Sunday, 1 November 2009

11: Burnley 2 - 0 Hull City - 31/10/2009

Phil Brown told anyone brandishing a microphone or pen after this rotten defeat that he expects to be manager of Hull City in the Premier League next season. This sounds fanciful, even by his standards. Right now, neither being in the Premier League nor having Brown there as figurehead seems plausible in the slightest.

The City gaffer is playing the indignantly determined card right now, following his prickly press conference in midweek and the disappearance of Paul Duffen from his side. Ultimately, however, a manager can only rely on his results once his allies vanish, and results are poor.

There was optimism surrounding the visit to Burnley, but on reflection one can't comprehend why. Turf Moor is a fortress and City are winless away from home. For all the issues around the Tigers right now, those fantasists who thought this game was winnable were treating our hosts with the same disrespect that so many aimed our way a year ago.

Brown didn't ring the changes despite the total non-event of Portsmouth at the KC a week ago, though Matt Duke was needed in goal thanks to Boaz Myhill's ligament tweak and Kamel Ghilas was, mercifully, restored in place of Bernard Mendy. The big tactical switch involved Geovanni, who was deployed very deeply indeed as both distributor and protector. It didn't work, but Geovanni was blamelessly ineffective. There simply wasn't the brains in the team to know wher the best places where to run and the Brazilian often ended up doing it all on his own. Interest in Jimmy Bullard has gone entirely; the assumption is that he won't play until or unless we find out to the contrary.

Little of consequence in the opening 15 minutes, but it was spent more in defence than attack. Kamil Zayatte hurt himself with one brave headed clearance and partner Anthony Gardner also chucked himself in the way of stuff. We do seem to have a central defensive partnership to speak of. And boy do we need one.

Seyi Olofinjana, whose performance was beyond shocking, had one low drive from Ghilas' break and cross which Brian Jensen puched with ease, but City were fighting themselves already. Burnley were weaving and carving their way through opponents who had no real sense of direction and didn't seem to possess any urgency. And yet they are "one million per cent" behind their manager. Sorry, but that's not how it looked from up here.

Then the breakthrough for Burnley, which was nothing to do with City. This included Stephen Hunt who, despite being an adjacent postal district away from Tyrone Mears when the Burnley player did a dying swan act in the box, still was deemed by ludicrous referee Mike Jones to have committed a felon. It was obvious at one, live glance that no foul happened; replays branded the decision all the more monstrous. Graham Alexander put the kick to Duke's right, with the City custodian close but similarly nowhere near.

An utter scandal. Brown must be gutted. If he is going during the week ahead, then the last thing he wants on his record is defeat to a refereeing decision that beggars all belief. It's not fair, we wail. Wailing will do no good. But good refereeing decisions are acknowledged readily here, so highlighting a truly appalling one is fair game.

Mr Jones soon gave an equally baffling, but far less damaging, decision when he penalised Dean Marney for a foul and allowed Wade Elliott to fire a free kick goalwards. Gardner's knee, an expression so frequently writ it could be adopted as a medical condition, got in the way.

Marney, his usual busy but unproductive self, sent Ghilas away on a rare foray as City countered, but the cross was too close to Jensen as Marney steamed in for the header, and keeper beat midfielder easily.

Foppish wideman Chris Eagles then broke the offside trap and hared down the inside right channel, destroying a real chance by mislaying the pullback to Robbie Blake, whose control toughened the chance and eventually the ball finished on the roof of Duke's net.

Andre Bikey then headed wide a corner that City only condeded because Duke and the angry Gardner didn't talk to one another properly. Not good. Not also an indication that the players feel their manager's pain and need to remedy it. City are playing dreadfully.

Duke saved from a short corner routine that allowed Elliott to smack a shot at the City keeper's near post, then the same player just missed a gilt-edged rebound after Duke beat out Eagles' effort on the run. Burnley looked ready to increase their lead; that they didn't by half time is of little credit to the Tigers.

Two minutes were added and then the whistle sounded. It was fortunate that City only trailed thanks to a bad refereeing decision, but depressing that it should have been a good deal bigger a deficit. Still, there was the chance that a cure could be found for such a stunted display through Brown's team talk or, more hopefully, Brian Horton's.

City re-emerged with a fresh will to win. It was brief but exciting. It was also fruitless. Olofinjana should have had a shot from a fabulous position after Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink put him clear, but was scared by the prospect and fed the wider Ghilas, who was still with the goal in his sights but more angularly, and Jensen beat out the drive. Why Olofinjana didn't have a pop is anyone's guess.

Burnley responded to this mega let-off, and Elliott headed a Blake corner wide. City were ascendant though, and Brown decided some raw pace was required, with Altidore replacing the hardworking Vennegoor of Hesselink and then, more riskily, Mendy coming on for Paul McShane.

McShane was peeved, chucking his water bottle away in disgust at something (there's another opportunity to isolate a player who doesn't live up to standards, should the new chairman give him chance). The risk was worth taking, as although Mendy's performances of late have stunk to highest heaven, as a substitute he can turn a wearying match or at least add some extra fizz. The main problem was that he was coming on as a full back and not as a winger, and therefore a hole would be left at the back when he did forge ahead with the ball.

Hunt attacked down the left and laid the chance on for Marney, whose shot seemed on target but was blocked by a flailing Burnley body, with a few half-hearted appeals for handball. Mendy then made a superb, shimmying run from deep and got a shot in from the edge of the box which Jensen needed to collect at the second try.

Then the real killer blow. Hunt was tripped on the edge of the area (and Altidore was foolishly booked for protesting even after the foul was given) and Geovanni, whose free kicks have not been up to anything recently, flighted a radiant, extra-special shot over the wall and in via Jensen's hand and a post. Several seconds of wild celebration followed before we realised the goal had been chalked off by Mr Jones for alleged pushing in the wall. Replays again suggest he was crazy.

Geovanni certainly went crazy, throwing a tantrum which earned a yellow card and then, head gone entirely, he took the ankles of a Burnley player two minutes later and saw a second yellow. He trooped off the field and took City's remaining hopes of a gritty point with him.

Instantly, Hunt was withdrawn for Nick Barmby but no difference would be made at all. City made another chance thanks to Zayatte's endeavour and Altidore's decent cross, but a defensive head beat a quartet of City heads all seemingly determined to get the killer final touch. Moments later, Burnley exploited a chasm in the City midfield and the admirable Alexander thrashed in a shot from distance. The game was up and, maybe for a certain manager, time was up.

Burnley nearly had a third when sub Fernando Guerrero shot too late from a promising position on the left hand side, and Andy Dawson struck the post with an injury time shot as City pressed for something, anything. The final whistle was not greeted warmly by the Tiger Nation to say the least, and while the referee was key to this defeat, few involved in the Tigers' camp should feel satisfied with their own contribution.

So is this it for Brown? The gut feeling is that he will go, though equally there are rumblings that he will be given a stay of execution by a prioritising Adam Pearson, who inherits accounts that need urgent surgery. Brown may stay a little longer despite himself, not because of himself, and that's not healthy at all for anyone involved, especially as Stoke City, the club that has the fewest feelings for Brown of anyone, are next at the KC. Let's find out what Monday has to bring.

Burnley: Jensen, Mears, Carlisle, Caldwell, Jordan, Alexander, Bikey, Elliott, Blake (McDonald 72), Eagles (Guerrero 85), Fletcher (Nugent 78). Subs not used: Penny, Duff, Gudjonsson, Thompson.

Hull City: Duke, McShane (Mendy 59), Dawson, Zayatte, Gardner, Olofinjana, Marney, Hunt (Barmby 70), Ghilas, Geovanni, Vennegoor of Hesselink (Altidore 58). Subs not used: Warner, Mouyokolo, Garcia, Kilbane.