One-nil to the Steve Cotterill

Last updated : 03 January 2005 By David Clark
A Fine Claret - Micah Hyde
It left them with a third straight one-nil loss, their Christmas misery complete as 1,500 Lancastrians partied at the final whistle. I for one would have settled for six points over Christmas, but with six from six after the two postponements, the Clarets are now handily placed to get the optimists going after Gary Cahill's first ever League goal secured three more points for the Clarets.

This game was never going to be an easy one. Firstly, there was the immense bad feeling around the Potteries felt for Steve Cotterill after his premature departure and the steward encircled escort he received on the way to his technical area underlined the tension in the ground.

Secondly, there was the lack of a Clarets strike force, this made worse as Graham Branch played the majority of the game, barely able to run and unable to jump after a first half challenge impaired his game.

Thirdly, there were the tactics of Tony "lump it" Pulis, the continual stream of airborne passes is not pleasing to watch at all, a fact not lost on fourteen thousand whinging Delilah's as they berated their team and style of play as the match progressed. Radio Stoke made for good listening on the way home.

Steve Cotterill got his tactics right though and with Gary Cahill fit again after a Christmas bug, the defence took on a new look with McGreal, Cahill and Sinclair making an insurmountable barrier that Stoke failed to breach.

Allied to the overlapping runs of Duff and Camara, the Clarets were able to send players forwards in support of lone man Moore, who in turn was supported down the centre by the tireless working of Hyde, Grant and O'Connor, the latter also berated by the home fans throughout.

This was a result ground out from sheer hard work and on numerous occasions, Stoke's players were forced to turnaround and pass backwards, space being denied to the strikers and central midfielders, much to their obvious frustration and both halves were played in much the same way, with Clarets sitting and defending their territory whilst Stoke would look to bombard whenever given the chance.

Clarets began the brighter and had the better of the first half, Duff with two shots, Hyde and Moore all had chances to test Steve Simonsen in the home goal.

The best chance for the Clarets came ten minutes from the break, after Hyde's neatly lobbed ball over the defence put Moore through. A neat chest and volleyed shot on the turn looked to have dipped over an arced Simonsen, but the 'keeper managed a finger tip and the ball looped off the top of the bar from his superb save.

It was not all one way traffic and Jensen did well to come off his line quickly and smother Hall's shot from the edge of the six yard box on twenty minutes after a momentary lapse in the Clarets ranks.

Clarets defence needed to be smart and were, Sinclair proving the point when recovering to tackle Akinbiyi given the ridiculous benefit of onside by a pathetic piece of officiating.

Branch was injured by a sliding challenge, yet strangely it was Duff who left the field on forty-three minutes to be replaced by Roche, whilst Branch limped his way to the full time whistle.

Mr Joslin duly brought first half matters to an end, but not until he had taken Sinclair's name for a rather rash challenge on Henry moments from the break.

HT 0-0.

Sour Grapes - Tony Pulis
The second half was a largely disappointing affair, played in an increasingly swirling wind. The Clarets began somewhat subdued and were prepared to concede territorial advantage to the home side for the opening twenty minutes of the half.

This alone was enough to rouse the local Delilah's and a few renditions of Tom Jones' number echoed around as the home side huffed and puffed towards Brian Jensen's goal.

A goal nearly arrived out of nothing twenty minutes into the half when Akinbiyi's flick past Jensen, who slow to come off his line, could be thankful to the lankiness of Camara and an outstretched leg was just enough to deflect the goal bound shot.

This in particular got the locals all excited and the defensive panic from the resulting corner was as close as it got to excitement for the Potters.

Mr Joslin then took centre stage, awarding what seemed a penalty for handball to the Clarets, then changing his mind and allowing Stoke to take a quick free kick, creating sheer confusion both on and off the pitch.

Slowly the Clarets began to emerge from their defensive shell and O'Connor was a little unlucky with a flashed shot from twenty yards, just wide of Simonsen's right hand post twenty minutes from time.

Greenacre replaced Eustace and it was O'Connor again who nearly opened the scoring, but he just failed to toe poke the ball home from a melee in the six yard box.

Clarke was booed off the pitch by so called fans, Neal coming on for the last ten minutes as Stoke looked to mount some pressure on the visiting defence, who stood firm and tall in the face of the directness of Noel-Williams and Akinbiyi's attempts to off put them.
It was though the defenders who got the last laugh and Cahill in particular will long remember this game, as he scored his first ever goal in sending the Clarets on to three more valuable points nine minutes from time.

With Stoke's defenders concentrating on Branch at the near post from one of Grant's floated corners, they had forgotten he was unable to jump.

Taking his position, Branch stood still and let the ball go over his head, Simonsen & Co failed to react, the ball bounced once, Cahill stole in to shin it in from all of three yards and in front of 1,500 or so he celebrated in style.

The remaining minutes were played out to crescendos of boos from home fans long given up on Delilah and clearly upset at the proceedings before them.

O'Connor was replaced by Chaplow in a final few minutes of defensive calm for the Clarets before Mr Joslin brought matters to an end, leaving Clarets with a record of three clean sheets from the last four played and little wonder Clarets are currently top of the form league.

That's one mean defence you've put in place Mr Cotterill and it's bye bye bye Delilah.

FT 0-1.

Att:- 15,689.

Sour grapes
Tony Pulis, your tactic is appalling. One aim and that is high up in the sky stuff to two bustling, ugly strikers. Thankfully, we only have to endure this stuff twice a season. No wonder Radio Stoke was full of whinging Potters on the way home.

A fine Claret
Micah Hyde. Micah chose this game as one where he would simply cover the miles smothering anything in red and white that chose to move forwards. Alongside a similarly determined O'Connor, Hyde gave a gutsy display of controlled aggression and forward support play. This was a non-stop ninety minutes to hearten any doubting Clarets over his lack of determination.