Adlene Guedioura and Andre Bikey
Unfortunately in a relegation battle it’s often those who have the tightest defences that will pick up important results against those around them and so it proved again at the weekend as for the second time in four days the Clarets failed to take three points from their remaining “winnable” games.
Against Stoke on Wednesday night we succumbed to the Rory Delap long throw despite the best efforts of the advertising hoardings around the Turf Moor pitch. After a poor first half the team rallied in the second and produced a display that showed heart and spirit and was played at a tempo that at times the Potters could not cope with.
David Nugent’s headed finish from Martin Paterson’s superb cross ensured a point in what could’ve been three by the end. You’d have thought that the performance in the second forty five would have been the perfect tonic to take into the game against Wolves.
However after a bright start we quickly lost our way. Our defensive frailties looked a moment away from resurfacing and when Brian Jensen rushed out from his goal to take out the oncoming Kevin Doyle with a diving head butt alarm bells began to ring. The incident would’ve been more at home in an Attenborough documentary as the Beast leapt at the Irishman like an attacking Rhinoceros.
Minutes later we were punished. An innocuous ball over the top was met by the limp head of Tyrone Mears as our normally ultra dependable full back decided it was his turn to throw one in. Matt Jarvis took full advantage of the error to make it one nil to the visitors.
Before the start of the day Wolves had scored the fewest in the Premier League this season so to give them a goal head start in such a vital game was unthinkable. The football for the rest of the half was scrappy as we couldn’t get the ball into the right areas.
The game was crying out for us to switch from the 4-4-2 formation we had started the game with and match the visitors 4-5-1 formation. It could’ve been easily done by moving Pato out to the right and Elliot inside one into central midfield but sadly it never game with both players starved of possession in the first forty five minutes.
Another second period like Wednesday night was called for if we were to get something from this mustn’t lose game. But as the half kicked off disaster struck, within minutes Wolves were two up thanks to a cruel deflection off Clark Carlisle’s heal to give Brian Jensen no chance.
With a mountain to climb action was now definitely needed. After Stephen Jordan had replaced the injured Danny Fox in the first half the gaffer decided that his final two substitutions would see Steven Thompson and Robbie Blake enter the fray.
The board went up and it was Andre Bikey and Chris Eagles who were to be withdrawn. In my opinion it was the right decision but not for the majority of Clarets who roundly booed the withdrawal of Eagles.
I hate those that chose to boo and jeer a manager’s choice even when I think what they are criticising is right. But Laws’ decisions here was straightforward; Bikey had to come off as he was woeful and showed again he cannot play in a midfield two, Elliot was the only one who had the ability to move inside and join Alexander so that left a choice of Eagles or Paterson to come off.
Despite playing well against Stoke, Eagles was flattering to deceive out wide and often choose the wrong decisions in striking from distance instead of building the attacks and trying to feed the front two. And while not being a natural wide man Paterson has been our best performer from the right in recent weeks, creating and scoring goals as well as offering more protection defensively.
For me Laws was proved correct as Thompson got his first Premier League goal in what was almost a fantastic comeback. Robbie Blake was his dazzling best from the left hand side creating more in his cameo role than Eagles has in recent weeks. His opportunist strike that hit the post would’ve been a great reward for what was a superb performance. However we had left it too late and time ran out with the score at 2-1 leaving the home support trudging off in yet more disappointment.
At that point in the game Laws substitutions were right but unfortunately where he got it badly wrong was in the way we set up for the game at the start. I do feel sorry for him in that both Jack Cork and Kevin McDonald fell foul of injury but it has been shown time and time again that the Andre Bikey experiment in midfield hasn’t worked. He can just about do a job when we play three in there but as a two it leaves us open to be dominated.
Under Coyle we played 4-5-1 for the whole of the Championship season and this year in the Premier League too so it’s not as if after twenty minutes when it’s blatantly obvious we are losing the game in midfield that we couldn’t easily switch it to match them up. Looking back at the home games we’ve had against Portsmouth, Stoke and Wolves I believe if we’d have packed the midfield we’d be sitting here with a minimum of six points.
But they’ve gone now and we must concentrate on the remaining eight games that still could save our Premier League status. The road to the end of the season is hard but we’ve yet to face an easy game all season and are still in a position to survive.
What I do like about Laws though is that he has yet to bemoan the injuries that have blighted his short reign as manager. Others in the Premier League would’ve kicked up a fuss if their star striker picked up an injury while on International duty but Laws has admirably got on with the job in hand after losing Steven Fletcher for the last few games. The same too can be said of Chris McCann’s slow progress in his comeback from injury and last week’s knocks to Jack Cork and Kevin McDonald.
After Saturday pretty much every media outlet I’ve heard have already condemned us to the drop with Portsmouth despite remaining 18th in the table. Hull may have a game in hand below us but who knows how their decision to sack Phil Browny-Orange will turn out. Let’s hope it’ll have a negative effect.
As for the rest, Wolves will continue to drop points as will the likes of Wigan, West Ham and Bolton. The last two should have enough to get themselves away from the drop zone before the end but I still feel it’ll go right to the wire. Our run in is hard but a positive result at Wigan at the DW at the weekend could be that catalyst we are looking for.
The pressure is well and truly off us now, we’ve not got the results from our “winnable” games and now to the rest of the watching world we are already down. I have a belief that we will pick up an away win before the end of the season and that we will get a surprise positive result or two when Champions League chasers Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham come to the Turf. Then there’s that wild card fixture when Blackburn Rovers come to town.
It’s going to be one hell of a run in and one I’m going to try and enjoy whatever happens. It’s going to be tough to stay up but as I’ve said before there is no shame in us dropping back down to the Championship. All I know is that if we begin to start games like we have been ending them in the last couple of matches then a shock result or two will come.
Keep the faith and get behind the lads.
Up the Clarets.