The Sky TV cameras made a defeat inevitable, but the Tigers put in another useful performance at Turf Moor and suffered ill-fortune in front of goal.
While it was far from the televisual spectacle that the Sky TV producers were hoping for, and while the Tigers were inevitably defeated once more in front of the live cameras, this was nevertheless a match that further demonstrated City’s continued acclimatisation to the needs of Championship, while at the same time exposing one or two of our players’ weaknesses. It was a match that effectively paid us back for our good fortune last week when Derby contrived to batter the Tigers into a … err, 1-2 victory. Because on a mild but blustery night at Turf Moor the Tigers had most of the best chances to score and controlled the game for long spells, with John Welsh continuing to grow in stature in midfield with another Man of the Match display. The fact that the Clarets’ sponsors for the night selected their Danish goalkeeper Jensen as their top man, said plenty for the way the Tigers dominated proceedings.
In fairness though, this was a match up of two mediocre sides. Burnley’s squad is paper thin and their necessity to select limited players was laid bare last night. I doubt that right back Duff would get a game for many of Championship sides, he lived up to his name, and their bench was populated by 17 year old wannabies. The long winter months may be difficult times for Burnley’s admirable manager Steve Cotterill. Meanwhile, the Tigers are still adjusting to their lofty surroundings, this sure isn’t the Fourth or Third Divisions. It is a league where flashes of excellence turn games and lapses of concentration are punished severely. This was to be the difference between the sides ultimately – along with some fine keeping by Jensen – and the reason for the only goal of the game.
The Tigers eschewed the double aerial threat that so worried Derby in the opening exchanges last week and swapped Big Ben Burgess for the more nimble Craig Fagan up front, but were otherwise unchanged as Nick Barmby returned to the bench. We lined up:
Lynch Cort Delaney Edge
France Woodhouse Welsh Elliott
And it was the Tigers that started the liveliest as Burnley were rocked back from the off. This beginning mirrored the performance of supporters in the stands, as a raucous City following of around a thousand or so generated a decent racket behind Myhill’s goal while the Burnley fans remained mute even during the more exciting periods of play for the home side. For a ground that has a reputation for its fearsome football atmosphere it was a feeble show of non-support that not even the Sky cameras could explain. A poor showing.
Anyway, with 4 minutes gone a super City move was crafted as Fagan and Woodhouse combined on the left, the ball was played in field to Welsh in space 30 yards out and the Scouse engine room operative lobbed a sumptuous ball to the back post that was met by a meaty France header destined for the bottom corner before Jensen hurled himself right to tip the ball away for a corner, all of which occurred while fey ex-Chelsea “star” (in his own mind alone these days) Jon Harley looked on lazily. It was a pattern that was regularly repeated by France who performed excellently, while Harley – comfortable going forward with the ball – defended poorly, a Burnley weak link that could well be exposed several times between now and May.
As City continued to press Fagan looked lively and Brown had the better of his exchanges with the muscular Lowe in the Burnley defence. Most City attacks were however shipwrecked at the feet and forehead of Frank Sinclair, who is not a classic central defender (no more than five foot ten and slim of build) but who showed the reason why he enjoyed several years in the top flight with an imperious display. On 12 some tidy passing in midfield ended up with O’Connor shooting well wide from 25 yards. After more City attacks a Burnley move found Duff on the right touchline and totally unattended, his fizzing cross was nearly converted by an onrushing Claret midfielder. The half clearance fell to Hyde but his shot was wasteful and ended up high in the stands amongst the City fans.
The match turned on 90 seconds of play. Ryan France embarked on a mazy run that was only halted by a rather cynical chop by Hyde, and it was remarkable that a yellow card was not brandished (not for the last time in this match, which was refereed rather curiously by the preening man in yellow). When the free kick was rolled sideways to Delaney and the referee impeded Damien’s deflected shot, further salt was rubbed into the wound. The resulting corner was cleared and the ball switched up field by Burnley. A chance to cross from the inside left channel was deflected and the ball span and looped towards the edge of the City area where Akinbiyi lurked. Previously anonymous, Peter Taylor’s most infamous signing ever latched onto the ball, controlled it splendidly and swivelled to fire a low shot into Myhill’s side netting, all of which took place as Delaney loitered behind and neither attempted a tackle nor got tight as the defender’s manual suggests. It was a fine piece of forwardmanship by Akinbiyi, but it was also a piece of rank defending by Damien. It clearly unsettled Delaney and he failed to deal with Akinbiyi for 15 or 20 minutes after that, it was perhaps only Akinbiyi’s tiring limbs in the second half that meant that the ruddy cheeked Irishman wasn’t withdrawn for Marc Joseph. Crikey.
Empowered by their goal against the run of play Burnley grew in confidence as City struggled to break down the home side’s unadventurous five man midfield. O’Connor squirmed past a couple of tackles and planted a shot straight at Myhill, Akinbiyi just failed to connect with a back post header then Myhill half-punched away a cross that Cort could have – and should have – dealt with, the ball falling again to O’Connor who placed a low strike inches wide of the far post. It was only in stoppage time that City reasserted themselves as an attacking force as Fagan’s good work on the left opened up the chance for a deep cross to find France unmarked at the far post, but his first touch was not perfect and his powerful 12 yard drive was smothered by Jensen. The ball was swiftly transferred to the other end on the break and Welsh effected a remarkable hitch-kick tackle in the six yard box as he slid on his arse past a Claret that was poised to thump a shot goalwards.
Burnley got all adventurous at half time and brought on Gifton Noel-Williams to accompany Akinbiyi up front. Attacking the end that housed the City fans the Tigers once again assumed a general ascendancy with Burnley posing a danger on the break. Ten minutes in Chris Brown nicked the ball off Lowe and was presented with undefended space 20 yards out. The ball begged to be lashed goalwards but instead Brown tried to twist and turn to fashion a better scoring opportunity. This merely precipitated the retreat of the entire Burnley defence and by the time Brown did get around to shooting his effort was so weak that it was trapped by Jensen with his foot. Burgess came on for Brown two minutes later, it was hardly a surprise.
Stuart Elliott had made little impression in the first half and with Barmby and Ellison warming up vigorously it was perhaps time for his night’s work to come to and end as well. Yet within 30 seconds of his introduction Burgess had won two good headers, the second of which fell to Elliott 30 yards out wide left. The Ulsterman rarely needs multiple invitations to shoot on goal, and his powerful clop whizzed past Jensen’s upstretched hand and struck the top of the crossbar. It was a moment of magic that seemed to rock Burnley on their heels a little, and the Tigers proceeded to enjoy a decent spell of form, with Welsh at the heart of things in a playmaker midfielder role. That said, the next passage of play saw Noel-Williams head wide when unmarked deep in the City box. But the Burnley panic was given further impetus when Fagan tricked Sinclair and set up a chance to run at the keeper that was only denied by a cynical rugby tackle by the ex-Leicester favourite. It was as clear a yellow card offence as you are ever likely to see, yet the referee shamefully allowed Sinclair to get away with a mild ticking off.
Action time. Barmby on, the hobbling Edge off, Lynch to left back, France to right back, Fagan to the right of a three man attack with Barmby floating. It didn’t really work. We won a few free kicks and corners but these were well dealt with by the Burnley defence, and while a few alarm bells rang the prospect of a genuine goalscoring opportunity for the Tigers failed to materialise. Only in the last ten minutes did any real chances come. Green (on for Woodhouse) received a throw-in centrally as the Burnley players expected the ball down the line and the Cumbrian had acres of space to run into. He shot confidently from distance but the strike was weak and easily saved. Then Burgess, who was utterly dominant in the air, nodded down to Barmby whose delicate flick found Elliott eight yards out, but his lunging prod steered the ball inches wide of Jensen’s post. With two minutes left Noel-Williams again headed wide when a second looked a fair bet – he’s a muscular chap and gets into dangerous positions, but if he can’t put the ball in the net then he’s of limited use to a limited side like Burnley. The Clarets seemed to be cruising through the three minutes of added time until a Hail Mary through ball was nodded on by the advanced Cort and the ball fell to Elliott, inside left 15 yards out. Stuey’s shot was powerful and aimed to the keeper’s right, but the deserved equaliser from what turned out to be the last kick of the game was denied magnificently by Jensen’s sprawling save.
This defeat ended a nice little unbeaten run of four games, but the signs remain encouraging as we get ready for Tuesday’s encounter with Preston, a side that have yet to claim the full three points at Deepdale in eight attempts. If the Tigers claim a point, or points, in that game then the general upward swing of our form as we adjust to what is clearly a greatly elevated level will continue.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Lynch, Cort, Delaney, Edge; France, Welsh, Woodhouse, Elliott; Brown, Fagan. Subs: Burgess (for Brown, 56), Barmby (for Edge, 63), Green (for Woodhouse, 74), Ellison, Duke.
Booked: Brown, Welsh
Sent Off: None
BURNLEY: Jensen, Duff, Lowe, Sinclair, Harley, Spicer, J O’Connor, Hyde, G O’Connor, Elliott, Akinbiyi. Subs: Noel-Williams (for Spicer, 45), Courtney (for Elliott, 88), McCann (for G O’Connor, 89), Karbassiyoon, Dyer.
Goals: Akinbiyi 29
Sent Off: None
REFEREE: P Dowd