Date: 31st March 2010 at 10:06am
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Cuban Claret provides his thoughts on the Rovers derby last Sunday and reflects on the implications of the defeat.

Penalty Scandal takes Burnley to the Brink

BURNLEY have one foot dangling back in the Championship after a scandalous penalty decision turned the destiny of the 168th East Lancashire derby in the favour of Blackburn Rovers.

Given the way the Clarets’ fortunes have faltered since Owen Coyle ditched his club at the altar of a promising fledgling season in the top flight,there was a sense of weary predictability that the outcome of this match would hinge on such a controversial incident.

Having had a ‘goal’ chalked off for offside two minutes earlier, Blackburn’s Martin Olsson went to ground under the force of a phantom foul so difficult to discern that referee Mike Dean did not even know who had committed it. That was the reason he gave to Sam Allardyce for sending off neither Tyrone Mears nor Brian Jensen.

You really couldn’t make it up.

It is fair to say though, despite Olsson’s cheating,that the points were taken by the better team on the day.The visitors were organised, disciplined and the more focused side throughout,a true image of a manager many Rovers supporters wanted sacked a few short months ago. And in the versatile Olsson, they had the game’s outstanding player.

Typical too that Burnley would save it until now,our 15th home game in the league,to draw a blank.

Again, Blackburn’s impressive defensive unit,in which Gael Givet was particularly commanding,gave our attacking players little to feed off. With a lead to defend,the Rovers men repeatedly put their bodies on the line and the Clarets lacked the liquidity in attack prevalent in the recent past.

Brian Laws opted for naming the same team that performed well at Wigan. Fair enough on paper, but this line-up was more suited to containment rather that creativity. At home in a must-win game,it was all to easy for the visitors to get on the front foot.In this observer’s opinion, it was folly not to play Robbie Blake.

After some encouraging early exchanges where David Nugent looked to have the better of the ageing Miguel Salgado down Burnley’s left flank,Rovers countered with a couple of enticing set-pieces on the edge of Burnley’s penalty box but Morten Pedersen twice could only find the Burnley wall while Jensen looked vulnerable. The Burnley ‘keeper was alert to thwart the slippery Olsson with a save at his feet before the same player hit the back of the net but was flagged for offside.

Allardyce contested this decision afterwards but television pictures were not conclusive.

No matter. Two wrongs don’t make a right and there is no doubt that Mike Dean,who memorably refereed Burnley’s play-off final with Sheffield United (waving away two strong penalty appeals from our opponents that day ironically enough),got the game’s defining decision horribly wrong.

David Dunn nailed the penalty right into Jensen’s top right hand corner.

While the deflation in the stands was palpable,the visiting fans appeared to be enjoying the rarity of a 2,000+ away day out.

A decent Burnley move saw Paterson and Fletcher combine well to play in Elliott but he was upended crudely by Christoper Samba for which the big defender was instantly yellow carded. The offence occured right on the edge of the penalty box and had a penalty been given, there could have been no argument, but a free-kick it was and Rovers cleared the resulting danger.

Burnley’s best opportunity of the half fell to Leon Cort three minutes before half-time when Alexander cleverly picked him out from a free-kick.The lanky defender controlled the ball smartly on his chest before angling a shot narrowly wide.

It was the last chance of a disappointing half which ended with an injury to Stephen Jordan, who was replaced by Danny Fox at left-back.

Burnley showed much more urgency at the start of the second half, typified when Fletcher scampered after an under-hit back pass only for Brown to deny him. Paterson turned a shot into Brown’s arms after good work by Mears before being replaced by Robbie Blake.

Kevin McDonald was becoming the game’s most influential central midfielder as Dunn visibly faded.On the hour the young Scot produced a wonderful sliding tackle in the middle of the park before tee-ing up Fletcher but he failed to get a decent shot away.

A goal at the other end was just as likely, however, as play stretched from end to end. From an uncleared free-kick,Olsson struck a terrific shot off the underside of the bar from the edge of the penalty box. Jones was first to the follow-up but the young defender headed wide.

With Chris Eagles on the pitch in place of Alexander,Burnley were going for broke but time and again our defensive line failed to hold firm and Olsson did well to collect a through-ball before bringing a fine reaction save from Jensen.

Into the last five minutes and Burnley had a wonderful chance to equalise when Blake showed great poise in the penalty box before playing a clever pass for the overlapping Fox to fire in a perfect ball for either Elliott or Fletcher to nudge home. But it was Samba who deflected the ball just out of reach of both Burnley men, only for the hapless Dean to award a goal-kick.

By the time the fourth official showed five minutes of extra time it appeared that all hope had been eviscerated from the Burnley supporters. I could never recall such a significant amount of added time given such short shrift from a such a fixture of importance.

Belief cannot easily be manufactured and the reality of our predicament is hitting home now but we should still feel pride,albeit wounded, t what we have achieved over the past couple of seasons. We have done it with honesty and without risking the fiscal health of the club and if we return to the Championship sooner than hoped,as looks likely, then we return there stronger for the experience.

Defeat to our nearest doesn’t change anything about the affection for our dearest. UTC.

Cuban Claret