“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, any one can start from now and make a brand new ending”
So here we are, back to where I decided to start writing this blog, the eve of my second season in charge. The champagne soaked shirts of last season are long since washed or sold on eBay. Preseason went well but the fixtures were more moral boosting than system testing. We draw 0-0 with Doncaster in the last one using the defensive set up we will employ in the season opener away at Spurs.
Then it hits me as I’m rocking my daughter to sleep at an hour where I too should be in bed, have I improved the team? I’ve added players and improved the squad, but will anyone take the place of the starting 11 from last season?
Last year was a struggle. Ultimately we achieved our aim of survival, but to go through it all again would be tough on my mental stability. My long term aim for Burnley is to be established in the Premier League, but for this season 16th would be our target. To have Success above this would be nice, but we need to be realistic also.
The summer is our chance to improve on what we had last year; one or two quality additions and we would turn narrow losses into draws, draws into victories. First though I need to evaluate the squad. We have had 12 months together; I have learned who fits the system and who doesn’t sing from the same hymn sheet. First up is Steven Defour. On paper, Burnley’s best player at the start of last year, but he never really got going due to a lengthy injury. He is still unhappy after being eased back into the team, complaining of first team minutes. I need him, but I need him happy, in this state he is no use. I don’t push him through the door, but he leaves when Milan come knocking tabling a 10 million bid. Our only recognised winger, Gudmundsson is next, he impressed last year but my system needs defensive support from the wide men, so he is surplus to requirements. Sunderland offer 7.5 million in all and he swaps one relegation battle for another. Paul Robinson elects to retire after being our back up for most of last season. He was solid in a few games for which Heaton was injured, but at 37 its time for him to quit football, again. The final loss to the squad was our other reserve ‘keeper, Nick Pope. With Heaton fit he wouldn’t get a chance and I can’t stop the 24 year old moving on for 250k. There were bids for Gray, but Crystal Palaces’ valuation of 6.5 million does not come close to ours so I don’t accept. I assume this would upset him as it did in January, so set about looking for replacements.
As for squad improvements, I need to bring in a wide midfielder to provide options. Last season I thought that, given his stats, Charlie Adam could do a job here but it never really felt right. With the realistic possibility of being involved in a season long battle for survival, we struggle to attract many players. At least budget is not a problem. With the new TV money now showing its power, the board grant 43 million n a bid to survive. That’s a heck of a lot of Sky subscriptions. I like the look of Ben Osbourn who impressed with Forrest last season. We are able to get him for 10 million, the same price as his former team mate Lansbury cost us in January. In a bit to not make Forrest our feeder club I look elsewhere for a striker. Thinking that Gray may make the step up to a bigger club I set about looking for someone younger. Barnes and Vokes are good, however, I need someone to stretch the play with pace. Cauley Woodrow from Fulham is young enough to improve in our team, and for 8 million the deal gets done.
With Rouwan Hennings returning after an impressive season long loan at Duddeldorf, this leaves me with six strikers to start the season. Given last year’s injury problems this likely would not be a bad thing, but I feel it will be a headache to get everyone minutes. I start to get concerned when the bids don’t come back for Gray, so he’s with us until January at least. I add Phil Bardsley on a free, him signing one year contract as cover at full back. Also signing for us is Jamie Macdonnald, a goal keeper with experience, who is happy to remain a back up.
So here we are, the eve of the new season, we have another difficult start, away at Spurs. Harry Kane is out for 11 months with a fractured skull, so at least they will be one key man short. We line up in 4141 to try and protect the back line from the attacking threat of Eriksen and Ali. Just a quarter of an hour into the new season and we pick up an injury. Sam Vokes is down and needs to come off. Andre Grey whips his tracksuit off and takes to the field. Tottenham take the lead after 24 minutes, a free kick from deep sees Toby A’ planting a firm header past the stranded Heaton. For the remainder of the first half we counter well, using Poyet as the anchor to spring the moves. One minute into injury time at the end of the first half a shove in the box gives us a penalty and a way to draw level. Up steps Adam to blaze it wide. There is not even time to restart as the whistle blows for half time, 1-0 Spurs. We are still in the game after the hour mark and I need to decide to stick or twist, pushing our midfield into more attacking roles. This does change the game, but not in our favour. Seven minutes later and Ali bursts into the box to slam home. 2-0 and the game is gone. Even with fresh legs it’s not enough to break them down and we lose. We have dignity and plenty to hang our hat on, but no points. We are saved the bottom slot of the league goal difference due to Sunderlands 3-0 loss to Arsenal.
Our first home game of the new season is against Bournemouth, a fixture we won last year. It’s a sluggish first 20 minutes with both teams exchanging shots from distance. Bournemouth start to build momentum though and should take the lead with only a coat of paint on the post denying Wilson. Shortly after and they do take the lead, a corner nodded home by Afobe. Vokes has a chance just before half time to level but fluffs his lines and shoots wide. From looking at the stats during the break, there hasn’t been a penalty box touch from an attacking player in Claret. It is now 15 hours without a competitive goal for Gray, and it doesn’t come to an end in this game. In fact Bournemouth are looking the most likely team to score and indeed do in the 83rd minute through Ibe, it has been coming. We did not create enough chances. Bournemouth go top.
From the scouting report of my next opponent, Everton, it appears they are vulnerable to 4411. ‘We can play that’ I think and so Adam slots in behind Gray, and the other 5 strikers sit this one out. Everton haven’t started well, with 2 draws, during the previous game Lukaku gets injured and will miss our match. They have changed formation from last years 4123 to line up 4312 and it seems to work. Whereas last year we played out 2 close games, this time we were totally out classed. It took just four minutes for Lukakus replacement Niasse to score his first of the day. After 20 minutes its 2-0, a whipped ball from the left meets Niasse’s head to score low into the corner. After 27 minutes we would need to play with a new ball, Niasse would be taking this one home with him. It’s a replay of his second, cross, head, net. On the stoke of half time a lofted free kick deep into the Evertonian area meets Gray and he slots home for his first goal in over 16 hours. If you think this maybe our way back into the game, you would be wrong. The second half passes with little of note to say, aside from Everton’s fourth coming from a corner, Niasse completing his Haul. We have hit the bottom in more ways than one.
I now need two positives, one to cancel out the negative of the last game and one to, you know, just have a positive. The first would be a fairly routine task to achieve, we have Exciter away in the ELF cup, the second is Chelsea at home, a more difficult task. I use the trip to the real Saint James’ Park to give minutes to the rest of the squad. Young Australian Aiden O’Neil starts in centre midfield, and in front of his national manager, scores a brace in the first eight minutes. Vokes assists the first two and elects to score the third for himself after half an hour. It isn’t until new Woodrow, making his debut from the bench, adds the fourth following a defensive mix up. 4-0, and we are in the hat for the next round.
Thank you for taking the time to read, really appreciate it. If you would like to know more please comment below or look me up on twitter @www.thehighertempopress.comaccordingtofm – more posts are available over at www.accordingtofm.wordpress.com
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