Staying Real

Last updated : 15 September 2006 By Richard Oldroyd
Gifton Noel-Williams - the sense of restlessness boiled over when he came on
That, undoubtedly, will have added to the frustrations of what was in any event a very trying afternoon. And how those frustrations were made evident as the game wore on, with a general sense of restlessness that boiled over when Gifton Noel-Williams, strangely a hero just four days later, made his entrance.

But I'm pretty sure I saw a different Burnley performance to most who were there on Saturday. I accept that many were thoroughly fed up with what they witnessed – including those with whom I watched the match. I thought, though, that both Saturday and Tuesday accurately reflected the strengths and weaknesses of this squad.

For 20 minutes I witnessed controlled, probing, possession football, much like that displayed at Palace two weeks earlier. The ball was moved from defence into midfield, and then into attack, admittedly largely unimpeded by a Colchester side who opted to sit deep. No great penetration I grant you, and the tempo was rather pedestrian. But the ball was being retained, a couple of dangerous balls had whistled across the box, and a couple of half chances and scrambles had been created. As we gained in fluency, Colchester failed to mount an attack: indeed, they were unable to do so because they did not have the ball. Then, on the one occasion that they did, they scored, and the complexion of the game changed.

There two differences from Palace which caused problems for this Burnley team. Firstly, we failed to get the first goal; secondly, as the home side, the onus was on us to break down a packed defence – rather than exploiting the gaps left by an opposition which committed men forwards. And with this squad, we will struggle in such circumstances.

“We aren't far away from being a good side”, insisted Steve Cotterill plaintively after that game. No doubt many fans will agree with the sentiment after Barnsley were hit for four. And he's right in any event: he is perhaps two players short of a very decent Championship team. Those gaps, though are glaring, and he surely knows that his team is short of pace, width and heavyweight presence in midfield.

Until remedied, it will leave us liable to struggle when faced with either an especially physical or defensively minded outfit. Colchester required Burnley to stretch them in wide areas – and we were unable to do it. It should surprise no-one, and it does mean that, unless we come up against teams as defensively aberrant as Barnsley regularly, we may be at least as effective on the road as at Turf Moor.

No question that Burnley could have been better, or Steve Cotterill could, on another day, have altered his tactics effectively. As he did the other night, he could have reverted to his favoured 4-4-2, and brought Wade Elliot into the side to offer some semblance of genuine width in place of Kyle Lafferty. But that would have involved dropping a young talent who earned his place at Palace and who was riding high after being involved in his country's win over Spain. Judging on the reaction of the crowd when his name was announced, it would also have risked incurring the wrath of the crowd for dropping their returning hero. So it is ultimately difficult to blame the manager, given that those left on the bench were those who have yet to convince this season.

Wade Elliott - played a full part against Barnsley
Even if Wade Elliott did play a full part in Tuesday's inspired comeback, one performance does not offer proof that he, rather than a new recruit, is the man to fill our vacancy on the right wing – just as a hat-trick does not magically transform Gifton into a world beater, even if it does offer a pleasing riposte to those who booed his introduction on Saturday. That they played well is of course a good sign, and that the team played well is even better news, but it must be remembered that we beat a poor team whose style and strengths and weaknesses played into our hands.

The fact is – nothing has changed over the course of the past two games: not our likely finishing position this campaign, nor the result of any rational assessment of our squad. Patience is needed. The truth is that, in a perfect world, along with those two most pressing acquisitions, three or four more would be required around the different departments within the team. Cotterill will reflect that, reasonable though his selection of strikers appears, he is never able to pair two cash purchases together up front; it is Jones or Gifton with Gray or Akinbiyi: he would surely love to be able to pair the latter together. For that matter, he would love to add the first striker he sold, Robbie Blake, to those two, to give himself a trio of strikers offering every combination. But such luxuries are the reserve of the likes of Kevin Blackwell, and it is worth remembering that hasn't exactly done him much good.

This isn't to make excuses for where we are, or a criticism of frustrated supporters – it is a statement of fact. Nor is it an apology for any lack of ambition: yours truly has argued before that the future of this football club is at risk from the very policy of taking no risks. There is a ticking time bomb, resulting from the fact the great swathe of fans now in their twenties are reaching the point in life where Burnley Football Club must compete with a great many other priorities for both time and money.

That means that, Burnley must offer an attractive product, and demonstrate some level of ambition. But it is worth reflecting that we have scored eleven goals in our seven outings to date – and only two teams have racked up more. We have entertained in about half our outings to date. That is not a bad record, not with what we have to work with.

All fans, inevitably, want to see their team make exciting signings, and move forwards. It has to be said that, as the division shapes up, it is clear that it is once again there for the taking. If the club can find the cash for those two necessary additions, it could be rewarded by a season which remains interesting to the very end, with the result that gate receipts and revenue remain higher for longer.

A couple of clever loan signings – and they do exist – and frustrating afternoons like Saturday can become less frequent. But they will always exist –that, for better or worse, is the reality of supporting Burnley.