In a sensational last half hour the Clarets scored six and could have had another six against a shell-shocked, makeshift Bury side who had already been relegated several weeks ago. But there could be no room for mercy today in a game that Burnley had to win, and win well.
The two o’clock kick off attracted a healthier gathering than on the last occasion when a meagre 47 were able to turn up, but it was still decidedly anaemic. It was pleasing to see that this time the club had had the wit to open a refreshment bar, but teamsheets were in short supply. To be told that they had run out when I was approximately the twentieth person through the turnstiles was just a trifle annoying. Those of you lucky enough to get one, hang on to it: it could become a collector’s item!
Seven of the side that started against Wednesday did so today. That they should include the some of the few (Chaplow, O’Neill, Blake,) who had not disgraced themselves in that "match" shows the desire on the part of the management to win this game. Even so, the usual 4-5-1 formation was employed, with Blake the lone striker.
So the Clarets lined up: Nik Michopoulos (James Salisbury 46); Danny Pitham, Andrew Leeson, Mark McGregor, Arthur Gnohéré; Brad Maylett, Tony Grant (Mark Rasmussen 84), Richard Chaplow, Andrew Waine (capt.), Matthew O’Neill; Robbie Blake. Subs not used: Marc Pugh, Ryan Townsend, Robert Grimes.
Right from the kick off the Clarets laid siege to the Bury goal, and after only15 minutes they took the lead. In a fine run, Knocker, full of jiggery-pokery and step-over leg locks, left innumerable Bury defenders trailing in his wake. Once the ball was squared across the face of goal Blake had the simplest of tasks to score from two yards.
With Blake and O’Neill in seemingly irrepressible mood the Clarets now threatened to tear Bury apart. Waine somehow failed to score with a header, Blake shaved a post, and a second goal seemed certain.
It was, but unfortunately for us it went to Bury. In the 43rd minute a free kick was swung into the six-yard box and Porter headed in unchallenged. Even so, there was still time for Leeson to head wide a Knocker long throw when it seemed easier to score.
- at halftime then, and as things stood we were facing the drop.
During the interval the Supremo clearly had decided to go for broke and made two changes for the second half. Firstly, he went to 3-4-3 with Knocker and Brad moving up front, and Arthur pushed into left midfield; and second, he brought on Salty for Nik. Had we just witnessed our Greek custodian’s farewell Turf Moor appearance, the crowd mused. Time, or Stan presumably next Monday, will tell.
Within five minutes it had all gone horribly wrong. Macca, presumably thinking this was a first team game, lost possession under the feeblest of challenges allowing Bury to break away and score with ease through, of all people, one Ian Lawson. Cue a violent fit of headshaking from the watching Stan’n’Sam.
However these Clarets, unlike some of their other obscenely well-paid colleagues, did not lie down and die. Urged on by Andrew Waine’s invective and inspired by Robbie Blake’s genius they simply proceeded to destroy Bury.
O’Neill had a thumping shot well saved and Macca had a header turned round for a corner before in the 61st minute the move of the match brought the Clarets level. Chaplow played the ball forward to Blake; controlling the ball with his chest he spun and played the ball wide to Maylett; Brad sped off down the right and crossed perfectly for Blake to power a header past the helpless goalie.
Two minutes later and Blake claimed a well-deserved hat trick via a Salty assist. A prodigious hoof eluded the defence resulting in a sublime lob from the maestro and 3-2.
Macca then headed just over from a Blake free kick before the Clarets made it 4 after 73 minutes. A Blake (who else?) corner was headed goalwards by McGregor and O’Neill got the final nod just before it crossed the line.
Macca, this time from a Chappie corner, had a header pushed onto the bar by the brave Rutherford, before the inevitable fifth arrived in the 77th minute. Arthur surged, teeing up Waine for a shot; another brave block from the goalie but Chappie was on hand to turn in the loose ball.
"Will this pleasure never end?" gasped the faithful. Well, no, for three minutes later it was 6-2 as Arthur powered in a header at the far post from a Blake free kick.
Mental arithmetic was now the order of the day as fans tried to work out if we were now ahead of Oldham on goal difference. Whatever the case, we must not concede, and now Salisbury became the hero. With three minutes left a rare Bury break led to a powerful drive from fifteen yards which seemed destined for the roof of the net. But in true Boys Own style Salty literally rose to the occasion, catching the fiercely-driven shot above his head in a manner bearing on the nonchalant.
Maylett then shaved a post, before right on time the Clarets added a seventh, possibly crucial goal. In a re-run of goal number one, Knocker put over a perfect cross for the incoming Ras to volley home and complete the rout.
So, one final, vital game remains. There were no cartwheels on the Cowshed roof last night at Prenton Park, so presumably the game goes ahead at 2pm on Friday. The margin of this victory now means that the Clarets could afford to lose by three goals and still survive the drop. However, although their first team has presented us with few problems over the years, Tranmere’s reserves and youth teams invariably beat us so there must be no complacency going into this crucial fixture.
With rumours circulating of a possible move to Rossendale United for the reserves next season, a 7-2 scoreline would prove to be a fitting way to go out after decades of reserve team football at Turf Moor. Attendances may have declined from the thousands of the Fifties and Sixties, but today’s small gathering went home as happy as any from that illustrious era.
I sincerely hope that we will be playing at the Turf next season, if only for the sake of the regular attenders, most of whom are now good friends! But if hundreds, if not thousands, of locally-based (season-ticket holding) fans can’t be arsed to turn up for the occasional evening game, then why bother?
The club’s attitude to reserve team football would appear at best to be ambivalent. Afternoon or evening, what’s the difference? The Turf or elsewhere, who cares?
Evening reserve attendances this season peaked at 496 on Wednesday, August 21st, 2002. The first home game, in other words. That figure has declined steadily, until 121 diehards turned up for the game against Rotherham on April 2nd.
Reserve team football matters. It matters a great deal. Not particularly for results, although they are important, but if only to see the younger talent coming through. One of today’s side made his first appearance of the season as a youth team substitute, and is now ending it deservedly as a regular first-teamer following several outstanding youth and reserve appearances. Yet to hear comments at first team games, or read some of the posts on our message board over the past weeks, he may as well have arrived from Mars, such is the seeming lack of interest and knowledge devoted by the average fan to our second team and beyond.
Clearly not all fans can get to games. But many can get to some. What a pity it is that during this season, when the reserves have mostly comprised youth team players most in need of the support of the fans, that support has been virtually non-existent.
It is to the credit of those youngsters, of whom several did not feature today, and their loyal band of supporters, that we go into our final game with a fighting chance of survival.
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