Date: 24th April 2011 at 12:12pm
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The Clarets put in a sensational display at Pride Park on Saturday coming back from 2-1 down to beat Derby County 4-2 and keep their play-offs hopes very much alive. Burnley were simply stunning especially in the second half and with the Rams down to ten men punished the home team big-time in the sweltering Derbyshire sunshine.

With Hull City losing at home by the same score line to Middlesbrough and with Leeds dropping two valuable points on Friday night in a goalless draw against Reading, the Clarets are now one of three clubs on 66 points. Nottingham Forest are in the last play-offs spot at the moment with a better goal difference than the Clarets( +11 vs. +5), then come Leeds in 7th (who we still have to play at Elland Road later this month) with a goal difference advantage of five ahead of Burnley in 8th spot. Burnley are now three points clear of Hull who are 9th.

It is all still to play for setting up a very nervy end of season for all Clarets fans. All we have to do is keep winning and hope that both Forest and Leeds drop points in their remaining three games.

We have an ideal opportunity on Easter Monday to take advantage with a home game against ‘nothing-to-play-for` Portsmouth. Leeds travel to lowly Crystal Palace who are fighting for survival and Nottingham Forest face mid-table Bristol City at Ashton Gate. Forest will have been buoyed by the news that Robins` striker, Nicky Maynard was sent off on Saturday and will be suspended but all Clarets fans will still be hoping that Bristol City can do us a favour.

We don`t need to spell out who we play after Pompey! What a pot-boiling crucial game the match against Leeds United at Elland Road could prove to be for both sides on Saturday 30th April in our penultimate game of the season. It would be nice to go into that one three points clear of the Yorkshire outfit. A point at Elland Road under those circumstances could be enough before we face high-flying Cardiff City in our final match of the season on Saturday 7th May. So it looks like it could go down to the wire in a three-horse race for the sixth spot. We have hit superb form at the right time now all we have to do is keep up the momentum in our final three games of the season.

The Clarets made just one forced changes to the starting eleven for the Derby match. Dean Marney, our captain of late had a recurrence of the medial ligament injury in the game against Boro and was unfit to play. Marvin Bartley was of course also sitting out the third of his three match ban following his straight red card in the match away to Forest. So who could we possibly play in midfield alongside Jack Cork? The answer was perhaps a slight surprise for many Clarets fans but good news for everybody concerned when it was announced that Chris McCann would be starting his first game for the Clarets in the first team since January 2010. It would also prove an inspired choice as we shall see later.
With our captain, Graham Alexander and vice-captain, Clarke Carlisle on the bench and with stand-in captain, Marney out injured, the armband was given to Michael Duff. Duff thus became our fifth on-the-field captain this season with Wade Elliott being the other one we have not mentioned.

The only other change to the eighteen named for the previous game at home to Middlesbrough was the return of David Edgar on the bench. He replaced Shane Duffy who completed his loan spell in midweek and returned to his parent club, Everton.

In the blistering heat of Pride Park, Hertfordshire referee, Mick Russell got the game underway with 1093 Clarets fans wondering if they would be coming away from this one with their play-offs hopes still intact.

It Clarets fans were hoping that Derby were already ‘on the beach` with nothing left to play for other than pride, they would be very much mistaken. The Rams have struggled this season but although not mathematically safe, looked assured of staying up. They were in 19th spot and nine points clear of the drop zone before this match but they looked like they were fighting for their lives in the early stages of this game.

Chris McCann, making only his third first team appearance in eighteen months was soon into action getting in some crucial tackles as Burnley tried to soak up the early Rams pressure. Theo Robinson, the on-loan striker from Millwall was on fire giving Danny Fox a torrid time for most of the first half and it was Robinson who struck first blood to give Derby an early lead with just six minutes played.

Stuart Pearson put over a low cross and there was Robinson to turn the ball home.

Eddie Howe had to do something about the Robinson threat and decided to move from 4-4-2 to 4-4-1-1. Jay Rodriguez moved out wider in support of Fox with Eagles being given a free roaming role just behind Big Chris Iwelumo.

Burnley just did not look at the races in this early period but gradually they began to come into the game and on 15 minutes levelled the score.

A rampant McCann won the ball in midfield and set Elliott free. He put over a deep cross for Rodriguez to head down. Iwelumo laid off the ball to Eagles and he calmly placed the ball into the corner of the net to make it 1-1.

The Clarets now looked to take the lead playing their best spell of the half. Elliott set up a half-chance for Rodriguez but he could only put the ball wide. It was Elliott who then came close to scoring himself after picking up the ball from an Iwelumo flick. He tested Brad Jones with his shot but the Rams keeper at full-stretch saved the danger.

Derby though just wouldn`t give up and looked determined to ensure their Championship status and were on a roll after just one defeat in their last six games. Robinson continued to pose a threat and won a corner for the Rams on the half-hour mark. The Burnley defence could only half-clear the ball and there was Jamie Ward to pounce and fire a shot through the crowded penalty area. It took a deflection on the way but sailed past Jensen into the net to give the Rams a 2-1 half-time lead.

Burnley could only rue their disappointment having conceded too many sloppy goals this season whilst not keeping enough clean sheets. The problem in the first half seemed to be that Rodriguez was now isolated too much having been forced to play out-wide and help keep Robinson in check. Iwelumo too up front was lacking influence although in fairness the midfield seemed to be struggling to get the ball to him. Eddie Howe would need to shake them up during his half-time talk and boy whatever he said seemed to work right from the start of the second-half. Derby looked rattled early on and were on the back foot.

There was though first an early shock for the Clarets when it looked like we would face mission impossible and go further behind. Shoddy defending gifted Pearson a chance to make it 3-1 two minutes from the restart. Jensen though was equal to the danger and saved the day.

The Clarets now took over playing possibly their best football of the season as they began to dominate and get the lion`s share of the possession. It really was superb to watch! Jensen was a virtual spectator for most of the second half.

A skidding shot by McCann from distance flew just wide before Eagles and Cork combined well with Cork`s final shot getting a deflection and flying wide of target for a corner. Burnley attempted another step-over routine from the corner but this time Rodriguez just failed to score after his shot this time was headed over by a Rams defender in front of goal. This time as Fox`s corner came over, both Iwelumo and Rodriguez just failed to connect at the far post.

Burnley were now in complete control against a shell-shocked Derby and their efforts were finally rewarded just over the hour mark despite having perhaps a tadge of good fortune twice. Tyrone Mears, a former Derby player who had been given stick from the Rams fans all afternoon would now exact his revenge. Chris Eagles put Mears clear although to be honest he did look offside. Racing towards goal in an effort to pick up the through-ball, the right back was then tripped by Jamie Ward in the penalty area. The referee had to no option but to award a penalty and send Ward off with no offside flag evident.

Jamie Ward must be sick and tired of Burnley. He was of course also infamously sent off in our Wembley Plays-Off Final against Sheffield United in May 2009. His revenge getting Derby`s second goal was therefore short-lived. The sending-off also meant a change in Derby`s tactics with the Rams now reverting to 4-4-1. Crucially too for the Clarets this would mean the dangerous Robinson would now have to drop back deeper thus giving Fox some breathing space.

The fact Mears was not flagged offside was our first bit of luck, our second came from the penalty spot. Chris Eagles took the penalty but this time it was saved by the keeper. However Eagles pounced on the loose ball to side-foot it into the back of the net and make the score deservedly 2-2.

Twelve minutes later after a blistering spell of play by the Clarets we would find ourselves 4-2 up against ten-men Derby.

Our third goal just four minutes after the penalty came from a rare header from Wade Elliott. He got on the end of a great cross from Eagles to head home past Jones and score his second goal in two goals after previously failing to hit the back of the net all season.

Burnley fans were now ecstatic but it was to get even better in the 74th minute.

Chris McCann sealed a crucial Clarets victory with a wonder goal after charging forward from midfield to unleash a low shot from 25 yards out. It whizzed into the back of the net getting a little help from the inside of the post.

This was a great reward for McCann and nobody could be pleased for him more after a long struggle recovering from cruciate ligament damage and corrective surgery not to mention a separate head operation to remove excess fluid following complaints of migraine.

It was McCann`s day and he got a hero`s applause from the Clarets faithful after being substituted shortly after scoring. He even looked disappointed to be coming off and looked fit enough to carry on despite the heat and lack of competitive games at first-team level.

Burnley continued to dominate for the last fifteen minutes and played the game out to pick up three crucial points and our sixth away win of the season despite at one point in the first half looking very unlikely to do so! We should not perhaps have so many doubts coming from behind. This is the eighth time this season we have done so, the best record in the Championship. I just hope we don`t live to regret that horrible recent spell that saw the Clarets pick up just one point from six games. Now we really have the bit between our teeth though after three wins on the spin. Bring on Pompey!

Match Stats

Derby: Jones, Brayford, Barker, Anderson (Addison 82), Ayala, Savage (Hendrick 80), Pearson, Bailey, S Davies (Ball 77), Robinson, Ward

Subs Not Used: Atkins, B Davies, Doyle, Bueno

Goals: Robinson 6, Ward 31

Booked: Straight Red Card for Ward

Burnley: Jensen, Mears, Duff, Bikey, Fox, Cork, Elliott, McCann (Alexander 78), Eagles (Wallace 82), Iwelumo (Thompson 71), Rodriguez

Subs Not Used: Grant, Carlisle, Edgar, Delfouneso

Goals: Eagles 15 & 62, Elliott 65, McCann 74

Booked: Yellow card for Bikey

Possession: 46% Derby County, 54% Burnley (Source: BBC Sport)

Ref: Mick Russell (Hertfordshire)