Tis the season of woe

Last updated : 01 January 2004 By David Clark

Star Geezer - Tony Grant
This time a negatively minded Stoke side took the three points courtesy of yet another defensive lapse, allowing Akinbiyi's early second half shot to take the points back to the Potteries, sending Clarets to their fourth consecutive defeat and giving most Clarets severe cause for concern, the dreaded "R" word being mentioned in many a sombre conversation up Harry Potts Way.

Quite where Clarets go from here is anyone's guess, but surely it's time to play players in their recognised places? It's not the fault of Branch playing in central defence if he makes mistakes - he's not a recognised central defender. Jay McEveley, signed on loan from Rovers, must surely be given his chance, if only to stem the flow of mistakes being made in key areas of the field. Otherwise what was the point in signing him?

On a bitterly cold afternoon Clarets lost the toss and played towards the Jimmy Mac stand in the first half, where despite awful weather over the previous days, the pitch looked immaculate and deserved better than the poor fodder served up in the ninety minutes.

Clarets should have been in front after only three minutes. Ed de Goey made a mess of West's cross in from the right and the ball fell kindly for Ian Moore only for him to misdirect his header from all of four yards, hitting the outside of the post and not the back of the net in what was a bad miss, it was to be his only attempt at goal in the game.

May, having returned following sickness, made an uncharacteristic error allowing Akinbiyi an early chance, but the red gloved one shot wide. The game saw poor movement from a Clarets side unable to find any inspiration and missing the threat offered by Little.

With Weller wide on the right and an ineffective Chadwick on the left, Clarets forward play was often laboured, the passes side wards in preference to anything approaching a threat to Stoke's defensive line up, where typically seven or eight players were behind the ball.

Camara's cross on the quarter hour was the next real threat, but Weller could not keep the header down and it ended on the roof of the net. May surprised many by taking a free kick instead of Blake, but de Goey was equal to the twenty five yarder, scooping easily in the centre of his goal.

As old as fossils, loan man Taggart hurt a leg in an innocuous challenge, the lengthy treatment all part of Stoke's game plan to leave with at least a point, no matter how.

On twenty minutes, came Clarets best move of the half. Chadwick played a great through ball inside of the full back and Camara's pull back from the line found Chaplow unmarked and well placed in the area. Sadly, the youngster let the ball roll on and instead of getting his shot in, the chance was lost.

Taggartasaurus was replaced by tricky wide man Commons midway through the half. Weller again headed over a West cross approaching the half hour mark, before Branch took no chances in clearing his lines, after a brief mix up with a muted Jensen caused confusion.

Without even the flair of Coventry(!), Stoke were clearly not here to entertain and the game had no flow or pattern to it as Clarets floundered on ways of breaking through. John Eustace did entertain, but only in sending a woeful shot high into the 1,400 or so Delilah's behind the goal when well placed as the visitors briefly moved up field.

Two minutes from the break and Clarets should have taken the lead. Blake, once again showing great footwork in the area, hit a low, hard cross from the bye-line that beat de Goey at his near post, but neither Chaplow nor Chadwick could put the ball home from four yards when connecting with the cross, another poor miss from players struggling with their own confidence levels.

The half time cheers were more jeers, but Clarets were the better of two poor sides in what had been a dreary half. (HT 0-0).

Star Gazer - Luke Chadwick
Tired of being beaten by Commons, West's silly trip earned a yellow within minutes of the restart and somewhat strangely, de Goey, though not having had to face a shot was replaced by Cutler. The need for two keepers, whoever would have thought it?

Five minutes in and Stoke scored what proved to be the winning goal. Eustace's pass in from the left wing, was both accurate and simple, Branch's marking of Akinbiyi was fallible and woeful. Despite the body mass of Jensen, Akinbiyi slid a low shot from eight yards more through than under the keeper's body and into the net for yet another poorly conceded goal.

The goal robbed Clarets of whatever confidence was left in the side and the team struggled to find any rhythm from this point forwards. Branch was caught out five minutes later and could be thankful to Commons for a hurried shot over the bar, as Clarets playing standard dropped to the level of awful with far too many passes and crosses of desperately poor quality, the lack of a leader and inspirer on the field all too evident.

If the Beast was partly to blame for the goal, he made amends on the hour mark. As at Crewe, once again a woeful offside trap was breached, Branch and May were nowhere to be seen as Akinbiyi raced clear and to the point of the area. The Beast stood tall and an outstretched left leg did the job, maintaining the score line at the expense of a corner.

Half way through the half and Clarets were given what should be a psychological boost. Grant's superb cross field pass picked out Weller, who having taken the ball in stride was then tripped by Hall and referee Gallagher issued a second yellow before red in awarding the obvious free kick, with Stoke reduced to ten men.

When was the last time Clarets beat ten men? Blake's free kick was headed wide and from the corner, May saw his back post header post cleared off the line as Stoke looked stretched to the limit, albeit briefly.

Commons was sacrificed in favour of defensive midfielder Henry, Tony Pulis looking to glaze the cracks in the Potters from hereon in against a toothless Clarets, for who Stan then replaced an ineffective Chadwick with McEveley.

This move saw Branch move out of the danger area and go up front alongside Moore, with Blake dropping back, though in truth the move seemed more to disrupt Clarets than Stoke.

A quarter of an hour from time came Clarets clearest opening, when Blake's threaded pass found Chaplow unmarked and on the penalty spot. The youngster failed to realise the time and space he had and a hurried shot on the turn went straight at Cutler, when to either side would have been the equaliser.

Showing a lack of ambition, Stoke won a free kick but had only one player in the area, their forwards more content to play the ball into the corner flags than into the area in the closing ten minutes of the game.

Eustace saw a shot go straight into the midriff of Jensen, who then inexplicably threw the ball out to May, who with his back to his keeper failed to see the throw out. Needless to say the two exchanged words as the crowd howled down upon them.

Camara was withdrawn in favour of O'Neill for the last ten minutes, most of which saw play peter out before reaching either area. Eustace saw a lob land on Jensen's goal and two minutes of added on time saw nothing other than a booking for dissent for McEveley, before Mr Gallagher's final toot of the whistle brought the boo boys to life, Stoke victorious for the first time in six encounters. It had been a drab affair from start finish and all that matters now are results not performances.

Att:- 12,812

Star Gazer

Realistically, perm any one from nine, such was the poorness of this overall display. Only Robbie Blake and Tony Grant managed anything like form. On the basis of an award, Luke Chadwick wins it on the basis of never once getting past his man and conspiring with Chaplow to miss an open goal from four yards.

Beer Money

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. It's going to need a lot of patience to watch Clarets in the coming weeks. Based on the last two home performances, if Clarets are unable to gain a point from either Coventry or Stoke, 2004 looks like being a torrid year. Fingers crossed that a bit of luck in front of goal comes Clarets way - soon.

Star Geezer

Tony Grant. Managed to keep going and tried to pass his way out of trouble, unlike many of those around him willing only to waste possession and shirk responsibility.

Champagne Tastes

Currently, the only way it seems possible that this team can be lifted is by the addition of some urgently needed new faces. Clarets have played the fewest players of any side in the 1st Division and whilst initially, the quality seemed to be fine, the lack of a quantity of players challenging for places is taking a toll. Equally, playing without a recognised target man is no longer viable, as, if Blake has an understandable off day like today, no one else is currently capable of providing a threat on goal.