The Clarets kept their good home record intact in a well-earned but dull 1-1 draw against in-form Fulham on Saturday.
The atmosphere at Turf Moor also seemed subdued and our lowest gate of the season turned up to watch this match. Fulham brought so few fans that after the game I spied was just one small coach waiting to take them all back! It looks like a number of henpecked husbands supporting either team had been told they had to do some Christmas shopping instead. The rousing Fortress Turf Moor effect therefore was sadly lacking and could be the reason why we never really looked like securing all three points.
It is a toss-up whether watching paint dry would have been marginally more entertaining than watching this match. You can normally tell the predicted level of excitement for neutrals in a game by viewing the batting order on Match of the Day(MOTD) on Saturday night unless of course you are playing one of the Big Four in which case you will be in one of the top slots no matter how bad the game. Well we were playing Fulham, which doesn`t quite have the same ring to it as their near-neighbours Chelsea and on MOTD we were the next to last match featured with the goalless draw between Hull and Blackburn taking the ‘Yawn of the Day` award . That says it all although at least we had two goals in this one albeit one of them sadly scored by Fulham!
The first half was instantly forgettable; in fact I have forgotten it, so much so I can`t remember any action from it. In general though we looked terrible and Fulham could have been 2-0 up in the first five minutes but somehow we survived. The game eventually settled down into what can only be described as a boring stalemate. Even my trusty Digital Camera had packed up on me, I think it must have thought I may as well have the day off since there`s nowt worth shooting! Oh well Comet can have the pleasure of repairing it now. Just hope the insurance will cover ‘dying of boredom` on the claim form!
The second half wasn`t much better although at least there was a little more action and two goals. ‘Fortress Turf Moor` was beginning to look like a sand castle again when Fulham got the lead after some poor defending by Caldwell. It was the pesky Zamora, who is far too cocky for his own good that got the goal after 50 minutes much to the annoyance of Clarets fans.
Coyle had to do something now and on 57 minutes made the first of his substitutions and with it a tactical change at long last. Nugent replaced a woeful Blake and we looked in much better shape now playing 4-4-2 with Elliott pushed out wide. It had the desired effect and three minutes later we had equalised thanks to a stunning shot from Elliott.
That goal seemed to wake up everyone and the football on the pitch now improved with both sides going out for the winner. I strongly felt one of the sides would score again and just hoped it would be us but in the end it just petered out and that was it another vital point to the Clarets.
I am going to have a moan at Coyle for this one. Not sure what repercussions there will be for challenging ‘God` and I might have forfeited my chance of seeing the Pearly Gates but what the hell here goes (did you see what I did there?)
The tactics for this game were wrong from the start. One player who shone in our last match was Kevin McDonald, given a rare start due to Caldwell being suspended. He was easily the man of the match against Pompey last week and was the playmaker in midfield looking mature and strong. Bikey on the other hand pushed back into defence had a dismal game last week and Robbie Blake too put in a pretty average performance by his standards. It was clear to me, assuming our captain would instantly return into the back four after his one match suspension that someone should make way for McDonald against Fulham with either Bikey or Blake looking the obvious candidates.
McDonald must have been highly disappointed not to get a nod in the starting eleven and most Clarets fans are now wondering what he has to do to get a regular place in the team. It would have been small consolation to him that he did get on from the bench and played the last 13 minutes of the match after replacing Bikey. I know I am speaking with the benefit of hindsight now but Blake had a mare (see above) and once more Bikey looked lost and confused on many occasions as though for the second match running he couldn`t quite get into his head whether to be a back four player or a midfielder. In addition I know Steven Caldwell might be our captain but we also need someone solid in the centre of defence and he looked culpable on a number of occasions, he was certainly at fault for Fulham`s goal and should have done better holding off Zamora who beat him too easily to score.
I think also in this game we should have started in a 4-4-2 formation rather than have Fletcher alone up front, in hindsight Blake should have made way for Nugent. The side looked much more effective when Nugent came on to replace Blake on 57 minutes. Up until then, Fletcher was looking very frustrated, every time he got the ball he didn`t have anybody to support him and he had to work harder to beat their defence.
The moral of the story? We should have taken note of our performance against Pompey and taken some of the positives from that game into the Fulham game. We should certainly have accommodated Kevin McDonald and we should have considered 4-4-2 at a much earlier stage than we did.
I guess though you have to put this result in perspective. A point against a side on a good run of form is some achievement but it still feels like a disappointment and two points lost. The Cottagers came to the Turf with just one defeat in their previous nine games, again highlighting how good a point this actually was. They have only won one match away though but have ground out some valuable points in a number of draws on the road. There is a lesson to learn there. I wouldn`t say Fulham`s play was particularly attractive but it was effective.
Luckily for the Clarets the one point against Fulham was enough to keep us in 13th place still four points ahead of the third from bottom club. That club though is now West Ham with Wolves getting a shock win at Spurs to move out of the bottom three.
It would have been nice to win though with Arsenal coming to Turf Moor this Wednesday night. I had hoped to be on 20 points by now and be able to relax more against one of the Big Four. This game against the Gunners now seems to take on more importance and if we can get anything from this match it will be a miracle. I think all we can hope for is that the weather is cold and wet so the Southern softies might struggle. We can but hope too that Arsenal will be too overconfident by far after their defeat of Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday. One thing is for sure, to stand any chance of winning this game we are going to have to play much better than we have in recent games and somehow find that spirit and determination we had against the likes of Manchester United, Everton and the rest at Turf Moor. The Gunners will have enough missiles to chuck at the Fortress, so let`s hope we can pour some hot oil on their heads!
The Full Match Report
Owen Coyle had one or two dilemmas for this match with the return of Steven Caldwell after his automatic one-match suspension against Pompey following his late red-card in the previous game at West Ham. In the Pompey game the enforced change to the team with Caldwell suspended allowed Kevin McDonald to make a rare start in midfield with Bikey dropping back into defence. Kev rose to the occasion and indeed was most Clarets fans Man of the Match. David Nugent was also available after being ineligible to play against his parent club last week.
The main question most Clarets fans had before the Fulham clash was whether McDonald had done enough to keep his place in the team and if so who would be dropped. In the end Coyle played safe and reverted to the eleven that had started in the five games prior to Pompey. Andre Bikey therefore reverted to his position in midfield with the unlucky McDonald once more having to be content with a place on the bench. Steven Caldwell as predicted was back in the centre of defence and it was decided to play Fletcher alone up front with Nugent once more finding himself on the bench.
We therefore lined up as follows:
Jensen, Mears, Carlisle, Caldwell, Jordan, Alexander, Eagles, Bikey, Elliott, Blake, Fletcher
Substitutes: Penny, Kalvenes, Gudjonsson, McDonald, Guerrero, Nugent, Thompson
A late change in the referee saw Mike Jones take over from Alan Wiley and with the match underway Fulham came storming out of the blocks and could have been 2-0 up within the first few minutes.
Just two minutes into the game, a flick from Nevland found Duff out wide charging towards Jensen with just the keeper to beat. Jensen had no option but to charge off his line to narrow the angle but Duff thankfully tried to chip the ball and his weak attempt was sliced wide.
Fulham continued the early pressure; Jensen blocked a shot by Nevland with his legs and then got a left hand to a thunderous shot by Duff.
The Clarets looked shaky in defence and just couldn`t seem to mount a challenge of their own at this stage. Our best moment, and in fact the only real opportunity I can recall in the first half was when the impressive-looking Eagles got in a ball to Fletcher who was advancing towards goal. With no company up front though, Fletcher got hounded down by the Fulham defence. The ball though was only half-cleared to Blake who let rip with a volley that nearly caught Fulham keeper, Schwarzer unawares but somehow he recovered to save. Schwarzer also saved a deflected shot following a run by Eagles but we were simply not clicking this half with too many passes going astray and Fletcher looking a lonely figure up front.
Fulham too apart from that opening spell seemed to have taken their foot off the throttle and the first half was a poor affair with very little action in the end with 0-0 just about summing things up.
With no changes made to the team by Coyle for the start of the second half, things would have to improve if we were to begin to get the upper hand in this match. Elliott did have an attempt on goal in the fourth minute of the second half but dragged his shot wide after being put through by Bikey and moments later we found ourselves 1-0 down.
The Clarets were caught napping by a quickly taken free kick by Baird that found Zamora. With Caldwell breathing down his neck, our captain was far too easily brushed aside with Zamora getting the better of him and now charging towards goal. He struck the ball well across Jensen to score his 7th goal of the season.
Fulham nearly increased their lead a few minutes later when a corner by Duff found the head of Dempsey. His header though just failed to hit the target.
At this stage Fulham fans must have been thinking that maybe at long last after 58 years and 29 attempts of trying, they could finally get their first win on this bogey ground which would be their first since April 1951!
Owen Coyle though had other ideas and within seven minutes had brought on his first substitute and changed tactics.
We now had much better shape to the team with Elliott moved out wide and Fletcher at long last having some company up front in the shape of David Nugent. Nugent had come on to replace a totally ineffective Blake and his energy and enthusiasm seemed to kick-start the team into action again.
Three minutes later it was 1-1 thanks to a spectacular shot from Elliott. Jordan had crossed from the left but the ball was only half-cleared and the ball was picked up by Elliott advancing down the right. He let rip from 15 yards out to shoot past Shwarzer and score his first goal for the Clarets since way back in August
We now seemed to find some steam and at long last get back into this match looking for a winner. Both Nugent and Bikey came close with shots but both were denied by the Fulham keeper.
Fulham though soaked up the pressure and always looked dangerous on the break. Zamora latched onto a through-ball from Konchesky and Jensen had to be alert to the danger coming off his line to deny the former Spurs and West Ham striker his brace.
The Clarets tried to get the winner but we never quite looked like doing so. Our best chance came when substitute, Guerrero should have kept his shot lower instead of thumping it to the back of the Cricket Field stand.
Oh well a creditable point I suppose in a dull game but it could have been so much better if all our players had played to the form we know they are capable of. Bring on the Gunners! (Is that white van coming yet?)
Burnley: Jensen, Mears, Carlisle, Caldwell, Jordan, Alexander, Bikey (McDonald 77), Eagles (Guerrero 86), Fletcher, Blake (Nugent 57), Elliott.
Subs Not Used: Penny, Kalvenes, Gudjonsson, Thompson.
Goal: Elliott (60)
Fulham: Schwarzer, Konchesky, Paintsil, Hangeland, Baird, Nevland (Gera 77), Duff, Hughes, Dempsey, Zamora, Greening.
Subs Not Used: Stockdale, Murphy, Riise, Smalling, Elm, Dikgacoi.
Booked: Yellow cards for Konchesky and Greening
Goal: Zamora (50)
Referee: Mike Jones (Chester)
Dull Point against Fulham better than Null Point
The Clarets kept their good home record intact in a well-earned but dull 1-1 draw against in-form Fulham on Saturday.