Date: 10th August 2008 at 8:45am
Written by:

The Clarets have had a miserable start to the new season; going down 4-1 to Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough yesterday and leaving Clarets fans little to cheer about after such high expectations and a good pre-season.

Clarets fans were full of hope and expectations in this first match of the new 2008-9 season. That however evaporated within 30 seconds of the start of this match against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.

A shell-shocked defence could not keep out Tudgay as the Clarets fell behind 1-0 despite there being a suspicion of offside.

Worse was to come just 3 minutes later as danger man, Akpo Sodje made it 2-0 with our defence reeling.

To our credit we somehow found the resolve to get one back. Martin Paterson making his full Clarets debut scored with a near-post header after some nice work by Elliott, on six minutes giving some hope to Clarets fans that we could avoid a tonking and get some points after all.

Wednesday however didn`t take long to restore their two-goal lead and it was Sodje again on 17 minutes who did the damage. By now the Clarets, although looking good on the attack were looking very vulnerable to the counter-attack with Sodje and Burton in particular looking lively, dangerous and threatening to tear the defence apart.

The Clarets probably breathed a sigh of relief when Sodje limped off and had to be substituted a couple of minutes after scoring his second goal and the score remained 3-1 at half-time.

The game was killed off in the second half when Tudgay got the Owls fourth and final goal on the hour mark.

Owen Coyle will not be impressed with this performance at all, especially the deficiencies in defence and we often looked to lack options up front with only Paterson really to aim for. Somehow we need to quickly forget about this match and come back quickly against Bury in the Carling Cup on Tuesday night and in our next League game at home to Ipswich a week today.

Did we have too high an expectation? The good pre-season friendly results should perhaps be put in context now. Did we really play teams of the right calibre or were they too easy an opposition from the lower leagues?

Should we have played a Premier League side along the lines we normally do?

Perhaps if we are honest, we knew but didn`t like to admit that our defence was still looking decidingly shaky and error prone. Perhaps in our hearts of hearts, we knew we needed more options up front, maybe a tall striker as target man?

Well if we didn`t, we probably do now after being tonked by let`s face it a pretty mediocre Championship side.

There are maybe worrying signs here. A 5-0 defeat in our last game of last season and now 4-1 in the first of the new season. In the three seasons under Cotterill we never lost by more than 3-0 and never conceded more than three goals. Cotterill was accused of dire football and being too defensive but maybe with little cash at his disposal, he should be credited for keeping the side in the division.

I would have loved to have seen what he could have done with the cash now available to Owen Coyle.

Coyle may be playing more attractive football, but I am sorry I am not one of those who enjoy seeing us go down to a heavy defeat and then trying to convince myself that at least it was entertaining football. At the moment, it appears neither to be entertaining nor solid in defence.

You can forget returning to the days of Stan Ternent too, if getting tonked by rugby scores is the way forward all in the name of entertaining football.

Coyle has some time until the window closes at the end of this month to plug the gaps which are there for all to see. We have to hope he does so because I would be very concerned that this side especially in defence will be good enough to finish more than midtable yet again.

Indeed I would be worried about relegation if we continue to leak goals the way we have been.

Clarke Carlisle was of course suspended for this match after his bizarre sending off against Crystal Palace in the last game of last season, but even so we can`t be relying on one player to boost our defence. However thankfully he does return for the next League match against Ipswich at Turf Moor after sitting out the second of his two match ban against Bury in the Carling Cup this Tuesday night.

With Carlisle suspended and Berisha now out on loan to Rosenborg, these were the only two players unavailable for selection for today`s game.

The only surprise in the starting eleven perhaps was that Jordan was preferred to Kalvenes with the Norwegian named on the bench. It is not clear yet whether that decision was tactical or whether Kalvenes may have picked up a slight knock.

The team however lined up as follows giving full debuts to Penny, Van der Schaaf, Eagles and Paterson:

Penny, Jordan, Caldwell, Duff, Alexander, van der Schaaf, McCann, Elliott, Eagles, Blake, Paterson.

Subs: Kalvenes, Jensen, Gudjonsson, Akinbiyi, Mahon

The Clarets adopted their new formation of 4-2-3-1 but by the end of the game had reverted to 4-4-2. Clearly, the formation is something Coyle will have to look at closely after the defence was cruelly exposed today within the first three minutes of the match.

Former Clarets player, James O`Connor was making his first team debut for the Owls after signing for them in the summer on a Bosman and there were other connections between the clubs in this game. In addition to former Clarets player, Brian Laws now of course the manager at Sheffield Wednesday, in goal for the Owls was Lee Grant, a former Clarets loan albeit very briefly! Chris Eagles of course was also returning to Hillsborough having played for the Owls in one of his loan spells from Manchester United. Indeed it was during this loan spell that Eagles scored against the Clarets in the 2-1 home defeat in 2005.

On paper therefore, there was plenty to whet the appetite in an intriguing opener to the season.

Clive Oliver was the referee for the day. He last refereed a game involving the Clarets in our controversial 1-0 home defeat last season by Bristol City.

The Clarets though had little chance to settle down as the referee got the match underway with the side suddenly finding themselves already 1-0 down with only 31 seconds on the clock.

Sodje on the right was allowed to roam free in acres of space before squaring the ball to Tudgay. Tudgay’s shot took a deflection which foxed Penny and the ball sailed into the back of the net. There was perhaps a suspicion of offside but the trap did not work and the goal stood.

What a terrible start with the miserable debut for Penny about to get even worse.

Deon Burton got the better of Michael Duff on the left touchline and chipped the ball to an advancing Sodje who thundered the ball high into the net to put the Owls 2-0 up after just 4 minutes.

Penny had touched the ball just twice, to get the ball out of the net!

A terrible shaky start looked like a tonking could be on the cards.

The Owls at this point were slicing through the Clarets defence like butter with Sodje and Burton threatening to cause havoc.

Somehow though, in the sixth minute the Clarets found the resolve to pull one back.

A throw in by Alexander was picked up by Elliott and his cross found Paterson who headed the ball into the net at the near post. A debut goal for Paterson and the fourth time he has scored at Hillsborough in his career.

For a time, it looked like the Clarets might get the equaliser with Eagles in particular looking dangerous in his attacking central midfield role.

The game was now very open but the Owls looked dangerous on the break with our former midfielder, James O’Connor looking lively and in the thick of things.

Our defence though continued to look weak and shell-shocked and the 4-2-3-1 formation seemed unable to cope as we continually failed to pick up players during the Owls attacks.

Burton nearly made it 3-1 after just 10 minutes of play being given the luxury of a free header. Thankfully however he put the ball over.

Chris Eagles in the 17th minute found himself on a superb mazy run being denied finally by a challenge.

However seconds later Clarets hearts sank after another woeful display in defence allowed Sodje to get his second goal of the afternoon.

Jermaine Johnson got the better of three defenders before crossing the ball. He didn’t connect properly but the ball bobbled into the path of Sodje who had the simple job of scoring at the far post.

The tonking now looked back on as the Clarets confidence ebbed away and it probably came as some relief when Sodje picked up an injury and limped off with a knee problem with only 21 minutes played.

Leon Clarke came on to replace him and bizarrely Sodje would probably have picked up Man of the Match for his role in those first 20 minutes.

The loss of Sodje seemed to upset the relentless attacking flair for the Owls and the first half calmed down after such an eventful start.

There was time though for Blake to be yellow carded for dissent after he decided rather foolishly to angrily kick the ball away into the crowd.

3-1 at half-time then and Coyle would certainly have a few strong words to say in the dressing room, especially to our back four.

The Clarets made no changes for the start of the second half and it was now clear that the next goal would decide the outcome of the match. Pull one back, game on! Concede another, game over!

Chris McCann soon had two chances to try and make it ‘game on’. First Elliott found McCann with a sideways pass on 47 minutes and his shot from 25 yards lead to Owls keeper, Grant pulling off a spectacular save. Some clever work by Eagles then allowed McCann to get in an header but the ball went wide.

The Clarets at this stage were probably playing their best football of the afternoon but it wasn’t to last.

Coyle tried to change things round a bit and brought on the more attacking midfielder, Joey Gudjonsson to replace Remco van der Schaaf on 59 minutes but five minutes later it was game over as the Owls scored yet another simple goal to make it 4-1 with questions again asked of the defence.

This time it was Clarke causing the defence problems and his pass across the 18-yard line found Tudgay who had an easy shot to beat Penny and get his second goal thus sealing a miserable day for the Clarets.

You have to feel sorry for Penny; letting in four goals on his debut would have done nothing for his confidence.
It is difficult to blame him though for any of the goals and the back four had more to answer for.

Penny however did ensure we did not concede another goal pulling off a double save in the 74th minute.

He firstly raced out of his goal using his legs to deny Sean McAllister and then almost instantly dived to his right to prevent Tudgay getting a hat-trick with his long range shot.

Ade Akinbiyi replaced the strangely lacklustre Blake on 77 minutes as the Clarets reverted to 4-4-2 but by now it was far too late.

No further damage was inflicted on the Clarets and with a number of Clarets fans already heading back in disgust over the Pennines; the referee finally brought an end to the proceedings with the Clarets licking their wounds.

So a very, very disappointing start and one that Coyle has admitted involved some basic schoolboy errors.

“I thought our defending was nothing short of na├»ve, Wednesday didn’t have to work hard because they were soft goals.

‘Clarke Carlisle returning next week will help us enormously.

‘Martin Paterson, Stephen Jordan and Wade Elliott did well but you won’t win the league with only three players, said Coyle after the match.

We have to improve significantly and we have to tighten the defence if we are to stand any chance of showing significant improvements this season and avoiding the midtable mediocrity tag yet again. There are also concerns in attack, Paterson is playing well but we need other options up front.

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Sheff Wed: Grant, Spurr, Hinds, Beevers, Wood, Tudgay, McAllister, O’Connor (Watson 88), Johnson (Smith 69), Burton, Sodje (Clarke 21).

Subs Not Used: O’Donnell, Esajas.

Booked: O’Connor, Beevers.

Goals: Tudgay 1, Sodje 4, 17, Tudgay 65.

Burnley: Penny, Alexander, Duff, Caldwell, Jordan, Elliott, McCann, Paterson, Van der Schaaf (Gudjonsson 59), Eagles, Blake (Akinbiyi 77).

Subs Not Used: Jensen, Kalvenes, Mahon.

Booked: Blake.

Goals: Paterson 6.

Referee: Clive Oliver (Northumberland).