Date: 14th April 2009 at 10:52am
Written by:

The euphoria of the weekend was short-lived as the Clarets came down to earth with a bump at Ninian Park, losing 3-1 to Cardiff City. Our first league defeat in eight games was made even worse on a day when all our rivals for a play-offs spot picked up points including Preston and Swansea who both won away to narrow the gap between 6th and the two places below to four points again.

You can always guarantee that Burnley will test the nerves of all Clarets fans in this roller coaster ride and so it will prove again with three matches to play starting with a tricky home game against high-flying Sheffield United next Monday night. The only good news is that the Blades progress seems to have been halted after a 0-0 draw against the ten men of relegation-threatened Nottingham Forest at Bramall Lane yesterday.

Ninian Park has become a bit of a nightmare ground for the Clarets. We have not even managed a draw there since Cardiff were promoted to the Championship in 2003 and you have to go back to our promotion season of 1999/2000 for the last time we won on this ground. A 2-1 victory on ironically April Fool`s Day 2000 was the last time we could wipe the smile off Welsh faces with Payton and Davis getting the goals.

Cardiff move to their new ground next season, so unless we play the Bluebirds again in the play-off semi-finals, yesterday was the last time we will have to suffer the bogey ground that was Ninian Park.

This defeat also highlighted another problem for the Clarets magnifying the dangers we face with a threadbare squad now down to nineteen players. Our problem yesterday was attack with no real options on the bench to change things round. Steven Thompson was sidelined still with his ankle ligament injury, Martin Paterson was not even named in the sixteen with his hamstring injury still playing up and the only option was to bring in young Alex MacDonald on the bench and give Jay Rodriguez his second start of the season after his full debut in the previous game against QPR.

One wonders if Coyle was ruing the fact that Akinbiyi was no longer at the Club, especially when his only alternative to try and rescue the game with five minutes to play was to bring on defender, Michael Duff as an emergency striker. At this rate we might have to consider promoting one of the youth team strikers to the squad for the last three games of the season. It is understood for example that hot-shot Wes Fletcher, recently given a professional contract is currently training with the first team so maybe Coyle is having similar thoughts. The injury to Thompson though continues to be a concern after initially being told there was a chance he could play against Derby, followed by QPR and then Cardiff! Coyle is now saying Sheffield United so let`s hope that`s true this time. He does seem to be close to a return. During our Clarets Trust Board meeting before the QPR game on Saturday, looking out of the window of the Jimmy McIlroy Enterprise Haven we spotted Thommo on the pitch being put through his paces. It turns out this was a training session rather than a fitness test but it was still encouraging.

However let`s get back to yesterday`s game, the Clarets 55th of the season in all competitions. Paterson as mentioned above was sidelined and he was replaced by young Alex MacDonald on the bench. This was the only change to the sixteen named for our last game against QPR and we fielded the same starting eleven with Jay Rodriguez leading the attack in only his second start of the season.

So in summary we lined-up as follows:

Jensen, Williams, Carlisle, Caldwell, Kalvenes, Alexander, Eagles, McCann, Elliott, Blake, Rodriguez

Subs: Penny, Duff, Gudjonsson, McDonald, MacDonald

Wiltshire referee, Lee Probert got the match underway on a bright and sunny day in Cardiff.

The Clarets started the brighter of the two sides. In the first minute Rodriguez shot over the bar from the right of the area and seven minutes later McCann tried a shot from distance but was not on target. Cardiff then got into the game after Bothroyd, in Cardiff`s first attack of any significance headed wide from a free kick after 15 minutes.

Mark Kennedy brought down Eagles for a free kick duly taken by Robbie Blake. Carlisle at the far post got his head to the ball but couldn`t keep it down. Some nice play between Eagles and Blake set up Rodriguez at the near post but his flick was just off target.

A 30-yard volley from Eagles after 32 minutes was the first shot to test Bluebirds keeper Stuart Taylor but the stopper comfortably held the ball.

Burnley looked to have had the edge in the first 30 minutes of this nervy match but now it was Cardiff`s turn to apply the pressure. Just three minutes remaining of the first half, a flick by Bothroyd found McCormack who volleyed a shot from the penalty spot only to be denied by Jensen.

No score at half-time then but news filtering through that both Preston and Swansea were winning away from home at half-time did nothing to steady the Clarets fans nerves.

Neither side made any changes for the start of the second half.

With the hour mark approaching no side could make the breakthrough they needed but remarkably one statistic was achieved after Graham Alexander passed through his 5000th minute of action for the Clarets this season.

It was Cardiff now though who were beginning to get the possession and put the Clarets under pressure although it was not helped by a ‘homer` of a referee who seemed to be determined to give every decision to the Bluebirds.

A dubious free-kick was awarded to Cardiff on the hour. McCormack pumped the ball into a congested six-yard box from the right and Jensen had to dive to gather the ball.

With the half way point of the second half approaching, a blunder in defence let in Bothroyd but Jensen again came to the rescue. Burnley at this point just couldn`t seem to get any attacks going and the Clarets fans nerves continued to jangle. More bad news for the Clarets in the 73rd minute when Graham Alexander was to be substituted for only the second time this season, raising doubts again about the holding midfielder`s fitness after suffering a spate of recent injuries. Gudjonsson came on to replace him.

Worse was to come though one minute later as Cardiff finally broke the deadlock. McCormack flicked the ball into the area and it was Bothroyd who picked up the loose ball to thump it into the top corner of the net and put the Bluebirds 1-0 up. Jensen had kept 16 clean sheets this season but this was not going to be one of them!

The goal though seemed to spur the Clarets into action and suddenly we started to string a few attacks together.

Rodriguez headed over and then Blake attempted a strong shot from 20 yards that bamboozled Taylor who fumbled the ball with no Clarets player around to take advantage.

Darren Purse then had to clear the ball following some magic by Elliott in the box.

Eight minutes remaining and we got a free-kick in Robbie Blake territory. Despite the fact, it was wide on the left hand side, Blake came close to equalising but at least Clarets fans didn`t have to wait long until we did draw level.

On 84 minutes, Rodriguez was pressing on the attack and Gudjonsson got onto a loose ball before a poor Darren Purse back pass let Blake sneak in and score Burnley`s 85th goal of the season.

The Clarets fans had hardly stopped cheering though when the Bluebirds regained the lead straight from the kick-off to destroy our hopes of getting something from this game. Bothroyd headed down the ball which McCormack latched onto having found room in the box to shoot past the hapless Jensen. What a hammer blow, something surely we didn`t deserve?

Burnley tried to get the equaliser in the last few minutes of the game but you just sensed we would get caught out on the break and so it proved. Carlisle came close with a header from a corner that was headed clear off the line, in a little bit of pressure that saw three corners in quick succession but with stoppage time being played, McCormack caught Burnley out on the break to beat Jensen who was rushing out with the defence on the retreat and trying to get back.

Yes, not a good day at the office and a right downer after the highs of Saturday. Once more we have our eyes looking over our shoulders at the two teams behind us who could still sneak that last play-offs place in 6th spot.

Somehow we have to focus on our games left and ignore what the others are doing. We still have that valuable four point buffer but once more there is again no margin for error. Swansea in particular look the biggest threat, they play Bristol City on Saturday at home and have a much better goal difference compared to the Clarets.

Preston in 8th have a poorer goal difference and we shall have to hope that at least losing to Cardiff will have spurred the Bluebirds on to go for automatic promotion since they travel to Deepdale this Saturday.

Our next match of course at home to high-flying Sheffield United has been put back to the following Monday thanks to Sky Sports wanting to televise the game so we will have the advantage of knowing where we stand by then.

However it will not be comfortable knowing that Swansea and/or Preston are just one point behind the Clarets should one or both win their games on Saturday. What pressure that will put on the team with the Blades the visitors, still contenders for automatic promotion and what a nervy time it will be for Clarets fans desperate to secure a play-offs place.

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Cardiff: Taylor, McNaughton, Purse, Gyepes, Kennedy, Ledley, McPhail, Rae, McCormack, Bothroyd (Eddie Johnson 86), Chopra (Whittingham 64).

Subs Not Used: Heaton, Comminges, Burke.

Booked: Kennedy.

Goals: Bothroyd 74, McCormack 85, 90.

Burnley: Jensen, Alexander (Gudjonsson 73), Carlisle, Caldwell, Williams, Kalvenes, Elliott, McCann, Eagles, Rodriguez (Duff 87), Blake.

Subs Not Used: Penny, McDonald, MacDonald.

Booked: Kalvenes, Carlisle, Elliott, Williams.

Goals: Blake 84.

Ref: Lee Probert (Wiltshire).