MATCH VERDICT: Burnley 2-0 Wanderers
IF Wanderers thought this was going to be easy, they can think again.
Burnley’s fans made sure that Owen Coyle knew they hadn’t forgiven nor forgotten over the course of 90 tortuous minutes at Turf Moor but their fury was nothing compared to that vented by 3,600 visiting Whites supporters as the manager and players trudged back down the tunnel under the same stand in which they had watched events unfold.
Those fans had seen their team out-fought and out-played and were rightly letting it be known that this kind of performance just won’t wash.
You can only hope that the message has sunk in.
All 11 of Coyle’s starting line-up had played in the Premier League last season, and eight had started that fateful day at Stoke City in May. But barring Adam Bogdan in goal, or the likes of Keith Andrews or Zat Knight who at least seemed to have some fire in their belly, you’d have doubted the top-flight credentials of most others in a white shirt on the basis of this display.
The manager too takes his slice of the responsibility. There are some who believe he escaped heavy criticism because of the extenuating circumstances of last season, and that number will only grow unless a team he signed shows they have the bottle for afternoons like this.
Life in the Championship isn’t going to be all Champagne and roses and there are times when Wanderers will just have to dig in. Burnley battened down the hatches in the opening 20 minutes as the Whites’ football flowed well through Marvin Sordell and Chung-Yong Lee – and in earning that right, Eddie Howe’s side deserved to go on and give their fans the win they so obviously desired.
As we found out in the League Cup last season, this result means the world to people in this part of the world and it is unlikely Wanderers will have to face the same intensity tomorrow night when Nigel Clough’s Derby County come to town.
But rudimentary errors in possession, finishing and defending will be punished eventually – and it’s only when Coyle corrects those problems will he have a side capable of doing what is expected of them.
You wonder how the game would have gone had Chung-Yong converted a relatively simple chance early on, created by Sordell’s mazy run on the edge of the box.
Martin Petrov also narrowly missed the target with a right-footed volley from the Korean’s cross as Wanderers carved out the better opportunities in the opening 20 minutes.
Seemingly in control, it was at that point that the passes started to go astray. Dean Marney had already brought a decent save out of Bogdan with a fierce drive before the Clarets drew first blood.
Keiran Trippier got round Petrov to swing a cross that was half-cleared and though Stanislas, then Marney had shots blocked, the ball looped up invitingly for Charlie Austin to cushion a header into the path of Martin Paterson to score.
The Northern Ireland international looked for all the world in an offside position, but some suggested after the game that Petrov – who had failed to block the initial cross – had played the whole penalty box onside as he watched from the touchline.
In either case, it wasn’t hotly contested on the pitch. Coyle was clearly upset by the decision but one wonders whether his players should also be showing a bit more passion when things don’t go their way?
After Plan A had failed, could Wanderers come up with a Plan B?
Bogdan’s work load after the break would suggest they didn’t.
Although a poor clearance by Lee Grant handed Chung-Yong a chance for a pot shot – tellingly not taken by the winger – the Whites had still not tested the Burnley keeper to any great degree.
At the other end, Bogdan tipped away a cross by David Edgar from off the head of Paterson and then beat away a swerving shot from Austin that looked capable of sneaking into the bottom corner.
The expected fightback just never happened, and then Burnley landed the killer blow.
Mark Davies lost possession and failed to win the ball back from Marney who freed Stanislas down the left, and the Clarets wide man directed a perfect cross into the danger zone, cleared by Ream on to the chest of Austin, who just barged the ball over the line.
Coyle brought off Kevin Davies and Petrov for Chris Eagles and Benik Afobe, and both replacements showed enough to suggest they will be used against Derby tomorrow night.
Burnley created the better chances, though, and only some staunch rearguard action from Bogdan, Knight and Ream prevented this from being an embarrassment. Knight had a header cleared off the line late on by Ben Mee, which by that stage would only have been a consolation had it dropped in, leaving Wanderers to take the walk of shame back down the tunnel in front of their irate fans.
Those same players who had been talking confidently of promotion suddenly have something to think about, and if this was indeed a wake-up call, then perhaps it will serve a purpose in the long run.
Thankfully, this hurly burly league doesn’t leave you long to mull over your failures.