Date: 23rd March 2008 at 10:58am
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The Clarets continued their relentless march into midtable mediocrity by yet again putting in a woeful defensive performance; this time losing 2-1 to local rivals Preston at Deepdale. The Lilywhites now have double bragging rights for this season following our 3-2 defeat at home back in December.

The defeat also ensured our slim play-offs hopes were also dashed even further and I think we can now safely say our season is over, unless we have some sort of mathematical miracle and win all our last six remaining matches. Miracles don`t happen for the Clarets!

We remain in 11th place on 55 points, four points behind sixth placed club, Plymouth. They are joined by Ipswich, Palace, Wolves and Charlton ahead of us all trying to finish in what seems to be the one remaining play-offs spot up for grabs. The Top Five clubs look to be pulling away now, with fifth placed club, West Brom already eight points clear of the Clarets

The result against Preston was summed up by Owen Coyle`s post-match statement:

‘We are certainly making a habit of gifting goals.

‘Preston’s second goal was a really soft one. We had probably three or four opportunities to deal with the ball but we have not done so and then paid a heavy price.

‘We have tried to paper over the cracks and to some extent have done that. We know what is needed come the summer.’

Not only did we lose the match but in the final minute of extra time we also had Preston-born defender, Clarke Carlisle red-carded to ensure the misery was complete for the 3000 plus Clarets fans that travelled the short journey to the enemy camp.

It was a disappointing day too for former Preston defender, Graham Alexander. He has now played in 16 of these derbies, 14 for Preston but has yet to win one in a Clarets shirt. Coyle also made him Captain for the day and surprisingly included Unsworth in the back four ahead of Steven Caldwell who was named on the bench (Caldwell came on in the second half to replace Unsworth, but Alexander kept the armband.). It was also revealed that Alexander would be the penalty taker for the Clarets should we get one. He had scored 51 out of 56 penalties for Preston! We didn`t get one!

The back four changes confirmed that Stan Varga was still suffering from his foot injury.

Chris McCann however returned to the side in midfield after recovering from injury and it is clear that Coyle prefers the Irish lad ahead of Gudjonsson, Mahon and Randall. Andrew Cole also returned despite limited training in midweek and was named on the bench.

Another change saw the return of Brian Jensen in goal following the poor performance from Kiraly in the last match against Wolves.

The Clarets therefore lined up as follows:

Jensen, Alexander, Carlisle, Unsworth, Harley, Elliott, James O`Connor, McCann, Lafferty, Blake, Akinbiyi

Subs: Kiraly, Caldwell, Mahon, Gudjonsson, Cole

Former Claret, Richard Chaplow was named on the bench for Preston but he wasn`t to feature in this match.

Preston were on a resurgent run and had picked up 10 points out of their last twelve. The Clarets were well aware that a defeat would effectively kill off their play-offs dream. A win for Preston would more or less stave off any relegation worries and put them only five points behind the Clarets.

It was all to play for therefore as notorious referee Uriah Rennie got the match underway.

The Clarets seemed to have the upper hand in the first few minutes but then disaster struck following Preston`s first attack of the match after five minutes. A defensive blunder by Unsworth, led to his panicky half-clearance being pounced on by Priskin. The pacy striker kept a cool head to bend the ball around Jensen putting the Lilywhites 1-0 up.

So one nil to our sloppy defence yet again and they continued to look woeful unable to cope with the pace of Priskin whilst failing in their attempts time and time again to spring the offside trap. Jensen saved the day on a number of occasions and certainly had a mouthful for his back-four.

A header from Chris Brown was saved by Jensen and after 11 minutes Priskin should have made it 2-0. The defence was at fault again being caught out by a ball over the top, but the keeper got a foot to Priskin`s shot and Brown was unable to control the rebound putting his shot hopelessly wide.

Steadily though the Clarets came back into this match and for the neutral it must have been an entertaining game as both sides kept pressing in an end to end affair.

After 15 minutes Robbie Blake should have done better with his shot after rounding a defender with only keeper Andy Lonergan to beat. He blasted the ball over though.

Jon Harley then got in a good cross to find Wade Elliott but Lonergan was equal to his shot.

The keeper shortly after then had to tip over a shot from the inspirational Blake as the Clarets entered their best spell of the match whilst looking dominant in midfield.

The Clarets defence though had still failed to learn from their earlier mistakes and again fell foul to a ball over the top. Jensen though denied Priskin again with a superb save pushing the ball round the post.

Jensen then managed to force an error by his opposite number after booting a tremendous long kick towards the Preston goal. Lonergan made a hash of his punch and the ball went straight to Elliott. With a wide open goal ahead of him, Elliott volleyed the ball over the keeper`s head only to see the ball go inches wide.

However, the Clarets finally got the equaliser they deserved after 36 minutes.

A half- cleared corner went straight to O’Connor. He hit the ball well and somehow it managed to go through a packed area slipping through the keeper`s hands via a deflection into the net. A soft goal maybe, but nothing less than we deserved as the first half came to an end.

The Clarets started the second half with a change to the back-four. Steven Caldwell came on to replace David Unsworth. It is not clear whether this was tactical or whether Unsworth had picked up a knock and we await news.

However the Clarets started the brighter of the two teams and went on the attack desperate to get the lead and keep their play-off dreams alive. We had a couple of early corners before Blake set-up McCann on the edge of the box. He however got a poor purchase on the ball and it bounced wide.

The Clarets hearts sank though eight minutes into the second half when Preston regained the lead. It has to be said that our defence was at fault again and not for the first time this season, we had problems defending a corner. Jensen was unable to get the ball away with a weak punch and when the ball fell into a melee of players; it was Brown who slotted home from six yards.

To be honest the early promise from the first half that led to the equaliser, failed to materialise for the Clarets in the second half and Preston on balance deserved their lead.

A couple of substitutions that saw Andrew Cole replace Lafferty and Gudjonsson then coming on for James O`Connor had little effect and as the game drew to its inevitable close there was one final nail in the coffin for the Clarets fans.

In extra time and with only seconds remaining, Clarke Carlisle lost the plot and was sent off following a desperate lunge to complete another bad day for the Clarets.

Where do we go from here? The season looks to be over although there is still a mathematical chance of finishing 6th. I guess we just have to finish as high as we can and hope there is still some cheer left. A Top 10 finish would go some way to showing some improvement over previous seasons after yet another slump really in the second half of a season.

In all honesty though, some serious questions have to be asked in the close season and significant new blood brought into the side both in terms of quality and quantity. I am firmly convinced that this club will never progress with a small squad size and we need to ensure we have adequate cover for when the inevitable injuries, suspensions and tiredness take their toll post-Christmas.

I am afraid the excuses at the moment about the difficulty of getting in loans mirroring other excuses concerning wage structures in the January window seems to have led to one thing and one thing only; a missed opportunity to get promoted. That needs to be looked at carefully if this club really means to have any ambitions in reaching nirvana.


Preston: Lonergan, Jones, Mawene, St. Ledger, Davidson, Sedgwick, McKenna, Carter, Whaley, Priskin (Mellor 70), Brown.

Subs Not Used: Chris Neal, Chaplow, Hill, Lewis Neal.

Booked: Mawene.

Goals: Priskin 5, Brown 54.

Burnley: Jensen, Alexander, Carlisle, Unsworth (Caldwell 46), Harley, Elliott, McCann, James O’Connor (Gudjonsson 73), Lafferty (Cole 68), Blake, Akinbiyi.

Subs Not Used: Kiraly, Mahon.

Sent Off: Carlisle 90.

Booked: Alexander, James O’Connor, Blake.

Goals: James O’Connor 38.

Ref: Uriah Rennie (S Yorkshire).