Following their 7-2 annihilation of Bury on Wednesday the Clarets had to ensure that they did not lose by more than three goals. But there was to be no hint of complacency as straight from the kick off the Clarets tore into Tranmere, and kept up the pressure right until the final whistle brought welcome relief to the beleaguered Rovers defence.
The Supremo made three changes from Wednesday, with Marlon Beresford, Steve Davis and Gordon Armstrong replacing Nik Michopoulos, Richard Chaplow and Danny Pitham. So for five of the starting line up, this could be their last appearance in a Claret shirt.
Tranmere, in contrast, fielded a largely inexperienced side, with former Clarets target Andy Parkinson partnering Thomas (cousin of Wayne) Rooney up front.
Burnley, in 4-5-1: Marlon Beresford; Andrew Leeson, Mark McGregor, Gordon Armstrong, Arthur Gnohéré (Danny Pitham 88); Brad Maylett, Tony Grant, Steve Davis (capt), Andrew Waine (Mark Rasmussen 74), Matthew O’Neill; Robbie Blake (Robert Grimes 88). Subs not used: Nik Michopoulos, Rhys Carpenter.
Tranmere, in 4-4-2: James Palethorpe; Steven Jennings, Paul Martin, Paul Linwood, James Olsen; Danny Harrison, Alan Navarro, Jamie McGuire (Joseph Fowler 67), Paul Robinson; Andy Parkinson, Thomas Rooney (Ged Scott 64). Subs not used: Thomas Carroll, Gary Pinch.
With no sign of a reappearance of the Man on the Cowshed Roof, the game kicked off on time at 2pm. The forecast torrential rain chose that precise moment to arrive, making a pitch that had already seen two games in the last three days very heavy indeed.
However, the Clarets adapted well to the conditions, playing some neat, incisive football which had the Tranmere defence stretched. Little was seen of their midfield, and the only tactic seemed to be to get the ball forward for Parkinson to run on to.
Grant, Davis and Waine were dominating central midfield, constantly winning possession and feeding Maylett and O’Neill who were causing problems down the wings. Leeson and Gnohéré were in support of the attack more than they were needed in defence, and McGregor and Armstrong formed a solid central defensive pair.
And constantly up front was the threat of Blake. Everything he did had class, whether holding up the ball, laying it off with some sublime touches, or darting seemingly through the legs of the entire defence with the ball glued to his boot. Tranmere just couldn’t cope.
O’Neill had a goal disallowed for a foul on the goalie, Davis had a header cleared off the line by Linwood, and Palethorpe produced a great save from another Davis header before the Clarets took the lead in the 25th minute.
A great Arthur crossfield ball found Maylett on the right. Brad cut inside and unleashed a fine shot which Palethorpe did well to keep out. When the ball was played back in by O’Neill, Waine was on hand to score from close in.
Two minutes later Blake, showing fantastic skill, wove his way through the defence and slid the ball past the goalie, only to see Robinson clear off the line.
Although in total control the Clarets had to be aware of the breakaway, and in the 36th minute Tranmere came close to scoring when Parkinson and Rooney forced a tremendous double-save from Marlon. However, that was their only serious attempt of the half which ended with yet another goal line clearance, this time from an Arthur header.
At halftime the fans, seated (for free) in the Vice-President’s area of the Main Stand were allowed inside to the main lounge for refreshments, and very pleasant it was too. Somewhat surprisingly, though, the first sight upon entering was a framed painting of the 1962 Cup Final with the Clarets bearing down on Brown’s goal!
Within sixty seconds of the restart it was 2-0, and what a goal it was. Waine won the ball in midfield and played the ball out to Blake on the left. Without so much as a by your leave, Robbie took one step forward and curled the ball round defence and goalie and into the top corner from twenty-five yards. The Tranmere faithful, appreciative throughout, generously applauded this beautiful piece of skill.
The Clarets’ dominance continued, but a suitably eccentric piece of defending from Arthur almost presented Tranmere with a way back. Dispossessing Parkinson as the striker was bearing down on Marlon, Arthur then tried to dribble his way out of the area only inevitably to lose out to Robinson. However, Marlon was equal to the shot and at full stretch tipped the ball round.
Palethorpe then made further saves from Davis and Arthur, the latter after a delightful reverse through ball from Blake, before Andrew Waine, who had had a fine game, had to leave the field following a heavy challenge from Navarro.
In the 77th minute came the highlight of the match. A Tranmere clearance went straight to Blake forty yards out. Spotting Palethorpe off his line, in one movement Robbie controlled and lobbed the ball back only to see it land on the roof of the net, just inches the wrong side of the bar!
Two minutes later, after Maylett had forced another good save following a Blake through ball, the unthinkable happened and Tranmere scored. Parkinson, looking decidedly offside broke free, and although Marlon blocked his first effort the striker was able to fire home the rebound for 2-1.
Such effrontery had to punished, so Burnley went straight up to the other end and made it 3-1. McGregor played a fine ball up to O’Neill who laid the ball off for Maylett to fire low and hard into the net.
Within a minute it was 3-2. Macca slipped on the edge of the area allowing Parkinson to shoot past the helpless Marlon.
So, straight off up to the other end and it’s our turn again as Blake crossed for Arthur to head home at the far post for 4-2, much to the delight of a group of children in the main stand who seemed to have adopted him. (Quite why they weren’t at school remains a mystery. Perhaps it was Truants Day at Prenton Park.)
Still the Clarets poured forward and in the 85th minute they added a delightful fifth. Grant and Ras played a one-two on the edge of the area leaving the ex-City player to stroll through on goal and coolly chip the despairing Palethorpe.
And so the curtain came down on the end of a remarkable season for the reserves. At the turn of the year they looked doomed. But five wins in the last nine games have seen them come back in style.
Mixed emotions greeted the final whistle as the players trooped off in the rain. Relief at survival, and pleasure at witnessing a fine display including a virtuoso performance from Robbie Blake; but sadness too as I’ve no doubt seen the last of Steve Davis, Marlon Beresford, Nik Michopoulos and Gordon Armstrong wearing the famous Claret and Blue. Also Andrew Waine, Andrew Leeson and Mark Rasmussen, all stalwarts of the youth and reserve teams. Whatever the current situation, all have served Burnley Football Club well and should go with our thanks and very best wishes.
The sight of a sodden and mud-spattered Steve Davis leaving the field with head bowed, receiving a firm handshake from Ronnie Jepson, will endure for a long, long time indeed.
Thanks, lads, for everything.