Into 2014 Cups & Re-unions

On a SKY website Sean Dyche provided a sort of review of the first half of the season and spoke about the way things were going, the mixture of traits, the sound tactical framework, the work ethic, the clarity of thought.

The testing spell had seen the winning run come to an end in November and the run of draws begin. But by the time of the FA Cup game on 4 January, the previous six games had seen three wins, two draws and just one defeat.  The win against Huddersfield looked closer than it really was. Watching Ings’ second goal and Trippier’s swashbuckling third on replays, only served to emphasise what class goals they were, the team build-up followed by individual brilliance, Trippier’s hug with the ecstatic lad in the wheelchair a supreme football moment.

 
4-3 but just the one goal for Sam Vokes

Bolton had impressed him in the very first game and yet since then faded. The power of the division could never be under-estimated. There are no such things as easy games.  The run of draws simply showed the reality of the division. Even top side Leicester had lost two back-to-back.  Nottingham Forest were good on their home patch. QPR were and will be a good side. Wigan had certainly impressed him over Christmas.

Challenges come thick and fast. Of course the team like to be at Turf Moor but is motivated to set out to win wherever they are.  No game is pivotal at this stage of the season. It’s too early for that kind of thinking. The run of draws had no-one worrying.

When the mix of the team is right, they are really good side; the main thing is consistency. That is a key focus. If you get consistency of quality performances you get the outcome you want. Dyche and his staff chatted with the players at the beginning of the season, clarified the focus. The group did fine pre-season work. Danny and Sam learned to play together and learned to use each other wisely. They get all the plaudits but there is a great support network behind them. The back four have been solid, the keeper too behind them. The midfield unit have played progressive football and intelligent football that is full of energy and full of running. Dyche likes to think that the whole unit has delivered and has been topped off by the lads at the front scoring.

When Charlie Austin left he wanted someone to find that clarity in their play to be the next version of Charlie. He promoted this to the players and worked quite a lot with that. The club made it clear he had to cut his cloth and shop accordingly. It was made clear to the fans that the books must balance and that the club should be in a healthy position. Now there may be some finance available. It’s not going to be massive, but if the right player comes along he will look to affect the situation.

Unfortunately when you are doing well other clubs will certainly look at your players. You are always going to attract attention. But the board have made it clear that the club is in a stable position. There are no major resources but it would need to be a very large offer for the board to consider any sale.  At the moment the focus is on the players staying at the club.

Managing expectations: the target is only the next game. Everything is one step at a time.  No-one is being carried away.

Player of the year so far: no-one in particular. Everyone looks at strikers but there are defending principles as well to look at that often go unnoticed. There have been so many good performers so far. The focus is to make sure they stay motivated.

Best character: they are all characters on the coaching staff. The players are a nice mixture, a number of different characters, some quiet ones, some that enjoy the banter. There’s a nice collective feel. One of the strengths of having a small group is that there are no egos. There’s an attachment to each other, and a demand from them all to perform for each other.

Philosophy: a big word that doesn’t mean a lot to Dyche. A philosophy needs to be flexible. He looks at what he’s got and then plans accordingly. There is no set philosophy. Everything depends on circumstances.

The circumstances at Southampton for the cup game were that no-one expected to win it. A draw would be a bonus and then get them back to Turf Moor for a bit of extra income. The other school of thought was that it would be no bad thing for Burnley to be eliminated and have a free weekend in January to rest tired limbs and refresh batteries, because the promotion target was so much more important.

Having booked to go to Yeovil Mrs T and me gave the cup game a miss. Mind you the worry was that the Yeovil game would be postponed if the floods, gales and rain continued. When the clubs were in the same division we always went to Southampton, Mrs T having sisters living nearby, one almost within walking distance at Netley Abbey where Danny Ings was brought up. The last time we went was when we had the Scottie.

He distinguished himself on that trip by sneaking out under the garden gate and into Netley. We searched high and low when we realised he was missing. From the garden he’d disappeared across the busy High Street dodging the traffic. We went into several shops asking if anyone had seen him trotting by. The answer was a ‘yes’ in the Bakery. In fact he’d done more than walk past; he’d trotted in and gone round the back of the counter and helped himself to a loaf from the bottom shelf. From there, we were told, he had made his way to the door of the Working Men’s Club nearby. In we went to see if anyone knew anything. They sure did.  Someone had taken him in and he was sat up on a high stool by the bar being fed crisps. A real character was the old Scottie, a little buggar in fact. He once walked into the house with a dead hen in his mouth. The lady next door kept a few in her yard. This one must have hopped over into ours. It sure didn’t do it again. Its hobby was rolling in fox or goose droppings it found along the canal. They don’t make dogs like that anymore. Its first owners called it Scamper but I never saw it scamper once in any sort of energetic way. At best it plodded quickly.

The media was well into the game being a re-union for Burnley and Rodriguez. Plus Ings and Vokes were once Saints fans. Sam Vokes’ father Tim, a lifelong Saints supporter, was in a real quandary. The best result for him, he said, would be a 4-3 win for Southampton with son Sam scoring a hat-trick. The scoreline was correct but Vokes Jnr only got one. 

It was a game that had all the feel of a nice day out and not much chance of a win. In the morning we headed over the Pennines and the M62 to Newton le Willows for the day to visit relatives, leaving the drizzle and murk of Leeds behind. Betfair meanwhile had Saints v Burnley high on their list of banana-skin games worth a punt on the underdog, the idea being that should Burnley manage to take the lead, then the defence was capable of holding out. We listened to Sky Sports News and the reports. The relatives delighted that Everton were winning; the Southampton relatives no doubt chuffed at their own scoreline.

We headed back home at half-time with Southampton winning 2-0 and the prospect of a bit of a tonking. There was no urgency to switch on the car radio so that when we did it was a real surprise to hear of a 2-1 scoreline and Burnley right back in it. Funny how you have hunches sometimes and this one felt like 2-2 was on the cards. Within minutes the radio guy was beside himself when he reported that it was indeed 2-2 at St Mary’s and Burnley were on fire. A replay at Turf Moor now seemed a distinct possibility until hunch number two. ‘You just watch. Rodriguez will score for Saints,’ I said as we sped along the M62 skirting Manchester.

And so he did. Game over was the next thought. They’re not gonna come back again. Disappointment grew. Feelings of indifference at the prospect of a routine defeat when the game started were now replaced by a tinge of what-might-have-been especially when the next report said it was 4-2. All that hard work to make it 2-2 and the elation they must have felt when the equaliser went in counted for nothing.

With Rochdale on our left, by now there was only the consolation of the scoreline at Spotland: Rochdale 2 Leeds United 0 and the hammering QPR were receiving at Goodison. Except… the radio guy was on again… now it was 4-3 at Southampton with time still for the impossible to happen. By now snippets were coming through that Ings had hit the post; that goalkeeper Davies had made a superb save from Vokes to stop Burnley going 3-2 up. If only… if only one of them had gone in. Football success comes down to such fine margins. Ings had hit the post immediately prior to Saints fourth.  3-3 that would have been had it gone in. And what a mess the Rodriguez goal was. On film afterwards the Burnley defenders seemed to stop in total confusion as if they expected the whistle to blow. The pundits too were baffled by it. Was it a free kick, but a free kick to whom? The ball came out to an almost apologetic Rodriguez who showed no joy at all when he scored from 10 yards. Even at the death Burnley battled away and a lightning raid gave Vokes a final chance. But it was not to be. What a second half it had been. Supporters that had been there were proud; so close to a remarkable scoreline that would have meant a replay at Turf Moor against all expectations. It was a game that could have been 8-8 said a grinning Strachan on ITV, quite blown away by the quality and excitement of what he had seen.

Vokes and Ings bagged a goal apiece and that would surely have delighted their friends and families who had turned out.  Both had shown the Premier side and their fans that even against a classy Prem side they and Burnley could turn it on and compete. Three of the Southampton goals were long range blockbusters that gave Heaton no chance; the first was world-class. Three unstoppable shots from 25 yards in one game is just sod’s law. It had to be against Burnley. Rodriguez’ goal was one of those things written in the stars beforehand. You could have put money on it. Such is football.

It was a unique game. Rodriguez has so many ties, family and friends back in Burnley. Burnley made him, the classic, modest, local-boy-done-good that the town is proud of. Then there are Vokes and Ings with their Southampton connections. Vokes saw his first Saints game when he was just three.  He was a Junior Saint. He had a 6-week trial but was told he was too tall and lanky. All that plus Jack Cork, ex Burnley, and a player fans would love to have stayed, was now in the Saints team.

Dyche was understandably proud. ‘At the end of the day it’s taken three goals from three England players to win it for them, but a scratch of luck and we could have won that. In the second half we were outstanding and but for a great save at 2-2 who knows. The harshness of the business is that you don’t always get what you deserve. It’s a strange one to lose a game and have such a feeling of pride.’

The Independent summed things up succinctly: ‘Courageous Burnley go down fighting,‘ leaving Southampton fans mighty relieved at the outcome and as the car headed up the drive to the house, me feeling thoroughly miffed we’d lost this epic game.