Every single player, many of whom will be in school this morning as this piece is written, gave his all for town, team and club, and fully deserved the standing ovation awarded them at the end of 120 exhausting minutes by a highly-appreciative crowd.
Only a goal eight minutes from the end of extra-time denied the youngsters, who by this time were beginning to suffer from cramp having run themselves almost to a standstill on a heavy pitch. Their more experienced and stronger opponents, including the prolific striker Chris Dagnall, had been held at bay, and indeed Tranmere could thank their goalie Palethorpe for rescuing them on more than one occasion when the Clarets themselves almost forced a winner.
That Dagnall, already attracting the attention of a bevy of higher-division scouts, and his strike partner Tom Carroll were largely ineffective (even from the penalty spot) was testament to each Claret’s spirited performance. From the seemingly-unbeatable Michael Hale in goal to the young lads who came on as substitutes, the youths once again made the watching fans all Proud To Be a Claret!
Having already been thrashed 6-1 by Tranmere this season at under-19 level, Burnley coach Terry Pashley was well aware of the threat this side poses. Many of the Rovers team last night play regular under-19 and reserve team football, whereas injury had deprived the Clarets of many of our more experienced players.
In an attempt to stop Tranmere’s clinically-effective midfield from providing their usual supply of opportunities to the lethal front two, the youth Supremo seemed to go for a 3-6-1 formation with Marc Pugh and Rhys Carpenter, normally forwards, playing deeper. This would change to 3-4-3 when in attack as Pughy and Rhys moved up to support lone striker Robert Grimes.
And it worked very effectively, in fact. Although Tranmere enjoyed more possession, they found their options limited. The Clarets back three of Townsend, Trotman and Scott coped admirably with the Dynamic Duo, restricting Dagnall to one early chance in the first half which was superbly saved by Hale.
Richardson on the right, and Tom Ince on the left, were getting through a tremendous amount of work in a wing-back role, one minute helping out in defence, the next getting forward in attack. No wonder both were to suffer later from cramp.
In central midfield Darryl Avery and Richard Chaplow were trying to spread the ball around and create, with Chappie providing that extra bit of bite when necessary. Rhys, just back from injury, and Marc Pugh were supporting both defence and attack well, with Marc in particular causing the Tranmere defence problems with his direct, skilful style. And up front Robert Grimes ran with skill and determination to unsettle the Rovers defence.
As the Clarets fought and fought clearcut chances were few and far between. Hale’s 10th minute save from Dagnall was the closest Tranmere came for much of the game, whereas the Clarets could easily have taken the lead either side of halftime. First, a Rico long throw was flicked on to Trotman, whose first time shot was well saved by Palethorpe; then, within a minute of the re-start Rhys was played through only to poke the ball just wide as the goalie raced out.
On 58 minutes though, disaster struck. Dagnall, using his strength and pace to force a way through, was brought down in the area. Penalty, and Dagnall himself was to take it. Dagnall never misses, but he’d never faced Michael Hale before! Diving low to his right our heroic custodian turned the kick away to the sounds of much cheering from the BLS! A few minutes later he was at it again, this time tipping over a well-worked free-kick from Neil Ashton.
But it wasn’t all one way, with Palethorpe saving well from Chaplow and substitute James Heywood heading just over as the Clarets continued to knock Tranmere out of their stride.
Then, ten minutes from time, came a sickening blow care of the referee. Under the slightest of contact, and outside the area, a Tranmere forward crashed to the ground right in front of the linesman. No foul, said Lino; oh yes there was, said Mr Salisbury and immediately pointed to the spot, much to the disbelief of everyone else inside the ground.
This time Dagnall’s partner Carroll elected to take the kick. But clearly unnerved by the formidable presence of Hale confronting him, and to the sound of even louder cheering from the BLS, he pulled his shot wide of the post to ensure that justice was done.
Into extra-time then, and with substitutions the Clarets were now fielding six schoolboys. Clearly strength would be a major factor, and as the minutes progressed the youngsters began to go down. With eight minutes left young Tom Ince, a tiny lad with a giant heart who had run himself into the ground, collapsed needing attention and had to be subbed. Whilst the Clarets were re-organising Tranmere gained possession in midfield and broke swiftly down their right where Tom had been. The ball was played through and Vaughan shot low and hard past the helpless Hale to send the Clarets out of the competition.
It was cruel indeed on the youngsters. But the reaction from the crowd at the final whistle showed how much their efforts were appreciated. All the team played their hearts out against one of the top teams at this level in the country. So, once more, many congratulations to the lads who have again made us all Proud To Be a Claret!
The Heroes: Michael Hale; Ryan Townsend, Neil Trotman, Paul Scott (capt.); Stephen Richardson, Marc Pugh, Darryl Avery (James Heywood 70), Richard Chaplow, Rhys Carpenter, Tom Ince (Joe Cardle 112); Robert Grimes (Pat McFadden 60). Subs not used: Matthew Evans, Lewis Jordan.