Date: 9th March 2008 at 6:57pm
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The Clarets returned from high-flying Stoke yesterday with a point in a 1-1 draw. Most Clarets fans would have taken that scoreline at the start of the game but the manner in which we dropped two points makes the match feel like a defeat.

We led from the third minute thanks to a rare goal from Kyle Lafferty and withstood all the pressure Stoke could muster (especially in the second half) until the last minute when we conceded a dubious penalty.

The result leaves the Clarets in 10th place with 52 points, four points behind 5th placed Charlton who we play next and also four points behind the 6th placed club Hull. Our inferior goal difference and inconsistent form suggests we have blown our chances. However we can`t give up yet and all we can hope for now is a good, consistent run of form starting with six points from our next two games both at home to first Charlton this Tuesday night and then Wolves the following Saturday. Both these teams are play-offs contenders themselves so anything less than six points could mean season over.

Owen Coyle was always going to make changes to the team after the disappointing result at Hull. As expected Brian Jensen was replaced by Gabor Kiraly in the starting eleven.

Jon Harley returned to the left back role, now a proud father after being absent against Hull whilst his wife was giving birth to their son.

Stan Varga was preferred to David Unsworth in the absence of suspended captain, Steven Caldwell. Caldwell of course had been sent off for a second yellow against Hull along with Gudjonsson who was similarly suspended.

Bad news also for Chris McCann, his thigh injury kept him out of the Stoke match and he could be sidelined for another two matches. Once the team sheets were announced, Clarets fans were also surprised to learn that Andrew Cole was not in the starting eleven. It appears the loan striker was still struggling with a calf injury although he was named on the bench. It was also touch and go for Kyle Lafferty who was feeling unwell before the match, but he made it in time and took up his usual role these days on the wide left.

The enforced changes therefore gave an opportunity for Mark Randall to make his full debut for the Clarets and there was also a welcome return for Alan Mahon, who was named on the bench.

Alexander took up the Captain`s armband in the absence of Caldwell.

The Clarets therefore lined up as follows:

Kiraly, Alexander, Carlisle, Varga, Harley, Elliott, James O`Connor, Randall, Lafferty, Akinbiyi, Blake.

Subs: Jensen, Unsworth, Spicer, Mahon, Cole.

Stoke as expected gave a debut to their loan central defender from Middlesbrough, Chris Riggott but Whelan, a target for the Clarets during the January window, was suspended having picked up ten yellows.

They lined up as follows, with Ricardo Fuller their danger man:

Nash, Griffin, Riggott, Cort, Pugh, Lawrence, Diao, Delap, Cresswell, Sidibe, Fuller.

Subs: Simonsen, Shawcross, Parkin, Gallagher, Wilkinson

The Britannia Stadium has been kind to the Clarets over its relatively short existence, in recent times we have won four times there in the last five visits but this time Stoke would be more difficult to beat having won their last five home matches whilst being undefeated at home in ten games.

Premier league referee, Howard Webb from South Yorkshire got the match underway in a typical blustery day at the high-altitude Britannia Stadium.

However the Clarets soon stunned the home crowd after only three minutes of play. Akinbiyi found James O’Connor. The former Stoke midfielder then delivered a perfect pass to Lafferty. Finding himself in loads of space he slotted the ball home under the advancing Nash to score his fourth goal of the season.

The Stoke debutant goalkeeper, Carlo Nash couldn`t believe that his first action of the match was to pick the ball out of the back of the net! Akinbiyi and O`Connor, both former Stoke players were by now celebrating together as the Clarets fans began to wonder yet again whether that 1-0 away win was on the cards.

Burnley should have been 2-0 up five minutes later but Akinbiyi miss-kicked following a Blake corner after the ball was hit back into the area by Lafferty.

Stoke`s first chance came on 16 minutes but Mamady Sidebe`s shot was dragged well wide.

The Burnley defence now held firm after that woeful defensive play against Hull and a number of Stoke half-chances and attempts on goal were snuffed out.

Blake fluffed a 30 yard free kick as the ball soared high into the amused home crowd but still the Clarets were holding their own in defence and looked dangerous on the break as half-time approached..

Two minutes before the break, Blake was involved in some delightful approach play only to then shoot weakly at the Stoke keeper.

Cresswell caused the Clarets defence hearts to miss a beat though seconds later after he got the better of former Preston team mate Graham Alexander only to see his cross whizz across and out for a goal kick with Lawrence ready to pounce.

So there we go, the Clarets 1-0 up at half-time with a much better performance compared to Hull, especially in defence. The only disappointment was Mark Randall, who simply couldn`t seem to get in the game at all and on occasion looked completely lost.

It was Stoke who came out of the blocks fighting the most at the start of the second half. Pulis had obviously had some harsh words to say. Ricardo Fuller now started to have some influence and he beat Harley only to shoot straight into Kiraly`s chest.

On the hour mark, Fuller made a strange claim for a penalty that was rightly ignored but seconds later he then shot just inches wide of the far post after beating first Varga and then Kiraly.

Alan Mahon replaced the lacklustre Randall in the 63rd minute to play in his first game since January.

Stoke continued to pressurize the Clarets for an equaliser and Kiraly had his wits about him to ensure Rory Delap’s 25 yard shot didn`t get the better of him.

John Spicer came on for Lafferty after the Northern Ireland International had pulled up with cramp with 12 minutes left to play and he was soon joined by Cole, who replaced Akinbiyi on 81 minutes.

A defensive header by Clarke Carlisle over his own crossbar saved the day for the Clarets as Stoke continued their relentless attack.

Andrew Cole though brought out a save from Nash at the near post after some good football by Spicer.

We had now lasted 87 minutes without conceding the equaliser, what a shame that was now going to be all in vain after a debatable penalty was awarded to Stoke on 90 minutes.

Cresswell fell far too easily under what seemed a weak challenge from Harley but the Ref was hoodwinked into awarding the home team the penalty. So a debatable penalty and even then our luck was to desert us even more. Lawrence from the spot kick whacked the post and it then hit a bemused Kiraly on the head to rebound into the back of the net!

Very frustrating for the Clarets who came so close to inflicting the first defeat on Stoke at home in eleven matches.

Owen Coyle had this to say after the game about the penalty and the frustration:

‘It feels like a defeat and I felt for the lads and the supporters. We had amazing vocal support today and it is a bitter pill to swallow so late on,

‘What compounds it is that I didn’t think it was a penalty. I have seen the replays on the TV and it looked a very soft award.

‘There was contact, but it was minimal and the lad has been clever and gone down.

‘It seemed to take an eternity to award the penalty and even then the ball hit the post and hit Gabor on the back of the head, so luck certainly wasn’t on our side today.

‘On another day it might have come out, but then again with the shape of Gab’s head, maybe not!’


Stoke: Nash, Griffin, Riggott, Cort, Pugh, Lawrence, Diao (Parkin 84), Delap, Cresswell, Sidibe (Gallagher 70), Fuller.

Subs Not Used: Simonsen, Shawcross, Wilkinson.

Booked: Diao, Cresswell, Lawrence.

Goals: Lawrence 90 pen.

Burnley: Kiraly, Alexander, Carlisle, Varga, Harley, Elliott, James O’Connor, Randall (Mahon 63), Lafferty (Spicer 78), Blake, Akinbiyi (Cole 81).

Subs Not Used: Jensen, Unsworth.

Booked: Lafferty, Harley.

Goals: Lafferty 3.

Ref: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).