Ambition

THE teenage girl serving in one of the fast food restaurants next to Glanford Park was distracted by the Sky Sports Football Yearbook I was carrying.

“What’s the book?” she asked. I explained I was a journalist covering Scunthorpe United’s game against Burnley, and her ears pricked up.

“I want to be a journalist,” she said. “I’m involved in the college magazine.” I suggested it might be a good idea to get in touch with her local paper, the Scunthorpe Telegraph, and ask for some work experience.

She smiled. “I want to work for Vogue,” she said. Fair enough, I thought. Given the choice between working for Vogue and the Scunthorpe Telegraph, most people would probably make the same decision. (I know less about fashion than I do about Scunthorpe, so I’d have to think that one over.)

Ambition is little use without application, of course. But perhaps the opposite is true as well – and that’s something Eddie Howe has had to think about a lot over the last couple of weeks.

While the girl in the fast food restaurant is looking for a way out of the place where she has grown up, Howe had until recently given the impression of someone who could stick around the Dorset coast forever.

Football, though, is an industry that expects the ambitious to move around. Having spent almost his entire professional life at Bournemouth, as a player, a coach and a manager, the time was right for him to take on a new challenge. He also knew that, having rejected jobs at Peterborough, Southampton, Charlton and Crystal Palace, he couldn’t afford to keep on saying no. So he said yes to Burnley.

“I just felt it was too good to turn down,” he said on arriving at Turf Moor, stepping up from League One to the Championship. “It would have been five clubs I’d turned down to stay at Bournemouth. People might see that as a lack of ambition or drive. I certainly don’t lack those things.

“I have been loyal to Bournemouth. It was extremely difficult to leave a club that is close to my heart. I am proud to have been their manager, and I leave with real sadness.”

As manager, Howe had taken Bournemouth from the depths of League Two – where they started the season before last with a 17-point deduction – to the League One play-off race by the time he left just over a week ago. Rochdale’s Keith Hill, a keen student of the game, is one of many within football to name Howe as a future Premier League manager.

The circumstances of Howe’s exit from Dean Court could have been a whole lot tidier – three days before driving north to accept the Burnley job, he had told hundreds of cheering Bournemouth fans that he was staying, having rejected the advances of Palace and Charlton. But Bournemouth’s supporters must have been aware that Howe couldn’t keep turning down better jobs.

Having watched Burnley’s 0-0 draw against QPR last weekend from the stand at Turf Moor, his first official game in charge was the trip to Glanford Park. The new manager has stated that one of his priorities is to improve Burnley’s poor away form – and this was the place to try to do it. While the Clarets appear to be on a mission to draw as many away games as possible, Scunthorpe have maybe the worst home record in the world.

Well, OK, Hamilton Academical (SPL) and Maidstone United (Ryman Premier) have picked up fewer points on their own ground this season, but Scunny do have the worst home record in English professional football.

Yet Burnley struggled early on, with Wade Elliott having to head Martyn Woolford’s goalbound header off the line inside the first five minutes. It was tempting to wonder if Burnley’s tactics were the problem.

For most of this season, the Clarets have operated something akin to a 4-1-4-1 formation, but with the midfield four swapping and changing positions regularly, the wingers switching sides, that kind of thing. The idea, presumably, is to make it harder for the opposing midfield and defence to track your runs, and then take advantage of the gaps.

That’s fine if you have lots of possession. But particularly away from home, where you are likely to have less of the ball, it’s a set up that can leave your back line exposed if the midfielders don’t know exactly where they are supposed to be when defending.

There were a couple of occasions early on at Glanford Park where Jonathan Forte was able to charge pretty much unchallenged through the centre of Burnley’s defence. On one occasion, it needed a great saving tackle from Clarke Carlisle to save the day.

Howe, to his credit, seemed to notice this. Roughly midway through the first half, he switched to a more solid midfield set up, perhaps closer to a 4-4-1-1, with Elliott moving from the holding role to the right flank, Ross Wallace sticking to the left and Chris Eagles moving in from his wide role to support Jay Rodriguez, the lone striker.

Scunthorpe found it harder to create clear chances after that, while Burnley started to make a few of their own. Eagles fired over from a cleverly-worked low Wallace corner when he should have scored, while Elliott got in a few useful crosses from the right.

Carlisle’s efforts in defence forced him off at half-time with a knee injury, meaning his remarkable week ended with a bit of a whimper. Having lasted a full hour on Thursday night’s BBC Question Time panel alongside incessant rhetoric machine George Galloway and the permanently-agitated Alastair Campbell, he lasted only 45 minutes at Glanford Park. In both cases, though, he acquitted himself well.

Having cut off the Scunny threat by putting up a more solid midfield, Burnley were able to take control in the second half. Rodriguez fired wide when clean through, substitute Chris Iwelumo headed against the post and then was denied pretty much at point blank range by Josh Lillis, and Eagles almost caught out the keeper with a swerving long-range effort.

The second-half performance by Burnley was encouraging enough, but a 0-0 draw away to a team who had lost six in a row at home is not the stuff of promotion contenders. Howe has already demonstrated his application in management. His move to Burnley has proved he has ambition. But to get a crack at the Premier League, he may have to demonstrate a little patience too.

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