the credit for adding to it and moulding it into the team which has only lost 3 games this season, has an unbeaten home record stretching back to March of last year, and has kept much larger clubs with frankly obscene squads (QPR reserve keeper Julio Cesar could probably rival Dyche’s transfer budget with the spare change down the back of his sofa) at arm’s length with a mixture of superb attacking football, a miserly defence, and a winning mentality belongs squarely at his door. It would take a collapse of Devon Loch proportions for the littlest horse to finish outside the top 6 now. Don’t bet against them pipping the favourites to the finishing post.
Written by Tom Whittaker, We Are Going Up’s Burnley Blogger
The run in to last season provided a platform of cautious optimism for Clarets fans, with a good point at home to runaway league leaders Cardiff followed by assured victories over Wolves and Ipswich that even pushed the team to the heady heights of an 11th place finish, an improvement on Eddie Howe’s 13th in his solitary full season in charge. However, a rollercoaster pre-season has seen optimism fluctuate wildly amongst the fanbase, with question marks still hanging over the head of manager Sean Dyche.
The summer’s transfer business has overall been badly received by fans. The departures of million-pound signing Martin Paterson and long-serving youth team product Chris McCann on free transfers were disheartening, particularly as both were key members of the 2009 promotion-winning side. The fact that both moved to divisional rivals, Paterson to Huddersfield and McCann joining former boss Owen Coyle at Wigan, added to the frustration that transfer fees could not be recouped for either player, although both have been plagued by injuries since our return to the second tier and, in truth, may not be as sorely missed as those looking back on the halcyon Premier League days through rose-tinted spectacles would suggest. The other most disappointing departure (apart from the obvious, which we’ll talk about later) was goalkeeper Lee Grant, who elected to return to old club Derby instead of signing a proffered new contract. Long-serving goalkeeper Brian “The Beast” Jensen was another goalkeeping departure, leaving with the best wishes of fans but an understanding that his best days were long behind him.
Even accounting for the disgruntlement over departures, the biggest worry has been the lack of arrivals at the Turf, with young striker Ryan Noble and Huddersfield reserve Scott Arfield seen as wholly inadequate replacements for a frontline weakened by the loss of Paterson and a midfield shorn of its most talented footballer in McCann. David Jones’ arrival, also in the centre of midfield, has been much more positively received, and his partnership with Dean Marney in pre-season has looked very promising, but the issue Arfield’s arrival has failed to address is the lack of strength in depth in this position, with Marvin Bartley departing on loan to Leyton Orient and Brian Stock still struggling to put a run of games together. Another body is welcome in both positions but does Arfield have the quality to step in if Jones or Marney suffer injury or suspension, and does untried youngster Noble have the goals in him to replace last season’s second top scorer Paterson? One position Dyche has sewn up nicely is the goalkeeping position, with Tom Heaton an excellent replacement for Grant on a free transfer, and no less than three young goalkeepers brought in to provide backup and challenge for a place on the bench.
The jury is still out for a lot of fans on Sean Dyche (and there are a fair few fans who have already made their minds up) but it’s worth remembering that he still hasn’t had the opportunity to spend a transfer fee on a player in the two transfer windows he’s been at the club. The squad looks adequate for another reasonably comfortable mid-table season- Kieran Trippier at right back, Jason Shackell at centre half, Junior Stanislas and Ross Wallace out wide and the emerging talent of Danny Ings up front will all continue to be important players- and pre-season results and, crucially, performances have been encouraging, particularly in the excellent 4-1 victory over Sparta Rotterdam, where the free-flowing, passing football was an answer to the numerous critics of Dyche’s perceived “long-ball” style of play. Dyche can rest assured that strong home form, a few goals and a gap between the Clarets and the bottom three should be enough to satisfy home fans for this year at least.
However, the biggest worry for the season emerged on Thursday with the sale of Charlie Austin to QPR for an undisclosed fee believed to be in the region of £3m. It is crucial that this money is at least in part reinvested in a goalscoring centre-forward- Austin managed a whopping 25 goals in the league last year, and even the departed Paterson with 8 managed more than our remaining strikers combined (Vokes 4, Ings 3). Although Ings in particular will be expected to have a much greater impact on the first team this year, that replacement for Austin will be crucial to the team’s chances of success this year, and of course, we’re looking for one later rather than sooner with this sale coming so close to the start of the season. With a failed medical at Hull lowering his value and the difficult prospect of losing him on a free next year emphasised by Paterson and McCann’s departures, the board’s decision to cash in is understandable, but with noises from the Chief Executive suggesting that Dyche will not see much of the money in his quest for a replacement, it’s a very testing time for the relationship between the board and the fans, let alone for the manager and the team, if Austin’s powers aren’t replaced by someone equally groovy.
Written by Tom Whittaker, We Are Going Up’s Burnley Blogger
It’s my first blog of the 2012/13 season and to be honest, there’s been very little to talk about so far. Disregarding derby victories over Bolton, Blackburn and Leeds, the shock departure of Eddie Howe, the immensely enjoyable departure of Owen Coyle, the appointment of “Stone Cold” Sean Dyche, and our first 20-goal a season striker since the halcyon days of Andy Payton, it’s been a very boring start…
First, let’s address that 20 goal striker, Charlie Austin, who until a recent unforgivable two-game scoring drought had Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo quaking in their boots when casting an eye at the next Ballon D’Or votes. To have 20 goals before December is an absolutely phenomenal achievement, shattering all sorts of club records in the process, and while all sensible Burnley fans are resigned to the prospect of his leaving, either in January or June, everyone is thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to watch a striker of this calibre in the claret and blue.
He’s performed a more workmanlike role under Sean Dyche, still chipping in with two goals under the new manager, but it was under Eddie Howe, where his role was simply to wait around the penalty area and smash home anything that came near, where we saw the kind of instinctual goal-getting which marks Austin out as a future England cap (and the last player we said that about at Burnley was Gary Cahill!) All he needs now is a winning goal against Blackburn on December 2nd and his place in Burnley history is forever sealed – well done Charlie.
I alluded briefly to the contrast in styles we’ve seen already from Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche, and a word on both managers. The reaction to Eddie Howe’s departure was strangely muted- the family reasons which saw him return to his family and his old club Bournemouth on the south coast were understood and accepted by the majority of fans, and the evidence of Howe’s superb run since returning suggest that it was a step he really needed to take.
Similarly, he had been stuck in something of a rut at Burnley. A lower mid-table finish seemed the best we could hope for this season, and performances and results had failed to live up to the early season optimism brought by the comprehensive opening day defeat of Bolton Wanderers. Of particular concern was the hapless defending which marked the last few months of Howe’s tenure.
Retrospectively, though, it must be acknowledged that Howe steered us through a period of rebuilding efficiently, dealing with the sales of many of our best players, moving on some of the old guard, and leaving us with a decent young squad with a number of saleable assets. Only the most churlish Burnley fan would wish him anything but the best for the future.
Sean Dyche was the man eventually chosen as his replacement, and despite a clamour for Mick McCarthy and an initial uncertainty that we were getting a manager from “only” Watford (a team I vividly remember sticking seven past us at Turf Moor,) Dyche has settled in well, with two home wins and, crucially, two clean sheets in his first two games endearing him to the fans (especially with one of those victories coming against Leeds!)
Subsequent defeats to Ipswich and Charlton have tempered expectations somewhat, but refereeing decisions played a part in both results, and the application of the players has been very notable even in these games. Dyche’s frantic arm waving and just-gargled-with-razorblades post-match interviews have been popular with a Burnley crowd who ‘love a bit of passion’ (this was certainly a factor which counted against the more circumspect Howe.)
Early days yet, and we’ll need a transfer window that passes without the re-signing of Chris Iwelumo before we can be totally sure, but it’s a tentative “yes” for Sean Dyche from the Burnley faithful thus far.
The victories over Bolton and Leeds were undoubtedly the high point of each manager’s season so far, with the contribution to Owen Coyle’s departure particularly enjoyable for the Burnley fans, many of whom are finally achieving a sense of real closure over the whole Coyle-to-Bolton saga as he left with Bolton once again below Burnley in the table, as they had been when he arrived at the Reebok.
Indeed, the Premier League relegation zone was a dream for Clarets fans last season, with dear neighbours Blackburn joining us in the second tier for the first time since 2001. It’s hard not to feel sympathy for any set of fans under the stewardship of owners like the Venky’s, and while Steve Kean’s name was sung from the terraces at Turf Moor a few times, there is definitely a bit more conviviality around the derby than normal, with many Burnley fans in a position to understand the frustrations of Rovers fans somewhat better than many of the unsympathetic national media.
That said, there’s sure to be no love lost when the two teams meet at Turf Moor on December 2nd. Burnley fans’ expectations should be tempered in the knowledge that Blackburn spent more to acquire Jordan Rhodes than we did on our entire first XI, but with home derby victories already secured against Bolton, Blackpool and Leeds without conceding, there’s a real opportunity for Sean Dyche to immediately win over all the Burnley supporters by providing fans with a long overdue win against the old enemy. Charlie Austin hat-trick anyone?
Written by Tom Whittaker, We Are Going Up’s Burnley Blogger
After a very mixed start to 2011/12, Burnley’s season was poised on a knife-edge and at half past four on Saturday 26th November, it seemed that the balance was tipping disastrously- two goals down at play-off contenders Hull City, on the back of four straight defeats, the Clarets were now marooned in the relegation zone and even the most faithful fans were starting to question the manager, even with recognition of the difficult circumstances he has inherited this season.
But cometh the hour, cometh the man, and step forward a very unlikely saviour. Canadian defender David Edgar, enjoying his first sustained run in the team since arriving from Newcastle at the beginning of the Premier League season, popped up with his first and second goals for the club and out of nowhere, an abject performance looked to be yielding a result. Suddenly, confidence was high, the Burnley fans were in full voice and wave after wave of attacks on the shellshocked Hull goal produced a last gasp winner from the more familiar source of Jay Rodriguez. Burnley had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, and this was not just true for the match, but for the season at large.
Since that incredible 15 minutes on Humberside, Burnley have not looked back, recording seven wins and two draws from the last eleven games to sit firmly in playoff contention, with some cracking results including away wins at high-fliers West Ham and Middlesbrough. Jay Rodriguez has also gone from strength to strength since the game, scoring seven in his last eleven and attracting attention from the likes of Newcastle and Everton. With a year left on his contract, it will be a great surprise to see him lining up for Burnley at the beginning of next season. Indeed, with the board’s track record this season, we are lucky to still have him!
But having been frequently critical of the board in this blog, it’s only fair to credit them with some excellent business in the January transfer window. Not only did we see no departures – many Burnley fans were gloomily predicting the sale of Rodriguez, amongst others – no less than four players were brought in. Danny Lafferty, a young left back from Derry City, is one for the future. Josh McQuoid on loan from Millwall looks a useful squad player, but the permanent deals concluded for Manchester City loanees Ben Mee and Kieran Trippier were the best business – Trippier especially at a million pounds was a bargain, and I would be very surprised if he is not sold for double that when he eventually moves on.
Mee and Trippier have been at the forefront of the other renaissance in the Burnley squad, the defence. With only one clean sheet before the game at Hull, they have now recorded an astounding seven in eleven games. The defensive partnership of Michael Duff and David Edgar is proving the most solid since John McGreal and Gary Cahill in 2005, ably assisted by Trippier and Mee, whose move to left back at the expense of the shaky Brian Easton has improved the team immeasurably. Goalkeeper Lee Grant has also shown his best form since signing, and it is a very refreshing change to see a Burnley team so solid at the back, as regular viewers of Match of the Day in 2009/10 will no doubt attest.
Another key problem which Eddie Howe has addressed is winning away. Owen Coyle managed two away wins in the calendar year of 2009, Brian Laws managed two in 2010, but Howe oversaw eleven in 2011, with eight so far this season. For a fan who missed very few of those away games in 2009 and 2010, this has been a very welcome change and really pays tribute to the new fortitude of the defence and the manager’s tactical nous.
Patchy home form, including defeat to Portsmouth and weather-affected draws with Derby and Peterborough, has tempered excitement somewhat, but the form Burnley have shown in the last two months has been nothing short of outstanding, and firmly tipped the balance in favour of a promotion campaign this season. The play-offs are just out of reach at present and squad depth is still a problem but if players can be kept fit, the rest of the season could be a more exciting one than any Burnley fan had dared hope for at half past four on the 26th of November 2011.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to say a big thanks and best wishes to our chairman, Barry Kilby, who announced this week that he will be stepping down at the end of the season due to health problems, In thirteen seasons at the helm, Burnley have gone from battling relegation into League Two to Premier League football, without slipping outside the top two divisions since 2000.
The ITV Digital crisis hit the club hard, like many others, but some shrewd choices of manager (Brian Laws apart, perhaps) have steered Burnley through financial problems, without spending beyond their means or putting the future of the club in serious jeopardy. We may regret the failure to really capitalise on Premier League money, but we can confidently predict that the future of the club is secure for many years to come, which many clubs would be very happy to boast. All Burnley fans will toast his sensible and successful chairmanship and he is assured of a tremendous reception at Tuesday night’s home game with Barnsley. Thanks Barry.
Written by Tom Whittaker, We Are Going Up’s Burnley Blogger
FA Cup third round day is a key fixture of the post-Christmas football calendar. Held on the first weekend in January, the third round is where the big sides from the top two divisions enter the competition.
In the earlier preliminary rounds, plus the first and second rounds teams from all over the country have fought to get this far, in the hope of securing a money-spinning tie and having a chance of upsetting one of the heavyweights.
League form goes out of the window on third round weekend as teams from the lower leagues take on some of the country’s most decorated sides. This stage of the competition has become famous for throwing up its fair share of shocks down the years, with underdogs upsetting the odds. Here’s ten Football League sides who did just that….
10: Liverpool 1 Reading 2 2010
In January 2010, Championship strugglers Reading forced a 1-1 draw against Liverpool at the Madejski Stadium to earn a replay at Anfield 11 days later – where it was expected the home side would win.
However Reading had other ideas. Despite falling behind when Ryan Bertrand unluckily deflected Steven Gerrard’s cross into his own net a minute into first-half injury time, the Royals held their own against Rafa Benitez’s side. With 91 minutes on the clock, a throw in led to Reading striker Shane Long being fouled in the Liverpool penalty area, winning a dramatic late penalty for the visitors. Gylfi Sigurdsson stepped up, sent goalkeeper Cavalieri the wrong way to force extra-time.
Having saved themselves, Reading then took the lead with ten minutes of extra-time remaining. Brynjar Gunnarsson nutmegged Emiliano Insua down the right hand side and sent in a cross which Long met with a glancing header into the far corner in front of the Kop. Liverpool were unable to find an equaliser as Reading held on to win 2-1 as Anfield was left stunned.
9: Manchester United 0 Leeds United 1 2010
When League One Leeds United travelled to Old Trafford to face great rivals and reigning Premier League champions Manchester United in the 2010 third round, a rivalry was rekindled. The tie evoked memories of the beginning of the century when the two were challenging at the top of the Premiership, but was also a reminder of how far Leeds had fallen since.
At the time of this match Leeds were seeking promotion to the Championship, with Jermaine Beckford’s goals keeping them in the hunt. The striker would produce the one crucial moment against United, as his goal in front of the Stretford End gave Leeds a memorable victory and progress into the fourth round. An historic result too as it was the first time United were knocked out at this stage under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson.
8: Burnley 1 Liverpool 0 2005
This game was memorable not only for Burnley’s unexpected win, but the comical own goal which gave them their victory. Liverpool travelled to Turf Moor for this third round tie but failed to put in a meaningful performance, and were punished.
After a first-half in which Burnley were the better side, the Clarets took the lead six minutes after the break when Richard Chaplow rolled a low cross into the Liverpool penalty area from the left, and Reds full-back Djimi Traore thought he was Zinedine Zidane, with disastrous consequences. The defender tried to turn as he controlled the ball, only to complete a dragback on the spin which ended up with the ball rolling into the back of his own net. A ridiculous goal which gifted Burnley a place in the fourth round.
7: Bournemouth 2 Manchester United 0 1984
In January 1984 Manchester United entered the 1983/84 FA Cup third round as holders, having beaten Brighton and Hove Albion in the 1983 final. Their defence of the triphy began with what seemed a straightforward trip to Third Division Bournemouth. The Cherries were near the bottom of the league and United had lost just once on the road that season, with the likes of Bryan Robson, Arnold Muhren and Frank Stapleton in their team. Bournemouth’s manager was Harry Redknapp, three months into his first managerial position.
United failed to offer much during the game and went behind on the hour after goalkeeper Gary Bailey fumbled a cross. Milton Graham was on hand to score and send 16,000 fans at Dean Court into raptures. Four minutes later Ian Thompson added a second goal and sealed a well-deserved 2-0 win for Bournemouth.
6: Sunderland 1 Notts County 2 2010
When former Manchester United team-mates Paul Ince and Steve Bruce went head-to-head in the dugout in January 2010, it was the former who earned the bragging rights, as Ince’s League One strugglers Notts County secured a memorable 2-1 success over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
It was Notts who took the lead five minutes in when Craig Westcarr’s flick was fumbled into his own net by Black Cats goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and despite some efforts at goal in reply, Sunderland could not find a goal and fell further behind with fifteen minutes to go. County striker Lee Hughes saw his first effort saved by Mignolet but tucked in the rebound from an acute angle to make the game more comfortable for the visitors.
Darren Bent pulled a goal back from the penalty spot on 81 minutes, but it was not enough as Notts secured an impressive victory.
5: Everton 0 Oldham Athletic 1 2008
Four years ago Oldham Athletic from League One pulled off one of the shocks of that year’s FA Cup by beating Everton at Goodison Park. Everton were flying-high in the Premier League and Oldham were mid-table in the third tier but it was John Sheridan’s team who prevailed thanks to a stunning 25-yard strike from Gary McDonald seconds before half-time.
Everton pushed for an equaliser, Yakubu hitting the post deep into the second-half, but Oldham’s lead remained comfortable and their strong rearguard display saw them through to the fourth round at the expense of David Moyes’ side.
4: Swindon Town 2 Wigan Athletic 1 2012
Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon Town side gave us one of the shocks of this year’s third round, as they came from behind to beat Premier League Wigan Athletic at the County Ground.
Callum McManaman looked to be setting the visitors on course for victory when he tucked home the rebound after Ben Watson’s penalty kick came back out off the post, but the League Two hosts fought back. Five minutes before the break, Alan Connell glanced a header into the far corner of the net from Matt Ritchie’s right-wing cross to level matters going into half-time.
Swindon continued to hold their own against Roberto Martinez’s Latics and got their reward fifteen minutes from the end. A 25-yard shot from Ritchie deflected off the legs of striker Paul Benson and rolled into the back of the net with Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi stranded. Swindon held on to defeat a side three leagues above them to the joy of the capacity crowd at the final whistle.
3: Stevenage 3 Newcastle United 1 2011
The 2011 third round draw pitted Stevenage against Newcastle United, rekindling memories of the time when the two met at the fourth round in 1998, where a goal from Giuliano Grazioli saw the non-league outfit secure a replay at St. James Park, which the Magpies won 2-1.
In 2011 Stevenage were playing their first season as a Football League club under the management of Graham Westley and were 13th in League Two as Alan Pardew’s Premier League Newcastle visited Broadhall Way. After a goalless first half the underdogs took the lead when Stacy Long’s strike deflected off Mike Williamson and sent Tim Krul the wrong way as it crossed the line. Newcastle fell further behind five minutes later when Michael Bostwick drilled a low shot in off the post to give the hosts a shock 2-0 lead.
Newcastle had midfielder Cheik Tiote sent off for a wild lunge on what would be an uncomfortable night for the visitors and despite Joey Barton’s outstanding 30-yard drive which halved the defecit two minutes into injury time, Stevenage extended their lead and sealed their place in the fourth round three minutes later, as Peter Winn clipped an effort over the advancing Krul after being played in by John Mousinho to send the home fans into raptures.
2: Shrewsbury Town 2 Everton 1 2003
In Jnauary 2003, Shrewsbury Town manager Kevin Ratcliffe, the most successful captain in Everton history, masterminded an FA Cup shock against his former club, knocking them out of the competition with victory at Gay Meadow. Shrewsbury, in the Third Division were 80 places below their opponents in the league standings but took the game to their more illustrious opponents, being denied on several occasions by Toffees goalkeeper Richard Wright.
However two goals from veteran striker Nigel Jemson either side of a Niclas Alexandersson equaliser – the second coming two minutes from time – sent the Shrews fans into delirium and humbled David Moyes’ Everton team which boasted the likes of Wayne Rooney and Tomas Radzinski in their ranks.
1: Wrexham 2 Arsenal 1 1992
At the Racecourse Ground in 1992, basement division Wrexham wrote themselves into FA Cup history with an unforgettable victory over George Graham’s Arsenal side. The Gunners were reigning league champions and expected to brush aside the Welsh outfit, bottom of the fourth division whilst Arsenal were near the top of the first.
Arsenal took the lead through a close-range finish from Alan Smith and looked to be going through, but with ten minutes to go 37-year-old Mickey Thomas, formerly of Manchester United and Chelsea, rolled back the years as he powered a superb 25-yard free kick past David Seaman to level the game.
With the crowd still in raptures after Thomas’ thunderbolt, the minnows from North Wales were not content with a draw as Steve Watkin squeezed an effort under Seaman’s dive to give Wrexham a 2-1 lead late on in the game. That’s how things stayed and at the final whistle, a pitch invasion ensued as the home supporters celebrated the most unlikely of FA Cup victories.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and blogger
The League Cup has, in recent years, been written off by some observers as a second rate competition which creates unwanted congestion on an already hectic fixture calendar. However many Football League clubs have enjoyed successful runs in the competition, with some reaching the semi-finals, the final or even winning the cup itself on occasion.
It is no secret that many of the country’s biggest clubs use the League Cup as an opportunity to play the reserves or field their youngsters, which can lead to some unexpected results and allow lower ranked sides to reach the latter stages of the tournament.
Last week Dougie Freedman’s Crystal Palace upset the odds by defeating Manchester United 2-1 at Old Trafford to reach the semi-finals – where they will meet fellow Championship side Cardiff City after they beat Premier League Blackburn Rovers in the last eight. Since the League Cup’s inception in the 1960/61 season there have been plenty of other upsets and this week Toppo’s Top Ten looks at some of the most memorable….
10: Sheffield Wednesday 1 Manchester United 0 1991
Wembley has seen its fair share of cup final upsets down the years and the 1991 League Cup Final was no different. Manchester United went into the game as FA Cup holders and huge favourites as they faced Sheffield Wednesday, who would go on to win promotion from the Second Division that season.
Former United manager Ron Atkinson was the Owls’ manager, pitted against Alex Ferguson, the man who replaced him in the Old Trafford hotseat five years before. It would be Big Ron who would be smiling by the end of 90 minutes as a ferocious volley from midfielder John Sheridan settled the game. The second tier outfit pulled off a shock by beating United to claim the League Cup for the first time in their history.
9: Norwich City 0 Milton Keynes Dons 4 2011
Premier League new boys Norwich City crashed out of this season’s Carling Cup in the first round with a humiliating 4-0 home defeat to an MK Dons side two divisions below them. Canaries manager Paul Lambert made eleven changes for this match and his side fell behind on 21 minutes to a goal from former Norwich player Luke Chadwick. Striker Sam Baldock, in one of his final Dons appearances before his transfer to West Ham United, doubled the lead seven minutes later with a powerful strike having been played in by Stephen Gleeson.
In the second half Karl Robinson’s side extended their lead further as Chadwick combined with Dean Bowditch before netting his second of the game and substitute Daniel Powell capitalised on some poor home defending to make it four on 67 minutes. A memorable win at Carrow Road for MK Dons which is Lambert’s heaviest defeat during his two year tenure as Norwich boss.
8: Queens Park Rangers 3 West Bromwich Abion 2 1967
By 1967 the League Cup had been running for seven years but this year’s final was the first to be played at Wembley – up until then the final consisted of a two-legged affair with a match played at the home ground of each team. The first final underneath the Twin Towers proved to be a cracker, as First Division side West Bromwich Albion met Third Division Queens Park Rangers, playing at Wembley for the first time.
The favourites lived up to their pre-match billing as as they took a 2-0 lead into half-time thanks to former QPR winger Clive Clark’s brace. However the Hoops fought back in twenty second half minutes as Roger Morgan scored with a header to make it 2-1, then a great individual run and strike from Rodney Marsh equalised. Rangers eventually won 3-2 thanks to Mark Lazarus’ late goal and in doing so they became the first club from the third tier to win a major trophy.
7: Southend United 1 Manchester United 0 2006
Manchester United won the Carling Cup in the 2005/06 season and were looking to reach the quarter-finals the following campaign. In their way were Championship side Southend United and a capacity crowd packed into Roots Hall to witness this fourth round encounter.
Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a United side including ten internationals in the hope of avoiding an upset with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney on the field for the whole 90 minutes, but they would end the night humbled. On 27 minutes Southend frontman Freddy Eastwood lined up a free-kick some distance from goal before running up and unleashing an unstoppable, bending drive which beat Tomas Kuszczak in the United goal to put Southend a goal up.
Despite United pouring forward in search of an equaliser, Southend goalkeeper Darryl Flahavan kept them at bay with a string of great saves while Eastwood threatened on the break at the other end. However the Premier League outfit could not find a way through and it was Southend who knocked out the holders, progressing to the last eight of the competition.
6: Chelsea 1 Burnley 1 (Burnley win 5-4 on penalties) 2008
In the 2008/09 season Championship side Burnley reached the semi-finals of the Carling Cup, where they were knocked out by top-flight Tottenham Hotspur over two legs. On their way to the last four, Burnley beat Premier League leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Fourth Round in a dramatic penalty shootout.
Didier Drogba looked to set Chelsea on their way to the next round as expected when he finished expertly having been played in by Frank Lampard in the first half. However after the break Burnley fought their way back into the game and equalised through Ade Akinbiyi – sending the 6,000 travelling Clarets fans mad.
The game went into extra-time where Chelsea had a goal disallowed and missed several opportunities to win, but with no goal forthcoming the tie would be settled on penalties. After five-spot kicks each, both sides missed one and scored four before Michael Duff converted Burnley’s sixth. Jon Obi Mikel stepped up next for Chelsea and Clarets goalkeeper Brian Jensen made himself a hero, diving full length to his right to palm the effort away and send the second tier club into the next round.
5: Liverpool 1 Grimsby Town 2 2001
In the 2001/02 season, Division One side Grimsby Town pulled off a famous result at Anfield, knocking Worthington Cup holders Liverpool out of the competition in the third round. After a goalless 90 minutes, the match headed into extra-time and a David Beharall handball gave the hosts the chance to go in front from the penalty spot eleven minutes in. Gary McAllister slotted home the spot-kick, but in the second period of extra-time Grimsby hit back.
Centre-back Marlon Broomes volleyed a 113th minute equaliser in front of the travelling Grimsby support and, in amazing fashion it was the visitors who would take the lead late on. Liverpool were pushing for the winner but Town went up the other end where, from 35 yards out, Phil Jevons unleashed a piledriver which flew into the top corner of Chris Kirkland’s net. Jevons, a boyhood Liverpool fan, had joined the Mariners from Everton in pre-season and instantly became a hero at Blundell Park with an incredible 120th minute strike.
4: Arsenal 1 Walsall 2 1983
Fifty years before this 1983 Milk Cup fourth round tie, Walsall stunned Arsenal by beating them in the FA Cup and they would go on to do something similar at Highbury. At the time Arsenal were in trouble both on and off the pitch, with fans calling for manager Terry Neill to be sacked, however a home cup tie against Third Division Walsall should have provided some respite.
Things looked to be going to plan as Stewart Robson put the Gunners ahead just after the half hour, although Walsall were enjoying most of the play. The Saddlers got their reward fifteen minutes into the second half as Mark Rees netted after Ally Brown’s shot came out to him for the equaliser. Then with five minutes to go, the underdogs took the lead as David Preece’s left-wing cross was not dealt with by the Arsenal defence and the ball fell to Brown who slammed it high into the net to win the tie.
A great result for Walsall and their player-manager Alan Buckley as his side progressed to the quarter-finals. This result spelled the end of Neill’s tenure as Arsenal boss, paving the way for George Graham to take charge.
3: Liverpool 2 Northampton Town 2 (Northampton win 4-2 on penalties) 2010
In the third round of last season’s Carling Cup, Northampton Town pulled off arguably the shock of the tournament by knocking out Premier League Liverpool at Anfield. Reds boss Roy Hodgson made many changes to his side, picking mainly fringe players but they got off to a good start as Milan Jovanovic gave them the lead on nine minutes.
In the second half a Cobblers free-kick was knocked down to Billy McKay who rifled it into the roof of the net as the Town fans behind the goal celebrated wildly and that was how the scores remained after 90 minutes. Northampton, 17th in League Two and three divisions below their opponents, took the lead in extra-time when the ball broke to Michael Jacobs who stuck it into the top corner in front of the Kop. As the visitors sensed a famous victory, David Ngog equalised for Liverpool with four minutes left, to the relief of Hodgson and the Reds fans inside Anfield.
The match went to penalties and in the teaming rain, Town striker Stephen Guinan and Ngog missed their penalties before Nathan Eccleston hit Liverpool’s fifth against the crossbar to hand Northampton a chance of victory. Under great pressure, Abdul Osman stepped forward and sent Brad Jones the wrong way to clinch Town’s place in the fourth round – a great achievement from Ian Sampson’s side.
2: Manchester United 0 York City 3 1995
It is a great achievement for many sides to come away from Old Trafford with a win – for a fourth tier side to do it is quite remarkable, especially by the margin York City defeated Manchester United in the second round of the League Cup in 1995.
Alex Ferguson brought in some of his fringe players – including David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Phil Neville – alongside proven players like Ryan Giggs and Gary Pallister but they could not stop their visitors crusing to victory. Alan Little’s York took the lead through Paul Barnes’ deflected strike and in the second half Barnes doubled it from the penalty spot, before Tony Barras made it three from a header in front of a stunned Old Trafford crowd.
In the return leg United fielded a stronger lineup and levelled the tie – but conceded one goal to be knocked out 4-3 on aggregate in one of York’s greatest ever victories.
1: Swindon Town 3 Arsenal 1 1969
One of the greatest upsets in any English cup competition. The 1969 League Cup final pitted Third Division Swindon Town against First Division Arsenal, under the stewardship of Bertie Mee, who would lead them to the League and FA Cup double two years later. However Danny Williams’ Swindon were out to cause an upset in the showpiece match at Wembley.
It was the Robins who took a shock lead through Roger Smart after a mix-up in the Arsenal defence left goalkeeper Bob Wilson stranded, presenting Smart with an easy finish. Swindon held on until the 86th minute when goalkeeper Peter Downsborough failed to clear the ball and Bobby Gould punced to head home the equaliser and seemingly dash the underdog’s hopes of an upset. However in extra-time Swindon had the better of the play and regained the lead as Don Rogers netted after a corner was not cleared by the Gunners.
In the second period of extra-time Arsenal went forward in search of another equaliser but lost the ball and Swindon broke on the counter-attack. The ball was played through to Rogers who, in acres of space, carried the ball towards goal before cooly rounding Wilson to score and make it 3-1. Arsenal could not find a way back and it was Swindon who pulled off a famous victory, lifting major silverware for the first time in their history.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and blogger
Tweet Steven at @steven_toplis with your suggestions for Toppo’s Top Tens
The vast majority of football matches see a couple of goals scored per game at most. However on occasion, there can be matches where both sides go goal crazy, scoring at will. These make great spectacles for the neutral but can often leave the fans of the teams involved embarking on an emotional rollercoaster during 90 minutes of action-packed football.
Cardiff City and Barnsley scored eight goals between them on Saturday, as the home side ran out 5-3 winners at the Cardiff City stadium in one of the most entertaining matches of the Championship season so far. There have been many similar matches in Football League history, where the attacking teams have field days and the defences are pretty much non-existent. Here are ten games with big scorelines which gave those paying fans in attendance more than their money’s worth.
10: Cardiff City 5 Barnsley 3 2011
It is South Wales where this weekend’s top ten begins with Cardiff’s victory over Barnsley. As the visiting side, Keith Hill’s Barnsley scored three times but still went back home to Yorkshire with nothing to show for their efforts, instead rueing the five goals they had to pick out of the back of their net.
Kenny Miller got things going ten minutes in as he slotted a low finish into the bottom corner of the goal and it was soon two, Joe Mason tucking home the rebound after Peter Whittingham’s powerful free-kick was parried by Luke Steele. Former Cardiff loanee Danny Drinkwater pulled a goal back for Barnsley with a deflected free-kick but two minutes later the Bluebird’s Icelandic midfielder Aron Gunnarsson volley his side 3-1 into the lead.
Drinkwater hit the bar early in the second period but Cardiff extended their lead when Don Cowie rounded Steele before stroking the ball into the net cooly. Gunnarsson then grabbed his second as he finished off a good team move from eight yards out to make the score a seemingly comfortable 5-1 to the hosts. However Jim McNulty headed home Danny Butterfield’s corner on 82 minutes to give the visitors a glimmer of hope and then four minutes later, Ricardo Vaz Te rifled a low shot past David Marshall to make it a nervous last few minutes for Cardiff, but they secured an entertaining victory.
9: Peterborough United 5 Bristol Rovers 4 2008
Under the management of Darren Ferguson, Peterborough United have served up their fair share of entertaining matches, scoring goals for fun whilst sometimes allowing their opponents the chance to stick a few in their net too. One such occasion came in League Two three years ago as they and Bristol Rovers scored nine goals in a game.
Craig Mackail-Smith gave Posh the lead after sixteen minutes, linking up well with strike partner Aaron McLean before shooting home and returning the favour seven minutes later, setting up McLean who made it 2-0. Rovers’ Steve Elliott then reduced arrears with a back-post header to make the score 2-1 going into the break.
In the second half Mackail-Smith scored his second from the penalty spot before Shane Blackett put through his own net to hand Rovers a lifeline at 3-2. Mackail-Smith then grabbed his hat-trick with a left-foot finish to cap off a fine solo run but Rovers pegged back their hosts once again, Jeff Hughes tapping in from close range. With seven minutes to go Scott Rendell looked to have wrapped things up for Peterborough, heading in to make it 5-3 but Rickie Lambert curled home a superb free-kick two minutes later to set up a grandstand finish – Posh holding on to claim a memorable victory.
8: Grimsby Town 6 Burnley 5 2002
Prior to this game, Grimsby had found goals hard to come by in Division One but they ended up sharing eleven with Lancashire outfit Burnley on an amazing night at Blundell Park. On-loan Crystal Palace striker Steve Kabba opened the scoring for Town before Burnley frontman Gareth Taylor equalised.
Steve Livingstone rose highest to nod a left-wing cross into the bottom corner of the net for 2-1 to the hosts but Ian Moore levelled again as he controlled a ball into the box and lashed home a left-footed effort beyond Danny Coyne. Steve Kabba scored his second to make it 3-2 and Stuart Campbell made it four, tapping in Terry Cooke’s cross. However before the break Burnley were back in it as Robbie Blake’s acrobatic volley saw the scores at 4-3 going into the break.
In the second period Burnley equalised, Gareth Taylor’s finish the eighth goal scored in what was already an outstanding match. It got better as Alan Pouton scored a penalty for 5-4 to Grimsby then defender Simon Ford made it 6-4 with half an hour to go, heading past Clarets goalkeeper Marlon Beresford from a corner. However Robbie Blake’s penalty ensured a nervy final seven minutes for the Mariners but they held out for a remarkable 6-5 victory.
Later in that same season Burnley were involved in another thriller, this time shipping seven goals at home to Ray Lewington’s Watford. Wayne Brown gave Watford the lead at Turf Moor, heading home Neal Eardley’s corner thirteen minutes in but Gareth Taylor equalised for Burnley two minutes later.
Watford went back ahead not long after when Micah Hyde converted Gavin Mahon’s centre for 2-1 and another Eardley corner asked questions of the Clarets’ defence, Neil Cox this time nodding into the back of the net to give the visitors a two goal cushion. On 29 minutes Watford had a fourth, a young Michael Chopra, on loan from Newcastle United beating the offside trap to score. Steve Davis made it 4-2 on 35 minutes then Taylor scored his second four minutes later to make it 4-3. Watford restored their two goal leads seconds after the restart, Paulo Vernazza’s through ball finished off by Chopra despite the attentions of the on-rushing Marlon Beresford. Howver Taylor had one final say in the first half, netting his hat-trick with an unstoppable shot which flew past Hornets’ goalkeeper Alec Chamberlain. The score was an incredible 5-4 at half-time.
The goalscoring continued in the second half as Chopra completed his hat-trick, tapping into an empty net after good work down the right by Eardley and the 19-year-old netted his fourth in injury time, rifling in a Jason Norville cross to round off an emphatic away win for the Hornets.
6: Chesterfield 5 Crewe Alexandra 5 2010
One of the best matches in the Football League last season without question, as League Two sides Chesterfield and Crewe shared ten goals at the B2Net stadium. Crewe went in front after just four minutes as Luke Murphy headed home at the back post and they doubled their lead two minutes later as Lee Bell flighted a free-kick over the Spireites’ wall and into the net beyond ‘keeper Tommy Lee. Alex were crusing seven minutes afterwards as Byron Moore raced through the home side’s absent defence to slot home for 3-0. The ever-prolific Jack Lester gave Chesterfield some hope with a 23rd minute header but Shaun Miller rounded Lee and made the score 4-1 at the break.
With sixteen minutes to go that’s how the scores remained but Chesterfield were defending an unbeaten home run which they clearly did not want to let slip, Lester grabbing his second of the match to peg Crewe back. Danny Whittaker then scored from the penalty spot to make it 4-3 and the comeback was well and truly on, however Clayton Donaldson swept home a fifth for Crewe to re-establish their two goal lead.
Chesterfield were not done though and won another penalty when Craig Clay was felled in the box, Whittaker rifling it in to make it 5-4 with a minute of normal time remaining. Incredibly the hosts found their equaliser two minutes into stoppage time when Clay powered home a low drive into the bottom corner to send the home fans wild and rescue an unlikely point for his side.
5: Accrington Stanley 7 Gillingham 4 2010
On the same day, at the same time as Chesterfield and Crewe were playing out their thriller, Accrington Stanley and Gillingham served up a match equally as epic with eleven goals scored at the Crown Ground.
Sean McConville opened the scoring for Stanley on thirteen minutes but Gillingham hit back through two neat finishes from Mark Bentley. Andy Parkinson equalised for the hosts as he slammed home his first Football League goal for three years, latching onto Terry Gornell’s through ball. Charlie Barnett then gave them the lead, his cross-shot finding the top corner of the net before half-time.
Ten minutes after the break Gillingham levelled, Cody McDonald embarking on a long run before clipping the ball over the onrushing Stanley ‘keeper Iain Dunbavin for 3-3, however it soon started going wrong for the Kent outfit. They had not won away from home for 17 months prior to this match and that run would continue. The hosts were awarded a penalty which Phil Edwards dispatched and on 62 minutes he scored his second, again from the penalty spot after Terry Gornell was brought down in the box.
Gornell beat the offside trap to score his side’s sixth nine minutes later and despite Adebayo Akinfenwa’s 79th minute penalty, Jimmy Ryan scored a minute into added time to make the final score 7-4 to Accrington in what was a pulsating match.
4: Ipswich Town 6 Crewe Alexandra 4 2004
Portman Road has played host to some of the most memorable matches in Ipswich Town history and this one is right up there with the best of them, the Tractor Boys prevailing in a ten goal thriller against Crewe Alexandra in Division One.
A mistake by Crewe defender presented Tommy Miller with the chance to give Ipswich the lead early on and he fired beyond Clayton Ince for 1-0 before making it two after nine minutes with a cracking left-foot drive. Dean Ashton volleyed home to keep Crewe in the game and played a part as Alex equalised after the break, the striker’s cross turned into his own net by Ipswich centre-back John McGreal.
On 55 minutes Shefki Kuqi nodded Matt Richards’ cross past Ince to put Ipswich back in front but the Suffolk club scored another own goal, this time Richards undoing his good work earlier as a parried shot richocheted off him into the net. Dutch winger Martin Reuser curled a fine effort past Ince as Ipswich went back in front, then the Crewe stopper could not do enough to keep Pablo Counago’s effort out and the score stood at 5-3 to the hosts with sixteen minutes left on the clock. James Robinson made it 5-4 on 82 minutes with a shot from twelve yards but Kuqi settled Town nerves two minutes from time, his cool finish completing a 6-4 success for Joe Royle’s side.
3: Leeds United 4 Preston North End 6 2010
An extraordinary match from last season’s Championship. Newly-promoted Leeds United, on the fringe of the play-off spots hosted Preston North End at Elland Road, the visitors suffering an inconsistent start under manager Darren Ferguson.
It was North End who drew first blood through Jon Parkin, tapping in after Leeds’ Shane Higgs parried a cross. Luciano Becchio’s header levelled the game and it was another header which put Leeds in front, Alex Bruce beating North End goalkeeper Andy Lonergan. Lloyd Sam set up Davide Somma to make the score 3-1 to Leeds on 27 minutes before Somma scored again to make it four. Parkin almost immediately pulled a goal back for Preston before the break, but few inside the ground would’ve predicted the events of the second half.
Keith Treacy made it 4-3 nine minutes after the restart from a corner as the home defence began to look rattled. United defender George McCartney hauled down Paul Coutts in the box to give Preston a penalty, which captain Callum Davidson dispatched with ease high into the net for the equaliser. Preston completed the comeback incredibly with 25 minutes remaining as Parkin scored his third of the night, blasting home a low left-foot shot and with eleven to go Iain Hume made it 6-4 to the away side, heading in Billy Jones’ diagonal cross from the right, what a game.
2: Peterborough United 4 Cardiff City 4 2009
An amazing comeback at London Road. Peterborough United, the Championship’s bottom side, faced fourth-placed Cardiff City in December 2009 and the two shared eight goals in what was ‘a game of two halves.’
Cardiff had the better of the first and took the lead through Wales international Joe Ledley after being set up by Peter Whittingham, he then grabbed his second with a header from a corner. Jay Bothroyd made it three, the striker cut in from the right before firing an unstoppable left-footed strike into Joe Lewis’ bottom corner and on 38 minutes it was 4-0, Whittingham curling a free-kick into the back of the net. Cardiff looked to be crusing and ready to cement their spot in the play-offs.
Peterborough manager Mark Cooper must have given the mother of all half-time team talks as his side roused themselves for the second 45. Substitute Josh Simpson began the comeback six minutes after the break following good work down the left from Craig Mackail-Smith then Charlie Lee scored a second for Posh, nodding home George Boyd’s cross. Cardiff’s resolve was tested to the limit in the final 22 minutes as the hosts dominated and with a minute of normal time remaining, Boyd’s dipping volley set up a tense finale. Incredibly Peterborough pulled off the comeback two minutes into injury time as Simpson levelled, rifling in from close-range after the Cardiff defence failed to clear a long throw-in. Posh were still bottom but had played their part in a fantastic match.
1: Burton Albion 5 Cheltenham Town 6 2010
League Two strugglers Burton Albion and Cheltenham Town met at the Pirelli Stadium in March 2010, where they played out one of the most incredible matches in Football League history with goals aplenty and a stirring comeback from the away side.
Burton went in front just two minutes in as Shaun Harrad volleyed home after evading his marker, before the Brewers’ forward doubled the lead from the penalty spot and the score remained 2-0 going into the break. Justin Richards scored a tap-in for Cheltenham to make 2-1 early in the second half and the Robins equalised three minutes later, Medy Elito smashing a shot low into the net after Michael Pook’s cross.
On 56 minutes Burton went back ahead after Cleveland Taylor’s cross was deflected into his own net by Michael Townsend and 16 minutes later striker Steve Kabba looked to have made things comfortable for the home side again, making it 4-2 from close range after some poor Robins defending. With six minutes to go however the visitors were back in it, Pook crashing a free-kick low into the net from the edge of the area to set up a nervous finale. Kabba scored again just a minute later, sliding in at the back post to meet Harrad’s low cross and it seemed as if Burton had sealed it.
Two minutes after that Pook scored his second as his 20-yard shot deflected off a Burton defender and beat goalkeeper Artur Krysiak for 5-4. Mark Yeates’ side then equalised again in the 90th minute, Justin Richards slotting past Krysiak after a long-free kick was flicked into his path by Julian Alsop. Amazingly Cheltenham were not done and managed to find a winning goal, Pook completing his hat-trick in the fourth minute of injury time with a rising drive from 25-yards to snatch a 6-5 win for the away side as the Pirelli Stadium scoreboard went into meltdown. It was a vital three points for Cheltenham as they moved six points clear of the drop zone while Burton were left wondering just how they’d lost the game – unbelievable.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and blogger
Tweet Steven at @steven_toplis with your suggestions for Toppo’s Top Tens
Looking at the league table suggests a solid start to the 2011/12 season for Burnley – 3 wins, 3 draws and 4 defeats, with a comfortable mid-table position, and a place in the League Cup 4th round after home wins over lower league opposition to boot. However the stats do not reflect what has already been a very up-and-down season, with some excellent and some horrendous performances, some excellent points against tough opposition coupled with points dropped to some of the league’s weaker sides, and some decent transfer business tallied against some very disappointing departures. Burnley fans could be forgiven for finding it very hard to assess the team, manager and season thus far.
My pre-season expectations were hampered by the sales of key players like Mears, Eagles and Fox, without proper replacements being brought in, and nothing suggested to me that our rather threadbare squad was likely to improve on last year’s 8th place finish. Disappointing results against some of the division’s weaker sides (one point from games against Watford, Crystal Palace and Peterborough) exposed major weaknesses, particularly in the centre of defence, where the burden of expectation has been seemingly too much for Manchester City loanee Ben Mee, and in the middle of midfield, where Dean Marney in particular seems far too limited to be an effective part of a two man midfield. The performance against Middlesbrough in particular was one of the worst seen at the Turf since the days of Steve Cotterill (apologies Nottingham Forest fans), and it really did seem that we had a relegation battle on our hands.
Recent weeks have produced the best results of the season though, and on top of the excellent away win at Derby in August, a confidence-boosting point was gained against leaders Southampton, before the thumping 5-1 victory over Nottingham Forest, which really demonstrated the attacking potential in the team, particularly the exciting young trio of Charlie Austin, Jay Rodriguez and Junior Stanislas. The pairing of David Edgar and Andre Amougou at centre-half seems to have stabilised things at the back somewhat (although both have a frightening tendency to switch off at crucial times), and one of many acquisitions from Bournemouth; Marvin Bartley, has begun to carve out a niche for himself in central midfield after red cards at Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace hindered his progress since signing in January. A win away at Millwall just before the international break was another excellent result and, miraculously, brought our first clean sheet in 24 attempts; a real monkey off the back of the defence. Saturday’s game against Reading, while something of a flat performance, would even have produced a mind-blowing second clean sheet in succession, bar a ridiculously late 99th minute winner for the away side.
The club has become known for cup runs in recent seasons, and after avoiding an upset in a tricky fixture against Milton Keynes, the anti-climactic draw of Cardiff away in the fourth round should not detract from the fact that the League Cup is acting once again as a helpful distraction from the patchy league form for the fans.
This recent on-pitch success has tempered fan criticism of the board somewhat, although constant reports in the press of possible signings “next week” have become a running joke amongst Burnley fans, predictably met with (as it turns out, well-placed) cynicism. Fans are still smarting from the abrupt sale of Wembley hero Wade Elliott, pushed out of the back door despite a promise from the board that no more players would be sold (the second such promise broken this season), and the continuing lack of acquisitions is a real worry. Zavon Hines seems an able replacement for Rodriguez and Austin up front, and Stanislas, Wallace and Treacy offer options on the wings, but beyond that, the threadbare squad is a big concern. There are literally only two full-backs at the club, and Amougou or captain Chris McCann would prove very difficult to replace in central defence and midfield respectively. The spine of the Burnley team is far from complete, and the winter months will test it severely.
Fans have a tendency to get swept away in the emotion of a famous victory or a dire defeat, but the international week is an excellent time to take stock, and it seems that positives and negatives have, thus far, balanced each other out at Turf Moor. A positive or negative run before Christmas will set the focus for the rest of the season- will we be looking up the table or over our shoulders, and will the board finally back Eddie Howe in the transfer market? For myself, a mid-table squad can only ever equal a mid-table finish, but it will be fascinating to see what happens on and off the pitch between now and January. At least in the Championship, not even mid-table is dull!
Written by Tom Whittaker, We Are Going Up’s Burnley Blogger
An exodus of the better, more experienced players in the team. A lack of willingness to reinvest transfer revenue in the team despite glaring deficiencies, particularly in the centre of defence and central midfield. Spending fractions of the transfer budget on young players who will hope to develop over the coming years, despite pressure from the fans to achieve short-term success while the opportunity is still ripe. And pressure beginning to mount from the stands as the team remains without a league win this season. Burnley Football Club has not had much in common with Arsenal in recent years, but the problems facing both clubs are eerily similar – until one examines the root cause for the malaise currently surrounding them.
While most media commentators (and many Arsenal fans) will tell you that Arsene Wenger’s stubbornness and refusal to spend money the board have earmarked for him is Arsenal’s biggest current problem, Burnley fans (in the absence of media commentators!) are laying the blame firmly at the door of the Burnley board, and in particular, Chairman Barry Kilby. Kilby has been a very popular figure with the fans during his 13 year tenure, epitomised by the fans’ reaction at the Premier League game at Old Trafford two years ago, Burnley’s first since Owen Coyle departed for Bolton – “There’s only one Barry Kilby” rang around the famous stadium. Kilby took over when we were a bottom-half team in League One, and many Burnley fans try not to take for granted that we haven’t returned to that level since promotion in 2000, thanks to some wise managerial choices and careful investment.
Now, however, fans are fearful of a return to that level, if not this season, then in the next couple of years, and with it, the end to a legacy which began unravelling the day Brian Laws was appointed to replace Coyle. Laws, while dedicated to the club and hard-working, had nothing on his CV to recommend him for a Premier League job beyond “he’s a nice bloke and he used to play for us”. His legacy was a meek surrender of our top-flight status, and money wasted on mediocre signings like Leon Cort, Chris Iwelumo, Dean Marney and Lee Grant, who cost something in the region of £3m between them in addition to not unreasonable wages, and who have really failed to improve the team noticeably.
When eventually Laws was let go, far too late, the arrival of Eddie Howe was one that excited supporters – a young, up-and-coming, exciting manager with a thoroughly impressive CV from his time at Bournemouth. While he narrowly failed to guide us to the play-offs, many fans had high hopes of a promotion push this season, many pundits forecast a top 6 finish (Oliver Holt of the Mirror had us automatically promoted!), and patience and trust in the manager were at levels that the hapless Laws could never have hoped to reach.
The close season, though has been an almost unmitigated disaster for Burnley. A long list of released players was not greeted with any great alarm by Burnley fans – players such as Steven Thompson, Clarke Carlisle and Graham Alexander were, although stalwarts of the promotion campaign, past their best. Chris Iwelumo’s departure to Watford for a modest fee was seen as one of the club’s cheekiest sales since Leeds paid £50k for the woefully inadequate Ian Moore. Chris Eagles and Tyrone Mears’ departure were big blows on the playing side, but fans were mollified by the £3m fee for two players out of contract at the end of the season, and assurances from the board that the fee would be fully reinvested in the playing side.
Danny Fox’s departure for a paltry £1.8m went down like Adel Taarabt in the box with Clarets fans, though, particularly with Championship rivals Southampton the team to benefit from his services. A £300k profit on a player happy to stay and with two years remaining on his contract set alarm bells ringing further, and despite assurances from Eddie Howe that no more players will be sold, rumours surrounding André Amougou and Jay Rodriguez are making Burnley fans very nervous about the rest of the window.
With only £1.5m spent in total on the acquisitions of Keith Treacy, Zavon Hines and Danny Ings, the promise to spend the money gained in transfer fees has not so far been kept by the board, despite almost weekly assurances that the club is “in negotiations” or has “several bids lodged”. The official line peddled is worries about the upcoming introduction of Financial Fair Play and the consequent need to reduce the wage bill, but with £16m income in the form of parachute payments this year alone, the board have come under serious questioning from the fans for the first time during Kilby’s reign. Howe’s threadbare squad is unlikely to trouble the top end of the table this year as long as the board prevent him making any serious investment, particularly in the very problematic positions of central defence and holding midfield, and when the parachute payment income drops, the very real danger is that there will be no great legacy from the Premier League season on the pitch, despite the board’s reluctance to spend. The rest of this transfer window is as important for Barry Kilby as it is for Arsene Wenger.
Written by Tom Whittaker, We Are Going Up’s Burnley Blogger