January 25, 2013 by Made In Brum
Firstly, I’d like to talk about Colin Tattum’s article in the Birmingham Mail, because it kind of hammers home to me what dire straits this club is in. For those of you who didn’t get a chance to read it, we’ve got 19 players who are out of contract in the summer, and that doesn’t even include the 3 players we’ve got on loan and Paul Robinson’s contract, which unless extended, will be terminated on Sunday. It’s scary. It just makes you think: what the hell is happening to our club? And when you think about it, Clark hasn’t actually done a bad job keeping these players motivated amid so much uncertainty. How can you inspire your team and build inner confidence, a climate of trust and self-assuredness, if a great proportion of the players know they probably won’t be at the club next season?
It brings me to the verge of tears thinking about our future, because unless we can find a new owner who actually cares about us, I genuinely can’t see an immediate way out. At the Brighton game, I read Dave Thomas’s opinion on whether administration could actually turn out to be a good thing for us, as a way of getting rid of the undesirables in the boardroom, clearing our debt, starting afresh by building from the academy. At the time of reading I disagreed, because as a football fan naturally you want your club to be playing at the highest possible level – I do dread to think of us falling into the wilderness for 15 years like Portsmouth are doing – but having read the situation with our player contracts, I wonder if it may turn out to be blessing in disguise, if it happened.
Relegation is certainly not something you hope for though, so for now we’ve got a vital game away at in-form Burnley to contend with, in our bid to put a little more space between ourselves and the drop-zone…
We’re at completely the opposite end of the spectrum to Burnley in terms of our ability to defend and hold onto leads. Burnley have conceded just 1 goal in their last 5 league matches, whereas we’ve not kept a clean sheet in 15 games now (and probably counting), so I can just imagine the after-match conversation in the players bar. Steven Caldwell to a Burnley defender: “I really don’t know how you do all of this defending malarkey, whenever I try and mark a player he always seems to run away from me!” That may be being a little harsh on Caldwell, seeing as he scored last week, yet the truth is that if we want to reduce the pressure on ourselves in the relegation battle, we’re going to have to start winning games. To do so, Clark is going to have to improve our defence organisation; it’s as simple as that.
A look at the squad
I heard a rumour that Jack Butland’s asking price has been reduced to £3.5 million, but even then I don’t know whether that money would go into the club or Carson’s pocket? One would hope that it’s an attempt from the board to keep the club afloat until it can attract new owners, yet it creates a bit of a catch-22 scenario. Are any prospective owners more likely to buy the club with an asset like Butland gone? I think not. You can analyse it all night, yet all of this uncertainty will inevitably hinder Butland’s preparations for what are crucial games regarding the future of our club.
A back four of Caddis, Davies, Caldwell and Robinson has been established in previous matches and I foresee Clark sticking with them. What makes me be a little surprised by our woefully poor‘goals against’ record, is that apart from Caldwell who’s gone down in my estimations this season, the players in our defence have been doing reasonably well individually. However, we don’t seem to be playing as a collective unit in defence, and that perhaps makes us easier to break down. The defenders haven’t yet developed a level of mutual understanding, or ability to defend the simple balls into the box.
In midfield, I hope the return of Hayden Mullins doesn’t end the Reilly-Gomis duo, who have formed a good partnership lately. They both provide the team with a lot of energy, which will be crucial in our plans to protect the vulnerable defence. To be fair, the last few times I’ve seen Mullins play, he’s had some of his better games and adds a decent positional sense and experience, but I don’t think he’s fast enough.
Burke and Elliott are my obvious choices on the flanks, because both have impressed recently. Burke is beginning to show echoes of his former self under Hughton and Elliott provides the left flank with hard graft, which has been useful in helping us to control the midfield. Zigic made a massive difference when he came on against Brighton, and his constant aerial presence lately has provided valuable flick-ons and knock-downs for the pacey players around him. People have criticized Clark for not starting Zigic, but I think he’s more effective coming on in the second half- he’s rescued a number of points as a sub and he seems to be more of a threat when he’s coming on fresh in the latter stages of matches.
A bit about Burnley
Wade Elliott will have happy memories of playing for Burnley, because it was his goal in the 2009 play-off final against Sheffield United that saw the Clarets reach England’s top division for the first time in 33 years. They weren’t to perish entirely in the Premiership, as they were beaten just once at home in the first half of the season, and could celebrate a memorable victory over Manchester United at Turf Moor in August and sat midtable on the turn of the year. However, Owen Coyle leaving for local rivals Bolton in January didn’t help them, and Brian Law’s failed in his attempts to emulate Coyle’s successes and keep Burnley up. Just 3 wins in the second half of the season saw them slump to relegation alongside Portsmouth and Hull.
The rebuilding process for Burnley doesn’t seem to have come into fruition since. After a mediocre start to the 2010-11 campaign, Brian Laws was sacked as manager in December 2010 and replaced by the young Eddie Howe. Howe failed to make an instant impact in terms of recharging Burnley’s promotion push; however, his signing on a free of Charlie Austin is still proving to be marvellous piece of business, having already scored 36 goals from 69 games for the club.
In terms of finding a play-off spot, the following season was equally unproductive as Burnley slumped to 13th. This season however, saw another managerial change as Eddie Howe left the club in late October to take charge of his hometown team, Bournemouth. His replacement, Sean Dyche has had a fairly good start to life with his new club.
Burnley’s recent form
Since we played Burnley about 5 weeks ago, the Clarets have gone on an impressive run of form. In the preview for that match, I spoke about how Dyche has made them much better defensively. In their last few matches they’ve certainly built on that, having won 4 of their last 5 league games, keeping clean sheets in all of them.
One would have thought they’d miss Charlie Austin, who is the Championship’s 2nd top scorer, but since his injury they’ve managed to diversify their goal threat. In fact, each of the last 8 goals they’ve scored since Austin got injured, have come from a different player. Given their improving defensive record, Dyche’s side have developed very much a ‘smash-and-grab’, early 1990s Arsenal attitude in games. They’ll defend for the majority of a match, and hope they can nick a goal somewhere down the line.
In April 2012, Blues consolidated their 4th place with a 3-1 win at Burnley, courtesy of goals from Marlon King, Jordan Mutch and David Murphy. King opened the scoring just 10 minutes in when Zigic flicked on Murphy’s throw, and Marlon fired the ball into the bottom corner. King nearly doubled the lead soon after but lacked composure and a last-ditch tackle from a Burnley defender saved their skins. Burnley grew into the game in the second half and drew level when Danny Ings scored a header from Wallace’s cross but their celebrations were cut short. Mutch drove a fierce shot into the corner after King’s long run moments later and a win was capped off for Blues in the closing stages when keeper Grant palmed the ball into Murphy’s path, who tapped in at the back post. The win did little to change Burnley’s season of mediocrity, but meant Blues cemented their place in 4th and put them 3pts clear of 7th place, which they would hold onto for a play-off semi-final against Blackpool.
To be honest, I’m struggling to see us getting a result out of this. With Burnley’s ever-improving defensive record we’ll have our work cut out getting a goal at Turf Moor, and if we do, our ever-worsening defensive record means it’s unlikely we’ll hold onto it. I’m sorry to say that my head is telling me this could be one of those disappointing, fruitless away days, I really hope I’m wrong, but I’m going to go head over heart this time. 2-0 to Burnley.
By Gabriel Sutton