Burnley 1 Blues 2 .. Report

Last updated : 26 November 2006 By Richard Barker

Goals from Nicklas Bendtner and DJ Campbell won the game for Blues who had fallen behind early on after a poor start. Once Blues settled though they were the better team, inspired by Bendtner, and deserved the victory.

Anyone who doubts that Time Travel is ever possible should start off in a civilised city, programme 'Burnley' into their Sat Nav system, drive there and have all their doubts removed. In just two hours I had travelled from 2006 to 1891. On the approach to Turf Moor there were young lads playing with Whip Tops in the cobbled streets, young girls playing hopscotch on the pavement and men in flat caps walking their whippets. All the women were inside cooking and washing clothes on their washboards, obviously. Neil Kilkenny's wages from one week would be sufficient to buy a row of terraced houses here - and leave a few shillings for a pint of mild in the working man's club round t'corner.

As for the ground itself, well, when I go to the likes of Leicester, Southampton, Stoke, etc these days, I often comment on how all these new stadia look the same, with their bland seating plans, lack of character and general all-look-the-same-ness - if you've seen the Madjeski Stadium you've seen Pride Park. I can only imagine that at the turn of the century there was some other football fan sat on his laptop typing "all these new grounds look the same, with the urine puddles by the Bovril hut, the huge stanchions obscuring the view and the wooden benches - when you're at Burnley you may as well be at Blackpool, Preston or Macclesfield." Anyway, enough about the completely unlovable nature of Burnley and it's premier sporting venue.

So, to the football, and where was Cameron Jerome, I hear you ask... well, he was ill apparently, so Gary McSheffrey got the chance to go and play one-on-one 'keep ball, don't pass' with Bendtner from the start whilst right-footed central midfield Neil Danns came in to take McSheffrey's usual place wide left - obviously. Danns' promotion to the starting eleven meant that there was a welcome return to the first-team squad for Matthew Upson on the bench. Upson too must be questioning the existence of time travel, having last been seen for Blues as an England International preparing for a huge Premiership local derby, and now finding himself in Burnley.

Blues started like an English Ashes campaign and were behind after just 4 minutes. Burnley had started brightly (if you can describe 'looking better than a team who were still asleep' as 'brightly') and following a deep cross from the right the Blues defence crumbled for about the third time in the opening exchanges and Chris McCann was on hand to prod the ball home from close range.

This did nothing to wake Blues up as they continued to be up against it with Steve Jones in particular a menace early on. Jones played a similar role to that which McSheffrey usually plays for Blues (except on the right), taking up a wide position, but constantly drifting inside to cause problems and trying his luck from distance. He went close a couple of times early on on the first half before his star faded somewhat.

Shortly after what looked like a decent penalty appeal (McSheffrey was perhaps too un-El Hadji Diouf-like in trying to keep his feet) Blues levelled. McSheffrey did well down the right and drove in a low cross towards Bendtner. Michael Duff got to the ball first and cleared, and as Bendtner's head dropped about two yards from goal as he realised a good chance had gone begging, the ball rebounded back towards him, hit his foot, woke him up and he thought he better knock the ball into the back of the net. Which he did.

And from then on Blues were comfortably the better team (though slightly dodgy looking at the back). McSheffrey and Bendtner were both causing problems up front whilst Stephen Clemence and Fabrice Muamba began to get a grip of the midfield. As the half drew to a close, Danns missed a glorious opportunity to put Blues ahead. Bendtner was at his petulant, stroppy, behaving like a spoilt child yet genuinely sensational best, and tore Burnley's defence apart again. He obviously had a brief moment when he was possessed and decided to pass across the face of the goal. The ball went behind McSheffrey but was on a plate for Danns as he ran in. However, he dragged the ball wider than a Steve Harmison delivery to start a Test series when he really should have scored.

When you think of a Steve Cotterill side, you think of eleven distinctly average footballers who seem to somehow quietly go about overachieving whilst no-one's looking, before someone suddenly says "woah, look at that lot overachieving! Let's have a look!" and when they do, they realise there's nothing to them and that they're actually just pretty poor. Well, Burnley are a Steve Cotterill side, and that can be said of them too. The opening ten minutes aside they were pretty woeful, resorting to long balls up at Andy Gray and Gifton Noel-Williams. And if you thought Blues' defending was ropey, well, Jesus wept for Burnley...

Danns went close with a better effort early on in the second half before it became a bit dull and looked like a 1-1 draw in the making. Burnley's fans raised the noise to inspire their team to 'mediocre' for a period, but Blues always looked the more dangerous team when attacking.

Shortly after Mehdi Nafti had replaced the tiring Muamba, Campbell was brought on for Larsson, meaning that McSheffrey went back to the left, Danns to the right (though he and Larsson had switched sides throughout) and Campbell partnered Bendtner up front. Credit where credit's due, it was an attacking substitution and showed Steve Bruce's intent to not settle for the draw but to go on to win the game.

About 12 seconds later the substitution paid off. Campbell came on as Blues waited to take a throw-in. Stephen Kelly found Bendtner with said throw-in, the young Danish striker perplexed some Burnley defenders and having been possessed earlier on and passed from a tight angle, normal service was resumed as he shot. His powerful drive couldn't be held by his compatriot and former Albion 'keeper Brian Jensen, and as it came off Jensen, Campbell was on hand to bundle the ball home from approximately a yard with a combination of his thigh/groin/stomach. To come off the bench and finish so superbly within about 12 seconds really takes some doing.

Burnley threw the ball forward chasing an equaliser and nearly got it through a third tall, lumbering striker in Kyle Lafferty, the new darling of Northern Irish football (what an honour, huh?). His header was superbly cleared off the line by Clemence to cap a fine display from the Blues midfielder. Upson even got a run out on the left wing before the game was over, replacing McSheffrey. He came on as Blues were defending a free-kick in stoppage time - obviously just to add his height to the Blues rearguard - and then took up a wide left role so as to now disrupt the back four. I'm not sure he touched the ball, but it was good to see him back in any case.

Burnley failed to equalise, Blues won away (again) and with the Preston and Cardiff results, Blues now find themselves level on points with the top two. It wasn't a stunning performance, but let's face it, Burnley isn't an easy (or nice) place to go. Having gone behind early on and started dreadfully, Blues had to show character to get themselves back into the game and then go on to win it. At times they looked shaky at the back, but you can't expect to simply turn up and beat teams without a few hairy moments along the way - it's just not going to happen away from home.

Blues have found a way to get results away from home at present, and it's reaping dividends. They've already won at Sunderland, QPR, Derby, Coventry and Plymouth, and can now add Burnley on to that list - no team is going to turn their noses up at victories at such places. Blues have to work hard on their approach to home games, as it seems they're not quite able to cope with being expected to make all the running themselves, but on the road they've found a system and a set of tactics that is working, and credit to Steve Bruce for that. An in-your-face midfield display combined with the quality that Blues have at the top end of the pitch should make for many more away victories before the season's out... well, I hope so anyway.

On a final note, I 'd like to thank God I don't live in Burnley.