Finally, after the longest close season in years, Burnley were back in competitive action last night as the season opened up with a midweek game in the COCUP against struggling League Two side Port Vale.
|Charlie Austin off the mark with the second goal|
It was a game of football I was so looking forward to. I've just had a very difficult few days personally and to be able to get out and go to a football match and forget everything else was just the perfect recipe.
Vale Park may not be the best of venues in English football. Opened in 1950, the original plans were for a stadium capacity of 80,000 and it was billed as 'The Wembley of the North'. Despite being in the lower divisions they had great plans and offered life time season tickets for £100 at the time but less than 100 bought them.
I wonder how many were left being used last night as the teams came out in an array of wonderful colours. Vale were in pink, we were wearing that strange blue and blue kit whilst Lee Grant could be seen right across Staffordshire in his luminous green kit.
Eddie Howe had sprung no surprises. The team was as, I think, most of us expected, with three debutants in Jason Shackell, Joseph Mills and the latest recruit Brian Stock who arrived only on Saturday.
Perhaps the only surprise was the bench. Admittedly we were down on numbers but it did leave us with four defenders of the six outfield subs. Apart from the players on international duty and those injured that we were aware of, there was no sign of George Porter although, another new recruit, Luke O'Neill was named.
From the start, Stock stationed himself in front of the back four, leaving both Dean Marney and Chris McCann, both of whom were influential performers, to get forward more. It wasn't the brightest of starts however and we'd had one bit of a scare before Vale shocked us on nine minutes by taking the lead.
It was a bad one to concede and one that everyone will look at and find someone to blame as a Chris Shuker free kick from the left was played into our box and allowed to make its own way right into the far corner.
Just the start we didn't want. When you go behind in a game like this it can often prove difficult to rescue the situation. For Burnley last night it was just the opposite and it seemed to almost press a button and get us going.
The response was almost immediate and would have been but for a fine save from home goalkeeper Chris Neal. Straight from the restart we got the ball forward, out to Kieran Trippier on the right wing and his cross was met by McCann who saw his header going into the top corner until Neal pulled off the save at the expense of the corner.
Burnley and McCann were not to be denied and it was the former skipper, not the new one, who got up to head home Wallace's flag kick from the right. The PA at the ground got the scorer correct but media sources were quickly distributing the name Shackell. Thankfully, and rightly, it has been corrected and it was McCann's first goal since West Ham last December.
Port Vale might have gone in front again very soon after but for much of the rest of the first half it was very much the Clarets (or the two tone blues) in the ascendancy.
We were passing the ball and retaining it well, albeit with not much pace, and in total control for a period, but the lead came courtesy of an horrendous error as defender Joe Davis snookered himself with a strange pass to his goalkeeper.
Marney quickly got in before Neal and just pushed the ball sideways for Charlie Austin who calmly slid the ball into the empty net from just inside the box.
In front, and the first half ended with some real icing on the cake. Wallace and Junior Stanislas linked up with the latter playing the ball to the impressive Marney some distance out. He moved forward, got into the box just to the left of goal, went past one more defender and unleashed a shot into the top corner.
If it had been McCann's first goal for some time then Marney has to go back even further, to Eddie Howe's first home league game in charge when he scored the first in a 2-1 win against Norwich.
By half time the game looked over. We were much the better side and under no circumstances could you see any way back for Vale.
They didn't find a way back, but the second half was nothing like the first and had they got a goal back then it could have proved to be a very nervy ending for us. We looked content to sit back on the lead. Of some concern was our inability to counter effectively. We offered little threat and only a weak Stanislas shot, easily saved by Neal, could be added to our efforts on goal.
For most of the time we defended more than capably but there were times when Vale got into good positions too easily and we were very thankful for the performance of Lee Grant during that second half.
He made one save probably look more difficult than it was but he was called upon far too often and two of the saves were outstanding, in particular one from Louis Dodds in the closing stages.
In the end, we were comfortable winners but Howe himself picked up on the concerns of the second half performance. Still, we can look back on the first half when we played well and just said to Port Vale: "Let us entertain you."
A win, a place in the next round, and for me last night a football match that really could not have come at a better time.
The teams were;
Port Vale: Chris Neal, Adam Yates, John McCombe, Doug Loft, Louis Dodds, Jennison Myrie-Williams, Ashley Vincent (Ben Williamson), Tom Pope, Chris Shuker (Ryan Burge 50), Joe Davis (Clayton McDonald 45), Sam Morsy. Subs not used: Sam Johnson, Darren Murphy, Richard Duffy, Ryan Lloyd.
Burnley: Lee Grant, Kieran Trippier, David Edgar, Jason Shackell, Joseph Mills, Brian Stock (Michael Duff 86), Dean Marney, Chris McCann, Ross Wallace, Charlie Austin, Junior Stanislas. Subs not used: Brian Jensen, Luke O'Neill, Kevin Long, Ben Mee, Steven Hewitt, Alex MacDonald.
Referee: Andy Haines (Sunderland).
Attendance: 4,055 (including 653 Clarets).