Clash of the Titans
The euphoria of the win at Birmingham continued all through Sunday on the websites. Gary Rowett the Birmingham manager was savaged by most people for his blinkered view of the game and his comments that Barton had just about run the referee and that he had made a meal of the bad tackle that nobbled him in the first half. It wasn’t a yellow said the Bluenose. Then he made up some nonsense that Brum should have had a penalty when Keane nearly kicked someone’s head off (actually he connected with the lad’s chest) and then he wondered if Barton had been taken off to prevent him doing something stupid.
‘Morgan’ on Uptheclarets, one of the prominent fan sites, was seething at the abuse hurled by Birmingham fans at Dyche, Barton and Lowton (being ex Villa). A resident of Birmingham of 44 years he’d sat in a home stand and was privy to the foul language and vile insults hurled at them as they walked on and off the field. They are one of the most ‘one-eyed, ignorant and dim set of supporters I’ve ever come across,’ he said of the Birmingham mob.
What everyone was agreed on was that at the final whistle Dyche had revealed a level of emotion far greater than usual. He surely knew deep inside what every supporter knew, that this had been a monumental win. Managers might argue that there are no such things as must win games until you reach the very end of the season and this was certainly one of them. A defeat might have ended any hopes of automatic promotion. But everyone could now look to the Tuesday game with Boro and think that a win might just be the one that could almost secure the second spot place.
But, said Andre Gray before the game, ‘It’s not going to be fancy football and cutting teams open. We’re up there for a reason so teams will sit in and make it hard for us; it’s about trying to take our chances when they come.’
Taking the chances that had come his way during the season had just earned him the prestigious Skybet Championship Player of the Year award announced the evening after the Birmingham game. Burnley fans haven’t done too badly with the strikers they’ve been able to see in recent seasons, Charlie Austin, Danny Ings and now Gray with Vokes too chipping in with his fair share of goals.
The Press were well into the top-three situation in the division cranking up the hype suggesting that tension, tetchiness and terseness were on the increase. There were the inevitable ‘what-if’ scenarios… if Burnley won, or Brighton lost to QPR, or if it was a draw, or if Middlesbrough won and then there were the remaining games of the season and who was likely to win or lose them. The ‘noise’ Dyche described it, which you switched off, ignored it, just got on with the job and concentrated on thinking about the one game ahead. But permutations and ‘what-ifs’ are what we fans do and board members as well no doubt, fans just like the rest of us. One thing was simple enough though: the side that won its final four games would go up.
Over at Middlesbrough Karanka, he who had reportedly walked out on his club some weeks earlier and persuaded to return by Chairman Gibson, was certainly getting Karanky again blurting that if he’d had 12 players from the Premier League (Burnley of course) and his chairman had bought him Gray and Tarkowski, maybe Boro would have been in the Premier League by February already. ‘I would have had no excuses not to win promotion.’
It did seem rather silly to be saying such things when Boro had certainly spent far more than Burnley. The prize on offer at the end of the season had gone up again. Just like the £6million paid for Andre Gray rises by a million or two with each press report, so too does the Premier League jackpot now said to be £200million for the promoted teams even if relegated immediately.
‘Somebody has to blink,’ wrote Paul Wilson in the Guardian. According to Wilson Dyche was playing the whole thing down, his attitude being you only get three points for a game at this stage of the season, same as you do at the beginning. He says he doesn’t talk about promotion with the players, that there is no need to overthink the situation or get ahead of themselves. What’s important is retaining common sense and doing the things they’ve done all season. Far from his mind are any thoughts about setting a new post-war unbeaten record if they remain unbeaten until the end of the season. But, he said, he is addicted to winning and picking up points.
And then in a more tribal vein in a different interview: ‘Bring it on, we’re ready,’ said Dyche presumably sticking out his chin. The day before the game only a few hundred seats were still available and the game was being beamed back to the Riverside for several thousand fans.
A brilliant clear blue sky over Leeds early morning: was I the only one thinking this had the feel of a Wembley Play-off Final to it, or at the very least a play-off. That last minute equaliser away at Brighton that salvaged a point now seemed huge; so did that slow-motion moment the ball bounced off the cross-bar, again in the dying moments of a game, at home to Cardiff, denying the away side the win. When Danny Batth had scored in the last minute for Wolves at Burnley, Brighton had scraped a win only because MK Dons missed a last-minute penalty. The images of these last-minute scenarios would not go away. You wondered if it would be same in this huge game at Turf Moor.
You assumed that Dyche would be telling his players to forget all these things and just do the one job in hand. You hoped that Karanka’s temperamental edginess would rub off on his players; his walk-out was bizarre to say the least. But since his return, Middlesbrough had won all six games. Sometimes you can’t quite work football out or how it works.
Sometimes too you just marvel at football when a game comes along that leaves you breathless and voiceless. Such a game was the 1-1 draw between Burnley and Boro. Sometimes you wonder just what is the point of a 1-1 draw, so often they are nothing games, stalemates, games to forget; at least with a 0-0 there is the achievement of a clean sheet. And then sometimes along comes a 1-1 game that has everything from minute one to minute 90, or in this case minute 96.
This time it was Middlesbrough’s turn to be on the wrong end of an injury time goal and what we might well remember most about this season when it does come to its still totally unpredictable end is the number of times that last minute goals have brought us despair, or brought us joy. In this game it was despair for Boro and joy for Burnley.
Karanka disagreed with any suggestion that a draw was a fair result claiming that his side could have had three goals if chances had gone in. But then by the same token Burnley could have had three goals or more if chances had been taken or shots more accurate. Just one shot out of 19 by Burnley was on target according to the stats with Arfield wasting a glorious first-half chance when put through long before Boro scored their second-half goal, the result of a free kick that had most of us scratching our heads and wondering what it was for. Ironically, picking the ball out of the net was the most strenuous thing Heaton had to do all night. It was hard to think of a single save he had to make.
Referee Jones had given soft head-scratching decisions to Boro all night long and this one was right in that category. It made Burnley’s injury-time equaliser all the more deserved; a Boro win would have been a rank injustice.
Sure they played well, but that was in the first half when they showed just what a good side they are, strong, organised and sharp. But as early as the third minute they showed the cynical side when Barton was scythed down with an atrocious tackle that only resulted in a yellow card. Their goal was a gift from the referee but Barton was clearly in no mood to lie down. He along with the subs that came on, Barnes and Taylor in particular, changed the game, took it by the scruff of the neck, charged into Boro and got them on the back foot.
Barnes was on for Gray who had run himself into the ground to the point of exhaustion. He didn’t score but this was still one of his best games.
Into the final third and now it was Burnley on the up, forcing the play, with yet more corners, more of the possession, more of the passing. Karanka was in bizarre mode again critical of Burnley’s long ball game, patronisingly saying that HIS side played football. The stats showed otherwise. Burnley hit 85 long balls and Boro hit 107. Burnley made a total of 433 passes and Boro well less, 354. Karanka would do well to think before he opens his mouth after a game.
But none of this carping at him should take away what a great night under the floodlights this was. Some of the roads into Burnley were at a standstill. Harry Potts Way was heaving shoulder to shoulder. The stadium was packed with a crowd just three short of 21,000. Before the game it was chaotic as a long line of 200 people or more queued at the ticket collection point. The car park was jammed with cars and milling people. The beer tent was overflowing. The Burger van queue was the longest in living memory. The sun shone down on all of this with a blue sky overhead; the atmosphere was electric even before you got into the stadium. People knew just what the importance of this game was. The winner had there been one, might well have taken all.
When Boro scored, that man Rhodes again, they went wild, fans and staff and subs and players. The way the ref had quietly favoured them with several of his decisions, it would have been no surprise to have seen him do a little hop, skip and jump with them. But Burnley exhorted by King Joey marched back to the centre circle and readied themselves; they were far from down and out. MOTM had to be Barton yet again for his industry, drive, leadership, bravery, determination and no little skill.
Dyer, he of the electric heels was brought on. The space down the left was made for him but not one ball was played to him to let him use that pace. Ironically Ward had got down that empty wing several times only to ping crosses over that were far too hard. Taylor was on too, and twice we willed his free kicks from 30 yards to fly in as we know they often do. That left foot of his is like a hammer. The first was on target arrowing home but at the last minute a Boro body deflected it for a corner. His second shot alas went high over the bar.
The announcement that there would be SIX minutes of added time acted like an adrenalin boost. It was as if the Gods had decided that now it was Burnley’s turn to benefit from their efforts to amuse themselves. It geed all of us up, galvanised us, it geed up the players and galvanised them. SIX minutes, six bloody minutes to salvage something and rescue the night – and that’s just what they did. There is not one shadow of doubt that the crowd was now the twelfth man as they provided a cauldron of noise, support and willpower as their voices cascaded down from all sides of the ground. A Glasgow Rangers fan at the game said in astonishment that 50,000 at Ibrox don’t make this noise. It must surely have spread to the players and my goodness did they respond.
What Taylor can also do is take pinpoint corners and it was from his second in stoppage time that the equaliser came. Over the ball went, Barton was involved in the box, it pinged around a bit and then there was Keane to rifle the ball home. That was when the roof of every stand nearly came off. Not since Blake scored that wonder goal against Manchester United way back in 2009 has a roar so loud been heard. Some folk said it was heard as far away as Colne and Nelson as it travelled around and across the surrounding landscapes. The hills were alive with the sound of a different kind of music. The players mobbed Keane and now it was the Burnley fans going wild and dancing with strangers. The very foundations of the ground must have vibrated when that goal went in. But as the Beach Boys sang, these were Good Vibrations.
The raucous tribal roar went on until ears were deafened because with the knowledge that Brighton faraway to the south were by now winning 4-0, Burnley had once again slipped to third. Now as a result of this precious goal they were back to second, albeit only on goal difference, but back to a position where destiny was once again in their own hands. Boro were now content to settle for the draw, slowing the game down, the goalkeeper taking an age with his goal kicks. They knew that a fired-up rampant Burnley still had it in them to snatch not just the equaliser but a winner as well. There was, alas, no winner. The whistle went; we breathed deeply, stopped shaking, steadied our beating hearts and knew that we had seen an epic contest and a glorious advert for Championship football.
We drove home knowing that if Burnley could win their last three games they would likely be promoted. With the final game of the season between Brighton and Middlesbrough, with both of them destined to lose two points in the event of a draw in the game, or one team destined to lose all three points, everything was to Burnley’s advantage… if… if…Share this page :