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02/03: Reports:

FA Cup Quarter-Final, 09/03/03, 1.30pm
Monday March 10th
By Dave Thomas

We lost 2-0, but we have no complaints. This is not a day for unkind words or the barbs of hurtful criticism. If you believe in chains of events leading up to a predetermined end, over which we have no control, and in which we are just the playthings of the gods, then this was just such a day. The last time we felt like this was at the end of last season when even though we had beaten Coventry 1-0 we still missed the playoffs by just one goal. It's as if someone up there, some unkind influence, some manipulative unseen being, toys with us for their cruel sport. I feel the same today as I did then, just flat and so disappointed not just for other supporters and me, but for our team as well.

In the cold light of day, which fittingly is wintry, grey and dull, I can write that we didn't win, didn't deserve to win, didn't play, didn't create a single worthwhile chance and gave their goalkeeper absolutely nothing to do all afternoon. So much hope, so much to play for, so much anticipation and then so much anticlimax. I wrote at the beginning of these diaries about supporters' feelings and emotions. Today, it's what this page is all about. Will we ever get so close to a semi final again?

We can't grumble at the day, the atmosphere, the sense of occasion, the colour and spectacle, the passion of supporters, the camaraderie and bon hommie of opposing fans, the sunshine which bathed us in its spring like warmth and softness, or the effort and commitment from our team. We can't say that any Burnley player played badly or let the side down. We came home just as proud of them as we did after the Fulham game. At the game's end we gave them a standing ovation, we gave them our love and appreciation, we gave them as best we could the message that they had not let us down and that they and us were as one in our heartfelt dejection. They trudged off disconsolately. We drove home silently but still full of pride thinking of the wonderful games they played and the efforts they made to get us as far as this.

We sang, we cheered, we roared, we clapped, we made a thunderous noise that could have been heard twenty miles away and we did that for 90 minutes and more. But it just wasn't to be. The fates, divine intervention, call it what you will, that indefinable and inexplicable thing we can only call the run of the ball, that moment when a ball bounces one way and not the other, falling into someone's path at the right time in the right place, were all on the day with Watford.

The game itself was about 22 players giving each other no time or space to do anything of class or style. It was a game we knew would be settled by maybe one solitary moment of quality, or one bounce, either their way or ours, one stroke of misfortune, or one moment of madness...or just one corner. And it was Watford who had all the corners and the pressure that comes from them.

And that's how it happened. A corner, not cleared, flailing legs and feet, the ball ricocheting around and continuing to Tommy Smith who falling, poked it home from just a few yards so that it slowly, agonisingly, scruffily, trickled under a despairing Marlon Beresford. This was Tommy Smith just back for his first game for four weeks after a car crash. Tell me now that these things aren't worked out in advance in a ready-made script. After that their second goal was a sort of undeserved irrelevant postscript and just as inevitable as the first, coming from a free kick put straight over the wall by a player who was only in the side because of injury to another and who has been told already he will not be retained next season. Irony heaped upon irony. And then another twist of fate, we failed to score for the first time in 20 games since way back in December, 3 months ago.

Today the media is cruel and callous.

One of the worst spectacles of football this stage of the competition has witnessed in a long time...until Tommy Smith broke the deadlock in the 74th minute the match had been bereft of just about everything...
(Telegraph Sport Monday)

The tie played out in swirling wind and on a poor pitch was tense with few real chances created - especially in a first half where the ball was in the air so often it put to shame the hundreds of balloons that littered the pitch.... If you happened to be stuck outside the stadium you would have been suffering spasms of envy. It sounded fantastic. The fans were passionate, desperate, raucous, bursting with cup fever, but it all had little to do with the fare on offer on the pitch...
(The Times, The Game section)

A desperate quarter final tie bereft of drama and entertainment or anything resembling quality or class.... You can fully understand the nervous approach from both sides as there was simply so much at stake...but this was a pitiful last eight tie...and Burnley were downright ordinary and it was hard to believe that both clubs had knocked out Premiership opposition....
(The Mirror)

Alan Hansen used one word - dire - on BBC.

The only consolations come from knowing it is Watford, a club so small and similar to ourselves financially, that will benefit from the semi finals and that two sets of family oriented fans combined to make it a day free from violence and confrontation and aggression. The approach to the game and the streets outside as people made their way to Vicarage Road were festooned with smiles and colour, friendliness and mutual anticipation. The sun shone from a blue sky making the colours dazzling and brilliant and bringing out the best in people's good nature and openness. There was indeed a sense of occasion and importance and such days don't come often. That it didn't continue out onto the pitch and provide us with a thrilling dramatic game was just one of those things. I shall remain convinced forever that for us it was never in the stars and never intended to be a day of glory for Burnley.

One further consolation is that Gareth Taylor today was a giant at both ends of the pitch. If ever a player has grown and developed in stature over the last season it is he. The BBC pundits picked him out over and again. He covered every blade of grass, won header after header, and cleared from our own penalty area half a dozen times. In truth he was all we had to offer on a day where wellying it in the air or hoofing it to Gareth's head seemed the only recognisable tactic and the ball according to Mark Lawrenson must have been crying out for mercy until it was kicked up onto a rooftop where it remained and another one introduced.

For now, playoff hopes linger. A quarter of the season remains. To Sheffield and Warnock's men on Wednesday and who is to say these inconsistent, unpredictable, ageing, near-exhausted Clarets can't come away having pinched a 1-0 win or a battling draw. It would be just like them, wouldn't it?

From the forthcoming book, It's Burnley Not Barcelona. Reproduced with kind permission of the author.