Our columnists on Blackburn Rovers' and Burnley's Premiership fortunes ...
IN A week which began with a tumultuous top two Premiership clash; produced a sublime display from an Argentine maestro which cemented his status as World Number One; thrilled us with an epic Old Trafford Champions League tie and was utterly topped by an astonishing capitulation, even by the standards set by our beloved neighbours; it’s possible that Rovers’ magnificent 0-0 against the relegation-bound Portsmouth players unlikely to feature in the FA Cup semi-final starting line-up didn’t quite attract the publicity it merited.
On the other hand maybe Jamie O’Hara’s verdict that the stalemate would warrant its rightful spot as the final 180 seconds of Match Of The Day was spot on.
A few shots flashed in by Olsson, a half-decent Dunny attempt, a couple of Samba efforts and a rare Jason Roberts shot on target (albeit placed like a back-pass to the keeper) were all we could ... hang on, it sounds like we were truly in full flow, maybe things weren’t too bad after all.
Still with so much else going on, who cares? Another point and another place up the table and my once seemingly-rash Autumn bet that we would finish 15 points above Burnley looking ever more conservative by the week – what more could you want?
Sunday sees us welcome Carling Cup giants Manchester United who are locked in a three-way battle for the Premiership title.
It would be grand to take at least a point off them as we have done against Chelsea and Liverpool.
They will surely be a little deflated and more pointedly jiggered after injuries and chasing after the 11 men of Bayern took its weighty and ultimately fruitless toll.
The fact that The Premier League will be without a representative in this year’s semi-finals is symptomatic of an unfounded arrogance that has pervaded the English game in recent times.
Even the most jingoistic fan of the England team must have reservations about our World Cup destiny in the light of such a fall along with the worrying form and fitness of some key players.
None of the traditional big four – United, Chelsea, Arsenal nor Liverpool – are anything like as strong as they have been in the recent past.
This year’s domestic competition, while it still may come to a thrilling last-day climax, has been of a desperately ordinary standard.
Any Rovers fan with any measure of honesty, critical faculty or historical perspective would have to concede that if we are a top-half outfit, the bottom half must be a pretty sorry lot.
The fact that Newcastle, with basically the same ensemble that became a nationally-scoffed soap opera 12 months ago, come straight back up as Championship winners with barely a hitch proves that there is nothing of substance beneath the top flight either.
Still, so far as I am aware we have a reasonably well-focused squad – to my knowledge none of our substituted players have spent the remainder of a game across the road in the Ewood WMC.
Some advice on the correct documentation required to drive a motor car in the UK, particularly a huge gold-encrusted one, might not go amiss particularly with regard to our non-EC personnel who are perhaps unfamiliar with the paperwork needed.
But it would be curmudgeonly of me to complain too much this week when the old maxim that however big your problem seems, there’s always someone worse off, has rung truer than ever!
"MAN City are a very good side but they know it will be a difficult game and they won’t relish coming to Turf Moor. They will try to stifle us early on and quieten the crowd, so it’s up to us to come out roaring and stop them from playing and get you behind us" - so wrote club captain Steven Caldwell in the match programme. Unfortunately none of his team-mates had bothered to read his article.
The roar was barely a whimper and after seven minutes the match was over. Brian Laws has promised to restore pride tomorrow at Hull City. Why leave it so late and not after any one of the catastrophic defeats of recent weeks?
Laws always seems to be reactive not proactive. He lets David Dunn pick his team, that is to include both Robbie Blake and Chris Eagles from the start, together with Steven Fletcher and David Nugent. That was bordering on football suicide. It left a huge hole in the middle which City exploited to the full.
Laws now states he will be more defensive minded and not so gung ho. It’s not a question of that. Burnley’s best results have come from playing 4-5-1 but being prepared to convert that to a more attack minded 4-3-3 during the course of a game.
In the Premier League, gaining possession is so important. A combination of torrential rain which stifled City’s slick passing and the addition of Jack Cork and Wade Elliott to shore up the midfield kept the score down in the second half.
For all City’s dominance the majority of the goals were again the result of individual errors. Michael Duff made a pig’s ear of his attempted headed clearance of the first corner; Kevin McDonald’s mis-placed pass led to number two. Brian Jensen was badly at fault for the third and the fourth and sixth came about from poor marking at corners.
Burnley have yet to score off a corner this season and concede from three in one match. Little Danny Fox was supposed to be marking big Patrick Vieria at corners! One of the crucial battles was Fox against the hugely talented winger Adam Johnson. Fox received no support or protection as Johnson tore into the Clarets defence from the very first minute.
You sometimes wonder about the preparation – or lack of it – leading up to a match. The feeling that the squad is not playing for their manager was further exemplified by McDonald’s petulance and Andre Bikey’s shake of the head at half-time.
Bikey, probably Burnley’s best and paciest centre back, is paying the price for some poor performances in midfield and can count himself unfortunate to be sidelined. All in all Saturday was a shocker which made the crowd’s reaction even better. Once they had got over the shock of the goals their response was magnificent and loud. Noticeably however Brian Laws’ Claret and Blue Army did not make it into their repertoire. The last time Burnley conceded six to City at home Barry Kilby had a big decision to make regarding the then manager Stan Ternent. Stan survived, kept the Clarets up and won promotion the following year. Will Kilby make the correct decision this time round?