Sunday, 11 April 2010

33: Hull City 1 - 4 Burnley - 10/04/2010

So, that's that then. Any number of humiliations have been foisted upon the club following Burnley's astounding, devastating victory at the KC Stadium. This is Burnley, a team that had acquired the princely total of just one point away from home all season, managed by the dreaded Brian Laws, outplaying Hull City all over the park.

They looked better than the Tigers, they wanted it more, they were more positive, they cared dearly. Barring the initial period of the game, during which time City deceptively opened the scoring, the Tigers were as abject as it was possible to be. That such a turgid, dismal, gutless display came in a game when professionalism and heart was so badly needed and with the knowledge that a winner would give their survival hopes a major shot in the arm, suggests that the Premier League dream ended today.

Burnley were level before half time and won two penalties midway through the second half which were each confidently struck home by Graham Alexander. Upon the second of these spot kicks finding the net, the Tigers just wilted. Passes went astray, tackles were avoided, heads dropped or were just entirely lost. Some of the football from Iain Dowie's men was beyond awful. The upward mobility of the club over the last decade means it has been a while since a home crowd has booed a performance quite so heftily as they did today, but nobody could fail to understand the upset this display has caused.

Make no mistake, it was a shambles. Beyond that, it was a disgrace. The players didn't have a thing. By the time Burnley scored their fourth with a speculative free kick in injury time, the stadium was half empty and those who had stayed were, Burnley's ecstatic support aside, doing so purely to barrack the players. The money they are paid, coupled with the financial meltdown that could follow if the club is relegated, means that they cannot and should not complain for being treated so uncharitably.

Dowie picked a good side, it seemed. He got the call up front right, dropping the horrific Caleb Folan and restoring the far more effective Jozy Altidore. Ibrahima Sonko returned to defence after being ineligible last week, and Andy Dawson was fit to return to left back. Shuffles elsewhere saw Paul McShane and Bernard Mendy restored to their preferred positions on the right while Kevin Kilbane played on the left. George Boateng was fit to start despite having half his face kicked off a week ago.

City took an early lead and duly fooled us all about how they would approach the game. Jimmy Bullard was fouled by the referee saw an advantage as Craig Fagan took over possession and slipped a ball wide for Altidore to break the offside trap. The American's cross was gorgeous and there was Kilbane to head in unchallenged. It was his first goal for the club and as timely a moment to get it as any player could have managed.

So the script that we had all written prior to the game - dangerous to make assumptions, but the KC had been a good venue for the Tigers in 2010 while Burnley, lest we forget, had not won away all season - seemed to be on its predictable course. But City sat back way too much and barely got the chance to get forward effectively again. Burnley got into the game with Tyrone Mears hitting a distant left-footer over the bar and David Nugent cut inside McShane to shoot tamely at Boaz Myhill. The final efforts did not worry City but the possession ratio should have done.

Fagan had a chance he barely knew about when a long Sonko throw beat two aerial attempts to head clear and pretty much hit the unaware City forward as opposed to anything else. City then won a free kick in a promising position but Bullard's flick up and shot proved too ambitious and went over. The best real opportunity to extend the lead then came when Altidore turned divinely inside the box and hit his shot against Brian Jensen, with Bullard's follow up steered inches over the bar.

Burnley sensed their opportunity was approaching and took control of the game. The equaliser came in the final ten minutes of the half when Wade Elliott crossed low at the second attempt and Martin Paterson had time and room to turn in the box and guide a low shot beyond Myhill's right hand.

Little occurred up to half time thereafter, apart from Altidore being booked for petulance after giving away a free kick, and although City had not been good, the way Burnley failed to settle quickly suggested there was an opportunity to kill the game off in the second half. That was the optimist's view. And the optimist was soon keeping his counsel.

Soon after the restart, City were forced into a change when Dawson hurt his trailing leg in a fairly straightforward block tackle and was replaced by Nick Barmby, with Kilbane dropping back. Barmby's first contribution was to concede a free kick on the edge of the box and Mears' shot was deflected off the wall, wrongfooting Myhill but just clearing the bar. Paterson then put in a cross that ex-City defender Leon Cort, still up from a corner, plunged to reach but couldn't make contact. The ball got to Michael Duff at the far post whose control was shabby and shot hurried over the bar. A more cultured player would have scored. The Tiger Nation were not happy.

Fagan then crossed for Altidore to challenge Jensen in the box, with the burly keeper chasing the loose ball to the edge of the area and blocking Bullard's volleyed effort with his hand while perilously close to leaving his area. It was risky but sound goalkeeping. Mendy and Fagan were then booked for retribution and not retreating respectively as the game threatened to degenerate into something unwatchable.

Then Burnley took the lead. Duff, wearing a numberless shirt after spilling some blood in the first half, was chopped down by Steven Mouyokolo as the visitors tried to make room for a shot. Some grumbles, but it was hard to make a claim of any conviction that the penalty was wrong. Alexander, with his idiosyncratic method of approaching penalties, sent Myhill the wrong way with the outside of his boot.

Now there was a problem. City had gone behind but once the game restarted, it soon became obvious there was little appetite or idea as far as getting back into the match was concerned. Fagan could have scored when he sliced a half volley wide from Sonko's flick but that was all. Dowie tried to freshen up the attack by throwing Geovanni into the action, withdrawing McShane and sending Mendy back, but the Brazilian could not exercise any influence before Burnley had it sewn up.

Nugent seemed to handle the ball near halfway as he brought it under control, but once play was waved on he proceeded to weave through three wimpish efforts to bring him to a halt and had almost got to the byline in the box by the time Mendy hauled him down. It was a fine run but City's defence reacted appallingly. Mendy was lucky not to get a second yellow for the foul and Alexander used the same unusual method and the same corner of the net to defeat Myhill - who again dived the other way - and establish a two-goal lead. The Burnley fans, understandably, could not have been more gleeful if they tried.

City began to get petty and angry, but in a negative way. There was no sign of channeling that fierce energy into anything positive. Barmby was booked for a foul and had no right to moan at the decision as much as he did, Bullard dropped further and further back and began, remarkably but not entirely without reason, to take some stick from the furious Tiger Nation. The midfielder had hidden for much of the second half and now didn't seem to want to dictate the pace and direction of the game in the way everyone knows he can, and just at a time when it was required.

Dowie took Fagan off and sent on Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, who quickly made a great chance for Altidore with a low cross shot but the American couldn't wrap his foot around the ball enough at the far post and the opportunity went begging. Altidore then made room for a shot from distance which was blocked, with Bullard's low follow up dribbling disappointingly wide.

By now, the final balls were as dreadful as we had seen in years and City were resorting to long punts that Cort, as the Tiger Nation remembers only too well, eats up for a light breakfast. Burnley were totally comfortable. Their fans fell off the happiness measurement scale and no doubt Laws, a manager with little love for City, was dying to leap up and down and rub it in the faces of all wearing black and amber.

Five minutes were added and Elliott scored a peculiar fourth when he took a shot from a wide free kick, on the reasonable understanding that a two-goal lead meant he didn't have to waste any time, and the ball looped over a surprised Myhill. The final whistle that came soon afterwards was greeted with loud heckles and ironic applause. The players, with the exception of Mouyokolo and Altidore, vanished down the tunnel as swiftly and as cowardly as they could.

Problems, then. This isn't the end, of course, although the game in hand is now irrelevant as West Ham United won and so City are now relying on others to make a contribution to what seems an unlikely claim to survival. Too many players failed to react to the importance of the occasion and now one hopes they feel some regret for throwing away a huge, huge chance to stay in command of their own destiny. Adam Pearson's gamble on a change of manager has, for the first time, backfired massively on him. Five games remain and in all honesty, City need to go unbeaten in the first four of them to keep hopes up, yet right now they seem unlikely to win again at all.

Well done to Burnley. They wanted this so much and got precisely what they deserved. It remains to be seen whether this historic win will ultimately prove a false dawn for them, but they have given themselves a chance. It is the act of a churl who does not wish them well after such a display, especially as any sour grapes will stem from the knowledge that Burnley's players did exactly what the Tiger Nation expected their players to do.

To be a fly on the wall of Phil Brown's drawing room right now...