This wasn't worth the wait

Last updated : 24 January 2007 By Tony Scholes
Gifton Noel-Williams - excellent first half hour
Everything was built up for a good night. It was on for a start, and that was something, and a quick look at the pitch made you wonder just how on earth a game could have been called off three days earlier. We'd four new signings since we last played at home, and the rallying call had us all arriving full of optimism.

More than anything else we needed a result, it doesn't take a genius to work out that we've been the worst team in this league, points wise, over the last two and a half months. We've won just once since we beat Ipswich on the first Saturday in November and we've slumped from third in the table into the bottom half.

The last time we played at home the game ended in a 0-0 draw against Derby. At that time I'm sure most people who have admitted that whilst recent results had been disappointing, the performances had been far better than the results suggested. Since then that's certainly not been the case, we've played badly far too often, got everything we deserved in terms of results, and last night we were far worse than in any of the previous games.

It is difficult to find any positives, other than that up to Stoke scoring the only goal of the game we had been the better side albeit without ever coming close to causing them any real problems, but from the minute we fell behind there was never going to be any way back from a side that didn't really threaten to score until the last minute of stoppage time, and then via a poor mistake from Stoke keeper Steve Simonsen.

Cotterill gave home debuts to his first three January signings, Ade Akinbiyi, Mike Pollitt and Eric Djemba-Djemba in a side that showed just two personnel changes from the one that collected a point from a goalless draw at Southampton ten days earlier. One of those changes saw Gifton Noel-Williams return at the expense of Kyle Lafferty, whilst at the back there was a surprise inclusion for Frank Sinclair. He replaced John McGreal with Wayne Thomas moving into the centre to partner Michael Duff with Frank at full back.

The latest signing Joey Gudjonsson had to settle for a place on the bench and there was a surprise alongside him, goalkeeper Danny Coyne now recovered from his hamstring injury, and all without missing a home game.

I thought we started positively enough, we passed the ball around, Gifton was having an impact and was involved in just about everything, and bringing others into play. But we weren't causing them too many problems, we weren't able to get round the back of them and the only time we threatened were from a couple of shots from Gifton, one saved and one blocked, and when Wade Elliott got in crosses, one in particular just behind the front men with no midfielder coming in.

Very little was seen of Stoke who looked content to get men behind the ball, with new signing Dominic Matteo sitting in front of the back four, whilst trying to hit balls up to the two front men who at times were left isolated.

Gripping it most certainly wasn't, tedious is perhaps the best word to describe the opening period, but that all changed half way through the first half when Stoke stunned everyone by going in front. We'd already seen some of Ricardo Fuller's theatrical repertoire, he'd gone down a couple of times unnecessarily, but then got down the right, tormented Michael Duff before beating him and then went down the line before crossing low for Mamady Sidibe who accepted the easiest of chances, a tap in from just a yard or two out.

If that stunned the home crowd then things were almost worse a couple of minutes later when Fuller gave Duff more of his medicine in a similar attack but this time he pulled the ball back to shoot and we were thankful to Pollitt for saving well.

We needed to get back at Stoke, and we came close to an equaliser after a left wing attack led to Gifton getting in a shot that was cleared off the line but that was about it in the first half as the performance started to deteriorate to a worrying level by the time referee Pike blew for half time.

Some inspiration was needed, and so we brought on Jimmy McIlroy at half time. It gave the home fans something to cheer and there was plenty of applause from the older members in the new away end in Jimmy's stand.

We came out for the second half having made two changes, one of them positional. Kyle Lafferty came on for the disappointing Chris McCann, whilst in the back four Duff and Sinclair swapped. Neither had played well in the first half, and certainly neither of them were to improve any during the second half.

Stoke looked as though they were still in the dressing room in the first five minutes of the second half but we couldn't take advantage and the first chance of a goal came at the other end when an awful defensive mix up was only rescued by a good save from Pollitt to keep out goalscorer Sidibe.

By now the visitors were content with what they had, and they must have realised that there was no way this Burnley side was going to come back. We made two more substitutions, the first saw Gudjonsson get on for the fast fading Djemba-Djemba whilst Garreth O'Connor came on for Elliott. I was surprised to have it pointed out that Elliott was still on the field, after some early promise he tucked himself inside rather than going wide and had become totally ineffective.

The changes didn't make us any better, but the woeful defending got worse and a couple more comedy sessions back there, reminiscent of Arthur and Branchy in the relegation battle of three years ago, were again rescued by Pollitt who was clearly our best player on the night. And the goalkeeper was again called into action after James O'Connor presented his old team with an opportunity after he hopelessly gave the ball away.

Brian Clough used to say that it only takes a second to score a goal young man, and despite deserving nothing more than a defeat, we so nearly got an equaliser and a point in the last minute of stoppage time. Lafferty got in a shot that Simonsen didn't hold. It fell to Gifton who headed it towards goal. I thought he should have done better but the Stoke keeper was able to get back and smother it as Ade got in.

That's seven defeats in the last twelve games, not including the cup defeat at Reading. Just seven points from the last thirty-six, and I think we can start to forget about the play offs now. It would take a serious reversal of form and we'd need to hit Championship form for the rest of the season with virtually two points per game required.

This side of ours certainly doesn't look capable of that and there were very few positives from this game. Pollitt was certainly one positive, Djemba-Djemba did well in the first half, and I thought Gifton had an excellent first half hour. Other than that it is a tale of depressing disappointment after such a poor performance.

Nothing on Saturday, and then a trip to face the league leaders before heading down to London. We need to start getting points soon or we'll be facing a battle to stay in this league, never mind one to get out of it.

The teams were;

Burnley: Mike Pollitt, Frank Sinclair, Wayne Thomas, Michael Duff, Jon Harley, Wade Elliott (Garreth O'Connor 71), Eric Djemba-Djemba (Joey Gudjonsson 66), James O'Connor, Chris McCann (Kyle Lafferty 45), Ade Akinbiyi, Gifton Noel-Williams. Subs not used: Danny Coyne, Stephen Foster.

Stoke: Steve Simonsen, Andy Wilkinson, Michael Duberry, Danny Higginbotham, Andy Griffin, Carl Hoefkens, Dominic Matteo, Darel Russell, Liam Lawrence, Ricardo Fuller, Mamady Sidibe. Subs not used: Carl Dickinson, John Eustace, Anthony Sweeney, Adam Rooney, Vincent Pericard.

Referee: Mike Pike (Cumbria).

Attendance: 12,109.