“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other”
Its March, Burnley are a team on the edge of survival, their manager, myself, is a man on the edge of his sanity. After a run of 14 games without a win, February brought nervy wins over West Ham and Swansea to put us back in the hunt. We sit, with 11 games to go, two points from safety.
March starts with a home encounter against Everton. They are a team in trouble, currently in 16th place, just five points above us. We impressed at Goodison earlier in the season, taking the lead but ultimately failing after a tactical switch saw Barkley run the show. I keep with the 442 formation that has served us well at home in the past month. The first half passes by with little note, we are playing tight but it’s not a classic. Three minutes after half time, Barnes finds some space in the box and slots passed reserve ‘keeper Robles. We have a lead, exactly where we were at the start of our winless run in September. As predicted, Everton move to 4231, Barkely now in a more advanced role. I am beginning to wonder why they don’t start this way. I keep as things as they are though, trying to dictate the play, try to neutralise the threat this way. Everton’s game plan goes out of the window on the hour mark as Lukaku pulls up injured. This blunts their efforts and we are comfortable for the final half hour. We are now out of the drop zone following Middlesbrough’s loss, to Sunderland, who move above Everton.
Our heads are above water, for the first time in a long while, it feels good. A quick glance at the coming fixtures however soon cools my confidence. Four out of five games away from home, all of them difficult. We face trips to high flying Spurs and Man City first, and then we play our relegation rivals Sunderland and Middlesbrough after a home tie with Southampton. The next five matches could define our season.
It’s to the Etihad first, where I still haven’t found a reliable away tactic, aside from 4141 negative football. This is how we line up and hold out for 72 minutes before falling to a 2-0 defeat. Same goes for the trip to Spurs, holding out for 68 minutes before losing to the same score line.
April fools day is the home clash with Southampton, and Berahino has finally got his move away from the Hawthorns. He starts as a lone striker with Tadic in the hole behind for support. In our only home game of the month I wanted more from the team, but we didn’t offer much, losing 4-1. Berahino taking home the match ball as reward for his three goals.
I need a break. My Daughter has a friends second birthday party and I could do with some Jelly and ice cream. Its then that I realise that we are always in the game. My mind wanders to tactics and how I can get enough points to survive. No matter how disappointing the loss, there is always another game.
Seven days after the Southampton loss was our way trip to the Stadium of Light. Sunderland’s recent win had taken them up to 16th but no points in their last two had kept them within sight. I was unsure how to approach the game, we need points, but cannot afford to lose ground on those around us. The home game had finished in a draw and left us with the feeling that we could have gotten more from it. In this game, one goal was enough to settle it, and it was scored by one of our own, however it was Trkowski turning it into his own net. He had been a solid fixture to the team all season and these things happen. Ultimately we lost this game because of that, but more so the negativity of the tactics to not go for more.
It was a lesson we would learn and try to improve in our next trip to the North East and to the Riverside. Middlesbrough set up the same way as our first game, a midfield four, but with two CDM protecting the back line. We couldn’t find a way through. This match would surely end up as the last game on that evening’s program of MOTD. A nil-nil stalemate where we had the better chances, but not the touch of class to breach the back line. It keeps us in the hunt for safety, and we did not lose ground, that’s the main thing.
Five games left in the season, four at Turf Moor, only one away at Hull, who are still in with a chance for survival.
For the first of those home game we welcome Watford, sitting in 8th they had comfortably beaten us at Vicarage road. I search their recent defeat to Spurs for clues of how to beat the formation, but it seems that on that day a Janmaat red card had cost them. 22 minutes in and we are 3-0 down. It’s one of those times where you can’t change things quick enough to stop it from happening. We were passengers. Everything was coming from their right side, three crosses, three goals. We go for broke, throwing all we can to turn the tide and pull two back, but the game is gone.
Table topping Arsenals victory at home to Swansea saw the Welsh team confirmed as relegated with four games to play. They were never really in the hunt spending every week since match two at the foot of the table. Hull however had pulled level with us, 2 points behind Middlesbrough.
In the 31st minute of our game at home to Bournemouth we were trailing. I set the team up 442 as usual, but being weary of their two strikers I had sat a little deep and tried to shorten our passing game. This has to change and I set instructions to go more direct and increase the tempo. Right away it worked and, but for a solid glove from Boruc, we would have been level going into the break. A quick double from Gray after the break and we take a 2-1 lead that we hold on to until the final whistle. We can breathe again.
Anything but a win for Hull and they are relegated back to the Championship at the first time of asking. We are away but I keep with the same tactics from the second half of the Bournemouth game what gave us the win. It works and going into injury time we lead 2-0. Michael Dawson heads in an injury time consolation, but its not enough. We go 4 points clear of Middlesbrough, with two to play.
We have spent three weeks of the season clear of the relegation zone, but it is being there on the final day that counts. We never lost focus of our aim for 17th. The job isn’t finished yet, and we have two tough games against Stoke and Manchester United at home.
Its in our hands I think as the game starts, and a fairly routine first half finishes with a 45th minute goal from Diouf to give the Potteries side the lead. I avoid temptation to check the scores from other games, we don’t need that pressure. Jack Butland is back in goal for Stoke and their best player, saving from point blank range on two occasions. The game stumbles to a 0-1 defeat and its an anxious wait for other results.
Middlesbrough have lost, we are safe! Forgive the anti climax to the season, but I’ll take it, our Premier League status safe for a year.
Its the final day of the season, at home to United, one of the fixtures that fans of all clubs look forward to. With our recent salvation there is a carnival atmosphere in the air and its inflatables day, at least I like to think so. I have not looked above 16th in the table all season, but Man United can still win the league. The need to beat us and hope that Arsenal slip up at home to already relegated Middlesborough. I want a win, if only for the fun of it. 14 minutes in and we are 2-0 down. United are top of the table as Arsenal fall behind. On the 16th minute we pull one back through the unhappy Defour. I had given him minutes since returning from injury, but he has been unhappy since earlier in the year. Once the window is open he will get a move to Milan, but that’s for the next episode.
It finishes 2-1 but Arsenal lose. United win the title and we survive by a single point. Given that we tried in the final two games its perhaps a good thing that our fate was sealed early. Cue the champagne; a bottle of Israel’s finest. This season has not been comfortable, and we barely survived, but survive we did, and that’s the main thing. We have to improve and prepare for next season, but for now I can relax, and spend some time with the family.
Thank you for reading so far, those who have read the previous ramblings. Coming soon will be season two, and more tales of the battle to survive.
if you want to see more from me please follow me on twitter @www.thehighertempopress.comaccordingtofm or the blog is available on accordingtofm.wordpress.com
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