Date: 3rd January 2012 at 10:40am
Written by:

The 2-1 defeat to Leeds at Elland Road yesterday in our first game of 2012 was simply heartbreaking for all Clarets fans. Burnley, down to ten men for most of the game, were just two minutes away from a remarkable win but two late goals in typical Leeds fashion cruelly denied the Clarets victory; a victory that today would have seen Burnley sitting proudly in a play-offs spot.

The storybook would be simple fiction if we did not mention the effect the referee had on this game. To be honest he was woeful and if you want a definition of ‘homer` then look no further. Whether he was affected by the intimidating, loud presence of the Leeds contingent we shall never know but his decisions were bizarre and effectively cost us the game. You also have to ask why an East Yorkshire man was in charge of a War of the Roses battle anyway because he seemed determined not to give the Red Rose team anything all afternoon.

The referee effectively killed the game off on the half-hour mark when he sent off Kieran Trippier for two bookable offences. Yes, perhaps both were fouls but were they so bad to warrant two yellow cards? Certainly the second offence on the replay looked tame. Clarets fans though would probably have accepted the decision had he also metered out similar punishment to some of the Leeds players who got away with blue murder all afternoon. They committed far worse fouls and yet at most simply seemed to get a talking too. I should imagine the talk went something like this ‘Keep it up lad, us Yorkshiremen have to stick together`. The card count kind of proves the point with Leeds picking up just one to Burnley`s five!

The game up to the sending off was exciting with end-to-end action. The referee destroyed that spectacle for both sets of fans with Burnley now a man down camped in their own half trying to withstand the Leeds onslaught. The Clarets showed remarkable resilience though and in the 69th minute silenced the home crowd thanks to a stunning goal from Charlie Austin.

Our defence though would now be put under even more pressure and it was a nervy time for all Clarets fans as the clock ticked down. We never get much luck at Elland Road and indeed Leeds are very much our bogey team having lost our last four games against them. The last time we beat Leeds on their home soil was back In November 2004 (our only win there in 37 years!) and sadly we were not going to change that statistic. Leeds have a habit of coming from behind late on to beat us, they did it only last November in the game at Turf Moor when they beat us 2-1. Surely they couldn`t do it again with 20 minutes to play?

We seemed to be riding our luck again as the clock ticked down but our defence stood tall and soaked up a lot of the pressure. With just two minutes to go though disaster number one struck. Burnley had been under pressure from countless Leeds corners all afternoon and they would now fall victim to one of them. The corner to the near post from Clayton found Pugh whose shot took a deflection into the back of the net for an own goal. There is some debate whether it was Easton or Rodriguez who got in the way but it was still rough justice. Oh well a point would still be a good result, surely we deserved something from this game? Not in this cruel world of football!! Disaster number two was about to strike!

Unbelievably it was announced by the fourth official that there would be five minutes of added time and yes we even hung on for that amount of time. The trouble was the referee, who I think was wearing a white shirt underneath, decided to add even more time. BBC Sport record that in the seventh minute of added time, yes that`s right SEVENTH minute, Leeds scored the winning goal! It was a tragic blunder by Lee Grant that gave struggling Leeds manager, Simon Grayson a lifeline and cruelly denied Burnley anything from this game. He spilled a shot from loan debutant Andros Townsend and there was McCormack ideally placed to pounce and shoot past the hapless keeper.

So there you have it, Burnley two minutes away from victory and a top six spot and then six seconds away from a well-earned point and our first draw in 19 games! Truly heartbreaking, truly cruel and all we can do now is take the positives from this game and let`s be honest there were many. We simply have to consign this defeat to the dustbin as soon as possible, put it behind us and not dwell on it. Let`s not forget, although we now drop to 10th we are still only three points away from the play-offs positions. It was not the best start to the New Year but there is still all to play for with promotion still a possibility. I think we would have all taken our current situation at the start of the season and we certainly would at 2-0 down against Hull with 15 minutes to play at the KC Stadium back in November with the relegation places looming!

This defeat hurts though, it really hurts!

Team Sheet

Eddie Howe was forced into some unexpected changes for this game when both Keith Treacy and Marvin Bartley reported in sick ahead of the game. Michael Duff was also still sidelined with a hamstring injury and the gaffer decided to rest Martin Paterson. Pato had only just comeback recently from a long injury after recovering from a persistent thigh problem but had started the last three games and basically ran his socks off. He was said to be shattered after the Hull game on New Year`s Eve.

Charlie Austin returned to the starting eleven to replace Pato, no doubt hoping he would have better luck than the last time he played against Leeds. He dislocated his shoulder in that game at Turf Moor back in November and this would be his first start since then. Junior Stanislas also made a return after being named in the starting eleven.

Our bench took on a strange shape too with Howe naming three strikers and no midfielders. Zavon Hines was back in the sixteen along with fellow strikers Alex Macdonald and Sam Vokes. Central defender, Andre Amougou retained his place on the bench along with third-string keeper, Jon Stewart.

The forced changes would appear to have denied Howe the chance to adopt an effective 4-5-1 formation for this War of the Roses clash; a tactic normally employed away from home. Even when the team sheet was announced, many Clarets fans thought we still might play 4-1-4-1, with Marney as the holding midfielder, Rodriguez out wide and Austin alone up front. Howe though abandoned that possibility in favour of a straight 4-4-2 with Rodriguez partnering Austin up front in a twin-pronged attack supported by Wallace on the right wing and Stanislas on the left.

Our line-up therefore was as follows:

Grant, Trippier, Edgar, Mee, Easton, Marney, McCann, Wallace, Stanislas, Rodriguez, Austin

Subs: Stewart, Amougou, MacDonald, Hines, Vokes

Full Match Report

Both managers made a significant number of changes to their team for this clash. We have already mentioned Eddie Howe`s team selection above but Simon Grayson too made changes to the side that were tonked 4-1 in Leeds` last game away to Barnsley. Grayson, with his side having picked up just one point from their last four games and having lost three on the bounce was reported to be under pressure with some thinking that Ken Bates could be about to sack him if he didn`t reverse the trend soon. He was said to be embarrassed by the performance at Oakwell and was clearly prepared to wield the axe. In fact he made five changes. Amongst the changes, leading goalscorer, Ross McCormack was dropped to the bench and new loan signing from Spurs, winger Andros Townsend went straight into the starting eleven to make his debut just a day after signing. Townsend, once a target by the Clarets would prove to be a handful too.
Despite the ridiculous ticket prices for this game with an adult ticket costing £36 and concessions well over £20, an estimated 1500 Burnley fans still couldn`t resist the temptation of this Roses clash and travelled over the Pennines to watch the game.

Those Clarets fans were perhaps surprised when Burnley lined-up 4-4-2 with many expecting a more defensive 4-5-1 or 4-1-4-1 but the more attacking formation showed Howe`s intent to go out for victory and try and win a fourth consecutive game.

The game got off to a flying start for the Clarets and we nearly took the lead just three-and-a-half minutes from kick-off. A perfectly weighted pass from Rodriguez put Austin clear on goal but the striker seemed to panic after seemingly being put off by the defender closing in behind him. He put his right-footed effort wide of target when a more composed Austin would normally have thumped the ball home.

Austin then had another attempt on goal but this time he saw a less-than-confident Lonergan tip his long range effort over the bar.

The first thirty minutes of this game were feverish and frantic with both sides desperate to get the first goal. It was end-to-end stuff and exciting for both sets of fans and certainly for any neutral ones watching. You sensed Leeds were just getting the upper hand although to be honest Grant had hardly been tested.

The referee, Mark Brown was about to spoil all the fun though, certainly for Clarets fans. In the space of five minutes, he would show a yellow card twice to the unfortunate Kieran Trippier and in the 29th minute reduce Burnley to ten-men. In each case he was adjudged to have impeded the lively Andros Townsend. There was certainly minimal contact in the second challenge and the sending off was harsh to say the least.

There was nothing Burnley could do despite the howls of protest and now the pressure really was on.

Wallace dropped back into the right-back spot whilst Howe re-thought his tactics. By the 36th minute, Howe had decided what to do with Amougou coming on to replace the unfortunate and unhappy Stanislas. Amougou would partner Ben Mee in the centre of defence allowing David Edgar to take over the right-back position with the Clarets now playing 4-4-1. This meant Austin was now alone up front with Wallace returning to the right flank and Rodriguez now playing a wider role on the left.

With all Clarets angered by the red card decision, the referee then did him-self no favours by refusing to book Leeds players who were clearly infringing to a far worse degree than Trippier and getting away with fouls left, right and centre. This inconsistency and blatant ‘homerism` simply infuriated everybody with a Burnley heart but we could do nothing about it.

Burnley however pulled out all the stops in defence to keep Leeds at bay and it was with great relief that we could regroup at half-time with the score still 0-0.

Eddie Howe was clearly not in a position to make any changes at half-time and everybody of course knew we would now face another onslaught in the second half. If only we could continue to frustrate them though we might stand a chance and perhaps catch them out on the break.

It would not be easy though and in the first ten minutes from the restart we had to withstand relentless pressure with Leeds upping a gear and the Clarets defending for their lives. They had no less than five corners in this opening spell and how the Clarets survived this onslaught, god only knows. On loan Spurs winger, Andros Townsend was running amok with our defence finding it difficult to handle him. We certainly had our backs to the wall now and we simply just couldn`t seem to get out of our own half. Ben Mee cleared away one threat with a fantastic defensive header before the woodwork came to our rescue. O`Dea got in a looping header that thankfully for Clarets fans hit the top of the bar. It was now all Leeds, surely we would buckle soon! Grant flew across to save a Nunez free-kick in mid-air and then after Burnley cleared yet another corner, Zac Thompson pounced with a volley that skidded inches wide.

This was now unbearable for Clarets fans but amazingly we suddenly found ourselves one goal up in the 69th minute. You could count on one hand how many times Burnley had mounted an attack so far but suddenly Chris McCann found Austin with a header 22 yards from goal. Austin swivelled round to let rip with a volley that flew across Lonergan into the bottom corner of the net, It was a belter and remarkably the Clarets were now leading 1-0 having silenced and stunned the noisy home contingent.

Austin, job done would now see little further action and was replaced by Vokes in the 74th minute. Grayson rattled by the goal also made some changes bringing on Forsell for Becchio and then McCormack for Nunez in the space of five minutes. The changes seemed to revigorate Leeds and once again the Clarets were put under considerable pressure with Leeds` corner count now in double figures and possession reaching over 60%. We seemed to be permanently camped in our own half once again as Leeds turned the ever tightening screw.

Grant who had been having a good, solid game up to now then made his first blunder of the match which nearly proved costly. He failed to deal with a high ball into the box dropping the ball into the path of Forssell. The keeper though would have been relieved to see Forssell`s volley over the top when an equaliser looked certain.

Leeds would amass an amazing corner count of 16 compared to Burnley`s 4 by the end of the game but it was from one of their corners that they would equalise with just two minutes of normal time remaining. Clayton took the corner and there was Pugh at the near post to thump the ball towards goal. The ball though took a wicked deflection though to fly into the net. The goal will go down as an own goal. BBC Sport believes Easton to be the culprit but the official website in their Match Report cites Rodriguez. We shall have to look at the recorded highlights to be absolutely sure but whoever picks up the dubious honour it was still a massive body-blow but not as bad as the one about to follow.

Clarets fans would have taken a draw at the start of this game but could we now hold on for a valuable point? Well it was still 1-1 after 90 minutes but we would now have to survive a ridiculous five minutes of added time. Where did that come from other than from the biased mind of the referee? Could we still hold on? Lloyd Sam came close with a cross that flew across the face of goal with no Leeds player able to latch onto it. Five minutes up, surely now time to blow the whistle? Err no, still playing on. Surely we could hold on now in the dying seconds?

We might have done had Grant not spilled a shot by Townsend with just six seconds remaining in the 7th minute of added time. In the last kick-of the game, McCormack pounced to shoot past the keeper and break the hearts of all Burnley fans. If there is such a thing as God, he must be a Leeds fan and Mark Brown the new White Messiah!

Eddie`s Post-Match Comment

Burnley boss Eddie Howe said after this heart rending defeat:

‘I’m bitterly disappointed.

‘I’m proud of the players and I thought we deserved all three points for the defensive display. It was heartbreaking to concede but we can take great heart.

‘At 11 v 11 I thought we were the better team. The ref changed the game with a really poor decision that made it a difficult afternoon for everyone. The second booking isn’t even a foul and it was a big decision to make. A disgraceful one.’

Match Stats

Leeds: Lonergan, Kisnorbo (Sam 17), Bruce, White, O’Dea, Clayton, Pugh, Townsend, Thompson, Becchio (Forssell 70), Nunez (McCormack 75)

Subs Not Used: McCarthy, Brown

Goals: Rodriguez (og) 88, McCormack 90+7

Booked: Yellow card for Pugh

Burnley: Grant, Trippier, Edgar, Mee, Easton, Marney, Stanislas (Amougou 36), McCann, Wallace, Rodriguez, Austin (Vokes 74)

Subs Not Used: Stewart, MacDonald, Hines

Goal: Austin 69

Booked: Red card for Trippier (second yellow), Yellow cards for Edgar, Mee and Grant

Possession: 65% Leeds United, 35% Burnley (Source: BBC Sport)

Ref: Mark Brown (East Yorkshire). Mark ‘White’ would have been a more appropriate name!