CHILDREN do have a habit of bringing their parents down a peg or two, as Burnley keeper Brian Jensen will tell you.
Jensen may have become a hero in his seven years at Turf Moor – a status he has maintained despite some erratic displays for Burnley in the Premier League last season – and he may be popular enough in his native Denmark to have had his autobiography published there. But he’s still not his youngest son’s favourite goalkeeper.
In an interview with the match programme ahead of yesterday’s home game against Bristol City, Jensen revealed that four-year-old Sebastian prefers David James, who moved to Ashton Gate in the summer. He even has an England keeper’s jersey with James’ name on the back.
So keen was Sebastian to meet James, that he asked his dad if he could be the mascot for yesterday’s game. “Sometimes your children look to someone else other than you and you have to take it on the chin,” said Jensen, learning about fatherhood the hard way.
Well, he couldn’t really say no, could he?
And so little Sebastian and his older brother Jamie – who is more of a budding winger – were among the five mascots who got the chance to run about on the pitch a bit before kick-off and shake hands with the players. As things turned out, it was probably Sebastian’s perfect day, as both his dad and his hero kept clean sheets.
In James’ case, though, that was thanks largely thanks to an event almost as rare as a sighting of Halley’s Comet – a Graham Alexander penalty miss.
Alexander is to penalty-taking what Glenn McGrath was to fast bowling – a metronome. As Burnley manager Brian Laws said after yesterday’s game: “It’s just a formality when Grezza gets a penalty. We expect a goal.”
He has missed from the spot in the past – most notably for Scunthorpe in a Fourth Division play-off final penalty shoot-out at Wembley against Blackpool in 1992 (his team lost), and in extra-time for Preston in a First Division play-off semi-final against Birmingham nine years later. (That night, he then composed himself magnificently to score in the subsequent shoot-out, which North End won.)
But in three years at Burnley, Alexander had a 100 per cent spot-kick record – 18 out of 18. That all went sky high after 25 minutes yesterday, when Bristol City winger Danny Haynes brought down Tyrone Mears.
Alexander stepped up to take on James, the home fans readied themselves to cheer the opener… and the ball flew wide of the post. It actually took a good second-and-a-half for the cheers to turn to groans as the home fans struggled to process the astonishing sight. “I wondered when he was going to miss one,” muttered one Burnley supporter at the back of the Hargreaves Stand.
“I think it shocked everybody, even Grezza,” Laws said later. Bristol City manager Keith Millen hinted that James’ presence might have put Alexander off.
It was a decent game for a 0-0 draw. Burnley’s fluid 4-1-4-1 formation – with Alexander in the holding role and four midfielders flitting about and swapping positions behind Chris Iwelumo up front – teased a visiting defence who held out pretty well in the circumstances.
Iwelumo, who has been struggling along with a hamstring injury for a few weeks, did not look fully fit, and struggled to make headway against the hard-working Louis Carey and Liam Fontaine in the centre of Bristol City’s defence.
That defence has been one of the leakiest in the Championship this season. “If someone had offered us a clean sheet before the game, I would definitely have snapped their hands off,” Millen said.
The Bristol City manager had been so angry with his side’s display in losing at home to Coventry last weekend that he ordered all of his players to take home a DVD of the game and study it. “I won’t be doing that this weekend, because we haven’t got much time before we face Portsmouth on Tuesday,” he said.
A look through that DVD would show that Burnley midfielder Chris Eagles has definitely got his head together after almost leaving Turf Moor for Rangers in the summer. Eagles got as far as having a tour of Ibrox and talks with manager Walter Smith, but ended up committing his future to Burnley.
He admitted during the week that his head had been all over the place for a while, but he was unlucky not to score yesterday, with one mazy run ending with a shot saved well by James, who later kept out another Eagles drive.
The 40-year-old keeper was saved twice by his crossbar too, as team-mate Cole Skuse nearly scored an own goal under pressure from Jay Rodriguez, before Wade Elliott’s header hit the goal frame in the last minute. In between, Jensen had his moment of glory, getting down to push aside Jon Stead’s shot on the turn.
But in the end, for all the near misses, perhaps the only person who would really want to see the DVD of this game again would be Sebastian Jensen.