THE curse of the early Christmas print deadline struck at Turf Moor. In his column at the front of the programme, Brian Laws wished all of Burnley’s fans a happy New Year. Further in, there was a full-page feature on John Carver, listed as Sheffield United’s caretaker-manager. If you have a copy, keep it – as it is bound to become a collector’s item.
“If I reflect back over the past 12 months – it’s almost a year since I took charge – it’s certainly been one of ups and downs,” stated Laws, writing his notes before the 0-2 home defeat against Scunthorpe on Tuesday that led to his sacking.
And he was right. At their best, Burnley have looked capable of beating anyone in the Championship this season. At their worst, they’ve looked capable of, well, losing at home to Scunthorpe.
A club who budgeted sensibly during their season in the Premier League, in order to ensure they were well placed financially to push for a quick return in the event of relegation, expected more. As it is, they have spent much of the campaign hiding in the cubby hole between mid-table and the play-off places, and only picked up their first away league win on Boxing Day. Burnley’s board felt they needed someone else to spend January’s money.
As a result, Burnley’s excellent match programme was a rather odd read this afternoon, with Laws’ ghostly thoughts echoing in from the past like a Joy Division album.
But there was no way round it, really. Not unless you follow the example of one lower-division club many years ago, who effectively arranged the sacking of a manager to fit the local weekly paper’s Christmas print deadline. (True story: And it meant the sports editor of the paper in question knew of the firing several days before the manager did.)
I was reminded of a Stockport County programme for a New Year game in the early 1990s with a tongue-in-cheek editorial that read: “Due to the early print deadlines, we had to write this article before the end of last season, so let’s hope we got promoted in order to be able to play this fixture.”
As Oscar Wilde no doubt used to say during his time editing the Corinthian Casuals matchday programme: To be caught out over one managerial departure due to an early deadline is unfortunate. To be caught out over two is just pants.
Carver – who once had a chair thrown at him by Craig Bellamy and still went to his wedding – left Sheffield United on Thursday. His three-game stint as Sheffield United’s caretaker-manager was ended by the appointment of Micky Adams, full-time boss No. 3 of the season.
Adams has inherited a mess. The Blades were starting to go backwards rapidly under Kevin Blackwell when he was sacked in August, and Gary Speed was a long, long way from sorting things out when Wales came calling last month. A lifelong Sheffield United fan who was released by the club as a teenager, Adams described his new role as his dream job. Perhaps that was before he looked at the squad list.
For the trip to Turf Moor, the Blades had four players suspended and five injured. Of his seven substitutes, three had never played a league game for the club.
All things considered, it was a miracle that Sheffield United scored first. Midfielder Mark Yeates, who has been one of their best players this season, turned in the rebound after Lee Grant had parried Jamie Ward’s shot.
Not a good start for Stuart Gray, Burnley’s first-team coach turned caretaker-manager. Just under 20 years ago, and shortly before an Achilles injury ended his career, Gray occasionally used to fill in at left-back for Adams at Southampton. Cast in a supporting role again, he needed some inspiration. He got it from Chris Eagles.
A former Manchester United junior, Eagles spent his formative years at Old Trafford studying David Beckham. He has a similar capacity for the outrageous, whether that be scoring from 50 yards, as he once did for Watford, or turning up to training in a £150,000 Lamborghini, as he did not long after Burnley won promotion to the Premier League in 2009.
When he’s good, Eagles is brilliant. His equaliser just before the half-hour mark was sensational, as he pounced on Nyron Nosworthy’s panicky clearance and curled the ball low into the net from 30 yards, his shot flicking the inside of the post on its way in. “A great strike by the only player on the pitch who could have done that,” Adams said afterwards.
A half-time score of 1-1 would have been OK for Adams. Unfortunately for him, the half-time score was 3-1, as his defence switched off twice in first-half stoppage time. First Chris Iwelumo headed in a Michael Duff free kick (his 10th goal of the season, and they’ve all come at home), and then Jay Rodriguez scored as Wade Elliott’s low cross caused panic.
To make matters worse for Adams, he lost two more players at the break – keeper Richard Wright to a thigh strain, and centre-back Nosworthy to a twisted ankle.
Still they came back, with Ched Evans scoring a penalty he won pretty much straight from the kick-off. But they never really looked like equalising. Instead, Eagles started to create problems, while Rodriguez – who overcame a virus to play and was excellent – might have had a couple of goals.
In the end, the last word went to substitute Steven Thompson, who scored his first league goal of the season from a perfectly-judged Eagles nudge-through five minutes from the end. Burnley are outside the play-off places on goal difference. The problem is that they haven’t managed to win two in a row yet this season. Sort that out, and they might get somewhere.
Gray gave the impression afterwards that he would be thrilled to bits to get the chance to manage Burnley full-time, but knows he isn’t going to. When he was asked the inevitable question afterwards, he was diplomatic. “I’m very honoured to have been able to take the caretaker role,” he said. “I’ve been given three games, I’ve got one out of the way and now we just want to focus on the game at Reading on Monday.”
After that will come Port Vale at home in the FA Cup, so he should at least get one crack at doing the Burnley manager’s programme notes. After that, it will probably be the responsibility of Paul Lambert, or Phil Brown, or Derek McInnes, or Eddie Howe, or Sam Allardyce, or Malky Mackay, or maybe someone else I haven’t thought of.