Memories of Highfield Road

Gareth Taylor - gave us the lead at Highfield Road in 2001
However, at last the Clarets have a chance to exercise their ‘bounebackability’ this Saturday, as they travel to Coventry City’s Ricoh Arena; a new ground for Clarets’ supporters to tick off on their personal stadia counts.

As Burnley sat out last weekend’s Championship fixtures, supporters were left looking at the vidi-printers, as Robbie Blake and Ade Akinbiyi were both netting vital goals in the promotion chasing campaigns of Leeds United and Sheffield United respectively. After selling three major assets in little over a year, Burnley fans now want to know why they should invest in the club next season; they want to hear the facts and they want to hear the truth.

Dave Thomas recently spoke in length with David Edmundson, in order to address a number of concerns which the fans currently have, and was pleasantly surprised with the ‘passionate’ response which he received. The exchange of views can be viewed on Clarets Mad and as a fellow supporter, I’d like to encourage everyone to take five minutes to browse through it; it is well worth reading and has certainly confirmed why I should commit to next season’s cause.

Back to the weekend’s action and as the Clarets travel to play a resurgent Coventry City side, Steve Cotterill will be hoping that his side can pick up their fourth away win of the season, in a game which could see Burnley back into the top half of the Championship table.

As we take a look back, the Clarets made four trips to Coventry’s old home, Highfield Road, after being promoted in May 2000. With the exception of a heavy 3-0 cup defeat during the aforementioned promotion campaign, away days in Coventry have generally been good ones, with the one obvious exception.

The game of 2001/2002 still remains clear in the memories of many Burnley fans. Coventry were new to the division after their lengthy spell in the top flight had come to end just months previous. In all fairness, City had a number of important players out, through injury and suspension, but nothing should have been taken away from the Burnley performance witnessed that afternoon.

After a scrappy start, Burnley managed to force a corner ten minutes in. Paul Weller took it and rising above Gary Breen at the far post was the in form Gareth Taylor, who met the ball perfectly to dispatch past Magnus Hedman in goal. Once in front, Burnley never looked like surrendering, as every cog in the Burnley midfield appeared to click with effortless precision. Not long after, Burnley should have gone further ahead, when Ian Moore went close, following some typical Glen Little magic.

On 35 minutes, the points were wrapped up as the Clarets scored a rare set piece goal. Moore was fouled just outside the box as he tried to play the ball through two Sky Blue defenders. Coventry defender, Davenport, didn’t take the decision well and consequently, reacted by kicking the ball away.

Glen Little - scored the second following the pass from Paul Cook
Interpreted as dissent, the referee, Frazer Stretton advanced the ball ten yards and now the Clarets had a real chance from all of twelve yards.

What followed was a moment of sheer brilliance. Coventry lined the goal with a ‘fully cupped’ eight man wall, all stood prepared for a piledriver. Not taking his eyes off the Coventry wall, Paul Cook brilliantly deceived the lot of them as he laid an acute pass wide of the post to the edge of the six yard box, where Glen Little, stood unmarked, passed the ball into the goal.

It was a stunning piece of intelligent football, one which took the Clarets to their second of six consecutive league wins and clear at the top of the first division.

2002/2003 provided yet another great memory, but for very different reasons to ‘that’ free kick of one season previous. I have only had the privilege of being a Burnley supporter for fifteen years now, but the partnership of Ian Cox and Drissa Diallo in the centre of Burnley’s defence on that February afternoon will stick in my memory for many years to come.

Ironically, this was the eighth central defensive partnership that Stan Ternent had experimented with in what we all now refer to us the ‘Throw One In’ season and was a combination that would soon be broken up again, with Steve Davis coming back in to the side.

The game was a poor one, played on a terrible pitch, between two poor sides that had failed to pick up a win in that calendar year. Coventry certainly didn’t look like a team chasing a play off spot and it was Burnley who had the better of the chances in what was a very scrappy first half, through Messrs Branch, Cook and Moore. On 35 minutes the deadlock was broken as the inspirational Ian Cox glanced a 35 yard Robbie Blake set play, past Hyldgaard in Coventry’s goal.

Drissa Diallo turns to celebrate Cox's winner in 2003
The second half was the ‘Cox-Diallo Show’ as Coventry tried to step up the tempo. Firstly, the Trinidadian slid in perfectly to deny Gary McSheffrey with an inch perfect tackle, just as he was about to pull the trigger. Then there was Diallo, who was called upon to acrobatically clear a ball off the line with an over head kick.

These players read the game superbly; their headers were timed, movement superb and overall contribution, magnificent. There is no doubt that Coventry would have found some joy in the second half had they come up against one of Stan’s other defensive ‘options’. Burnley won the game 1-0 in front of 14,000; almost 3000 less than at Highfield Road a season previous.

That leaves us with just two other performances to note. This particular fixture in 2003/2004 is one that requires minimal reference. It was truly awful, although 4-0 perhaps wasn’t a true reflection of the game.

Of course, this game followed the team’s return from a short break in Spain and many fans were curious as to how much benefit this break actually had upon the players. The Clarets went in at half time, 3-0 down, through a Julian Joachim brace and a Gary McSheffrey tap in.

Coventry could have scored three early goals in the second period, but some excellent shot stopping from Brian Jensen kept the score as it had been at the break. Centre half, Mo Konjic, completed the scoring late on and the only positive thing Burnley fans were left to take from the game were the late debuts given to young Paul Scott and Ryan Townsend.

Burnley had been woeful and had looked completely incapable of threading five consecutive passes together all afternoon. Ending the day in 21st position and just two points clear of the drop zone, this was definitely a performance that had relegation written all over it.

Ian Moore - his last Burnley goal
Burnley’s final game at Highfield Road was played in February of 2005. This was arguably our best away performance of the season and as we had done in November 2001, we never looked like surrendering the lead once we had opened the scoring.

The opening goal was superb and featured a trio of players no longer at the club. Jean Louis Valois picked the ball up on the left hand side and played a square ball inside to Tony Grant. Grant, now of Crewe Alexandra, then played one of the passes of the season as he drilled a low pass in behind the Coventry defence for the impressive John Oster, who delightfully dinked the ball over the onrushing keeper and into the goal.

Burnley completed the scoring five minutes later, when our ‘20k a goal man’, Ian Moore, scuffed a shot into the goal from all of 10 yards; his 50th and final goal for Burnley. The shot had minimal power and quite how the Sky Blues’ defence didn’t keep it out is anyone’s guess. It was a good performance and an ideal ending to our last trip to Highfield Road.

Coventry City are clearly a team we have had some recent good fortune against on the road. Tomorrow’s game is going to be a tough one though, with Micky Adams’ side now unbeaten in ten games at their new home and Burnley looking like a side with very little to play for already. Our last three or four games in Coventry have left us with so many memories - one can only hope that the memory which we’ll take from our first match at the Ricoh Arena, will be a winning one.