Date: 14th April 2008 at 11:27am
Written by:

The Clarets succumbed to yet another defeat at home in a lacklustre performance that saw the Blades on too many occasions cut through our defence like butter. A stunning free kick from James Beattie in the first half and a goal by Billy Sharp in the second were enough to give Sheffield United all three points although Andrew Cole did reduce the deficit and was denied an equaliser thanks to a reflex save by Paddy Kenny.

A performance though that was just not good enough from the Clarets and a home game that highlighted all our problems this season as we begin the slide down the table to probably finish once more in midtable and quite frankly that`s all we deserve.

Sheffield United have now leaped over us and we find ourselves in 13th place still on 58 points and with only three games left, a maximum of 67 points possible for the season even if we win all our last three games will not see us reach the final 6th place play-offs spot. We are already 7 points adrift of the 6th place club, Palace!

It`s still mathematically possible but let`s forget it and look to finish as high as possible. A Top 10 final place and finishing above Preston is now realistically all we can play for to give some cheer to the Clarets fans but can we even do that? We face two tricky away games at Southampton and Crystal Palace with our final home game against Cardiff sandwiched between them.

At the moment the team seem passionless and lacklustre and we could be in for more disappointments before the end of the season with nothing really to play for.

What a very disappointing situation after being within a sniff of the play-offs for most of the season. We have simply bottled it at crucial times, have been unable to find any consistency, especially at home and our defence in terms of the goalkeepers and the back four have been culpable on far too many occasions.

This is still in many respects Steve Cotterill`s team; there are only three new loans we have added under Coyle and have also lost Andy Gray. It is too early to compare the two managers but after a promising start and a move to a more attacking, attractive style of football, the games this year have in general been poor in terms of entertainment value and indeed our defence seems to have become more suspect and leaky. I think the problems lie more with the squad size, as they did under Cotterill to be honest. We have suffered yet again a second-half season slump:

Played 18, Lost 8, Won 7 and drawn 3.

Assuming we win our last three games, a big if the best we can achieve is:

Played 21, Lost 8, Won 10 and drawn 3.

The worst we could finish with would be:

Played 21, Lost 11, Won 7 and drawn 3.

This compares with Cotterill`s record over the same period last season (Jan-April) as follows:

Played 20, Lost 10, Won 5 and drawn 5

That 19-winless run under Cotterill made that season seem even worse despite two good periods either side of it, evening things out a bit but there does not seem to have been much improvement comparing the second-half of the season.

It`s not as though we are currently playing that much more attractive football now either although at one point we seemed to be under Coyle as Watford, Charlton and Wolves became our victims on the road.

Owen Coyle has to build his own team before anybody can cast judgement and that process begins in the close season. We have a mountain to climb though if we are ever going to be able to compete over a full season. We need not only more quality in key positions we need to have a far bigger squad. We are told Coyle has his targets but we have been told that before. We need to see the ambition of the Board converted into action and the player targets achieved without caveats and excuses.

Most Clarets fans have been frustrated by transfer windows since the concept began. It always seems we get the hype followed by disappointment as all our competitors get their men and we bring in a few new faces whilst getting rid of more, sometimes our key players, finishing up with a similar size squad supplemented with a few loans.

Yes, we all know we have to be realists, we know we are losing money (£4 million latest figure quoted) but at the same time there is no use making encouraging noise when the club is trying to sell season tickets for next season if they know they won`t be able to deliver.

Oh well, let`s just see what happens in the summer and get back to the match in hand and the defeat against the Blades.

The Clarets welcomed back Michael Duff to the sixteen for the first time since Crystal Palace at Turf Moor back in September 07. He was named on the bench although did not feature. One surprise came at left back with Jordan selected in place of Jon Harley. Harley was apparently injured.

We therefore lined up as follows:

Jensen, Alexander, Caldwell, Unsworth, Jordan, Elliott, James O’Connor, McCann, Lafferty, Blake, Cole.

Subs: Kiraly, Duff, Randall, Gudjonsson, Akinbiyi

Referee Mike Russell (Hertfordshire) got the match underway.

It was the Blades who had most of the early possession although the game was poor entertainment with both sides struggling in a rather scrappy opening few minutes.

Jensen got to a Beattie header after nine minutes of play tipping the ball over the bar.

A cross from Chris McCann just failed to find Cole in a menacing position in the box.

Blades keeper, Paddy Kenny then comfortably saved a shot from Chris McCann from 25 yards with 16 minutes on the clock. A good build up by the Blades with 30 minutes played led to Stephen Quinn curling his shot just wide of the far post much to the relief of Jensen.

However just two minutes later Sheffield United got the lead from a direct free-kick after Unsworth had fouled Quinn on the break. From fully 35 yards out, James Beattie thundered the ball into the net in spectacular fashion as Clarets hearts sank.

A cross by Cole found Kyle Lafferty seconds later but Kenny got a boot to his shot and cleared off the line.

On 38 minutes, James O’Connor shot just over the bar and then Unsworth came close with a header following a corner just before half-time but the equaliser was not to be as the Clarets went into the break 1-0 down.

At the start of the second half it was the Blades again who came out looking the hungrier of the two sides before a strike by Blake on 50 minutes from inside the box brought out an excellent save by Kenny.

A left foot shot by Lafferty a minute later was well blocked following a cross by Stephen Jordan.

Moments later though, Jordan`s weakness in defence was exposed with Cotterill getting the better of the left back and crossing neatly for Sharp to head down the ball into the net past Jensen to make it 2-0 Blades.

The match then seemed to deteriorate into a scrappy affair again with most of the action in midfield.

Gudjonsson and Akinbiyi replaced O`Connor and Blake after 61 minutes as Coyle tried to freshen up our ideas.

A shot by Lafferty on 75 minutes from some way out was not good enough to beat Kenny. However 6 minutes later, the Clarets were given some hope when Andrew Cole picked up a ball from Gudjonsson and shot from a narrow angle to beat the Blades keeper and make it 2-1 with nine minutes to play. Cole then nearly got the all important equaliser two minutes later but his shot produced a reflex save by Kenny to deny the Clarets once again.

That was our final chance as the game petered out with the Blades picking up all three points and the Clarets leaving the pitch knowing that the season really was over.
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Burnley: Jensen, Alexander, Caldwell, Unsworth, Jordan, Elliott, James O’Connor (Gudjonsson 61), McCann, Lafferty, Blake (Akinbiyi 61), Cole.

Subs Not Used: Kiraly, Duff, Randall.

Booked: Unsworth.

Goals: Cole 80.

Sheff Utd: Kenny, Geary, Kilgallon, Morgan, Naysmith, Cotterill (Ehiogu 90), Tonge, Speed, Quinn, Beattie (Gillespie 77), Sharp (Hulse 66).

Subs Not Used: Stead, Halls.

Booked: Hulse.

Goals: Beattie 33, Sharp 53.

Ref: Mike Russell (Hertfordshire).