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05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 20/08/05, 3.00pm
Your fault
By Ian Grant

We've all had 'em, let's face it. Unless you've never done a day's work in your life, you must've done a bad day's work at some point. A really and truly awful day's work, spent turning things that once functioned perfectly well into things that, with your generous and effortless assistance, no longer function in the slightest and will take plenty more days to fix. Still an honest day's work - no slacking, no daydreaming, no wandering off for a tea break and returning three hours later in a slightly beery daze - but so utterly incompetent that it's impossible to shift the blame onto anyone else.

It's all your fault.

Of course, one of the several wonders of self-employment is the ability to nip these things in the bud. Because, on the basis that no matter how urgent the task, your hopeless, shambolic efforts are merely delaying its completion still further, you really might as well step slowly away and not return until tomorrow. Tomorrow, when whatever mischievous gremlin is causing your brain to malfunction will almost certainly have wandered off to play tricks on someone else, and you'll once again resemble a competent professional in full control of their faculties.

Some companies, I believe, have "Duvet Days", self-declared lie-ins to replace the need to call in claiming that you've caught malaria but you'll be "back in tomorrow". In my company - current staff: me, plus fish-on-a-stick - we have "F*** It Days", for the occasions described above. Matt Messias and his employers may wish to look at this idea in more detail.

Because, as much as BSaD tries to avoid the tedious referee-bashing that clogs up every phone-in and too many press conferences, it's rather hard to avoid on this occasion. Such was Mr Messias' desperate, apparently helpless malaise that you half-expected to see him transform into end-of-tether Basil Fawlty, bent double, head clutched by arms, hopping around like a frog. There must've been part of him - quite a significant part, one suspects - that simply wanted to walk away rather than deal with the consequences of his actions, to claim the right, available to all, to be absolutely bloody useless every once in a while and to sort it all out tomorrow.

He couldn't, though. You had to feel slightly sorry for him, the daft pillock. It's probably not a great source of professional pride to have to offer your apologies to one of the managers at the end of the game. That can't feel too wonderful, especially if you know, somewhere deep down, that the other bloke is probably owed a quiet and humble word too. To be honest, though, a more general apology, perhaps via the PA, might've been the most appropriate conclusion. Followed by a very swift exit.

The slight annoyance, really, is that somewhere amid all of this complete ridiculousness, tucked away at the bottom of a cardboard box along with a load of broken toys, shapeless clothes and tatty copies of Bobby Davro's autobiography like a piece of treasure at a car boot sale, was a routine, straightforward home win. The type of victory that's long forgotten by the time that May comes around, yet yields points that might make all the difference to the final tally. The type of victory whose absence got us into such trouble last season. You tend to feel that such things aren't quite in the pioneering spirit of this new season, yet they'd be welcome nevertheless, particularly for those of us still acclimatising.

That aside, it's damn hard to complain. He says, sounding like he wants to. There remain minor irritations: I could very happily live without the manager's ebullient rhetoric, particularly as the emerging reality is a much more scaled down, palatable version of that loudly-proclaimed vision. After all that kerfuffle, there were actually fewer graduates of the Academy in this starting line-up than in Ray Lewington's last selection, and it took all of a week for Anthony McNamee to return to his more traditional role (complete, here, with luminous green boots that, surely, he would never have got away with when Dychey was around). The dogma still grates, I'm afraid.

But the football is splendid, undeniably. At long last, we're seeing the results of spending some proper money on the squad: some of Adrian Boothroyd's early work might've been for die-hard fans only, but recent additions have been unquestionably tremendous. There remains much work to be done on the training ground, of course...but the last two-and-a-half games have offered more than mere promise for the future, and we're likely to be spared a repeat of the Vialli fiasco, waiting for months for cold water to "gel". That's not to say that we yet have enough strength in depth; it is, however, to applaud the manager for delivering the quality that he promised throughout the summer clear-out.

That quality is already making its presence felt. Not yet in defence, or not yet consistently, at any rate. Right now, there are too many passing acquaintances in that area and too many lapses as a consequence, making the decision to drop Jay Demerit and bring Malky Mackay straight in somewhat harsh. That'll happen with time, you trust. And with some kind of fencing around the penalty area to keep Ben Foster from escaping too.

Up front, though, we look impossible to contain. Three goals in each of the last three games, from a variety of sources via a variety of methods. Much has rightly been made of Marlon King's hugely impressive form - he's exactly the player that Forest thought that they'd signed: strong, quick, lethal - but that shouldn't put the rest into shadow too much. Alongside King, Darius Henderson continues to contribute a very great deal of selfless bashing about, bulldozing the space for his partner to exploit; Ashley Young was much quieter here, yet shows signs of finding consistency to match considerable talent; Paul Devlin appears to have discovered The Secret of Eternal Youth over the summer, having drunk heavily of The Secret of Eternal Moaning Groaning Middle Age last season. These, supplied by a midfield that's growing up quickly, gaining much-needed authority and presence.

It's wonderful to watch. It should, in all honesty, have made a more efficient job of disposing of Burnley, whose patching up of gaping holes extended to using Micah Hyde as a makeshift right back, a role to which he brought a typically lovely, languid style...albeit that he didn't quite appear to understand the importance of not fannying about in possession when there's nothing between you and your keeper but lots of green grass. We welcomed the equally languid Gifton Noel-Williams with equal generosity, before remembering that his style - all leaning and nudging and awkwardness - is best enjoyed when you're on the same side.

For five minutes, all quiet...and then, suddenly, we should've been ahead, as Devlin's darting run and tidy cross left King to finish things off with an unmarked near post header. He didn't, wastefully. Crucially, though, we haven't needed many chances to score thus far: much post-match excitement has been built upon the perception of attacking football rather than the more modest, but no less successful, reality.

Thus, after Ben Foster had made a comfortable save from McCann's low drive, we sprang forward and scored. The secret was in the sublime, perhaps accidental, first touch from Marlon King as he brought the long ball under control. It propelled him forward just perfectly, leaving defenders and Darius Henderson behind, leaving enough time and space to pick out the far corner with a low, angled finish. The kind of goal that Marlon King ought to be scoring, frankly. And that's a compliment.

We should've gone on from there. Would've, I tend to think. True, the equaliser was partly our responsibility: the central defence got sucked into the centre circle and allowed Akinbiyi to break clear onto a simple through-ball. Not terribly clever, but neither was the forward's touch, clouting the ball too far ahead of himself and giving Ben Foster a chance of claiming. The keeper got there, the keeper won the ball cleanly and clearly with both hands, sending it away from goal for a defender to deal with. The striker fell over under the challenge...which, I have to say, was more to do with physics than psychology. The referee made an absolute howler of a decision; thus it appeared at the time, and he may wish to avoid seeing a replay too. No further comment is necessary.

General disbelief gave way to general disorder, during which Mr Messias conveniently avoided the issue of further punishment for the supposed offender on the grounds, presumably, that he'd realised his grotesque error. When it had all calmed down enough - just about, anyway - O'Connor swiped the penalty past Foster to level the scores, and what had appeared to be straightforward suddenly became rather more complicated. It might've been even more so, had Akinbiyi taken better advantage of an almost identical situation five minutes later: breaking through an awfully square defence, he failed to find a sufficiently potent finish and Foster parried at head-height.

Here, though, we saw the advances made since the defeat to Preston. Then, when it all started to go wrong, nobody took command of the situation and we drifted rudderless for seventy minutes. Now, we kept our heads. Much of the rest of the half was scrappy and inconclusive, but it didn't belong to Burnley and it didn't belong to the referee. In the end, somewhat fortuitously, it belonged to us. The whole thing started with Dominic Blizzard, turning a Burnley attack away from goal and shepherding it back up the wing as if escorting a gatecrasher from the premises; it's the kind of essential maintenance work that he does so well and with so little fuss. As a result, we regained possession and brashly swept a move across the pitch before returning the ball to Gavin Mahon in the centre. From twenty yards, his aim was true. If, that is, he was aiming for the top corner via a defender's arse.

Again, the rest should've been relatively straightforward. It would've been, had Messias taken a more generous view of Ashley Young's tumble in the penalty area early in the second half...but, on this occasion, I tend to agree with him, and would much rather see more bookings than penalties for extravagant falls caused by negligible contact. No complaint from the recipient of the yellow card...tellingly, not just with regard to that particular situation, but suggesting that the ill-discipline that stalked the Preston performance might've been banished too.

For the first time, we became a little nervous. And we were tested extensively, just about surviving. Throughout a spell of Burnley pressure that grew in intensity with the ticking of the clock, you sensed that we were still a very real threat on the break, even if we couldn't quite put together the move to prove the point. Nevertheless, you couldn't pretend that we weren't struggling to hold our ground, resorting to too many hasty clearances and failing to hang onto possession for any length of time.

Still, positives. Because Malky Mackay and Clarke Carlisle - there's a whole comedy routine in there somewhere, I think - both demonstrated their strength and courage; powerful individuals, even if they haven't yet had time to become an even more powerful unit. From an awful lot of the ball over an awfully long period of time, Burnley created only half-chances. When they did, they discovered that Ben Foster is more than just an outfield player with a pair of gloves on: his reflex save to Akinbiyi's close range blast, receiving the ball with his back to goal and turning his marker to shoot, was especially vital and inspired.

Just after the hour, the addition of Matthew Spring's somewhat over-eager energy to the midfield and Lloyd Doyley's diligence to the defence tightened it all up considerably when things were threatening to get a little out of control. Thereafter, hindsight and notebook suggest that we were more comfortable, even if it felt less than relaxed at the time. Branch struck a firm drive into Ben Foster's chest, then the keeper did well to tip over Gifton Noel-Williams' effort - a magnificently loose, almost disinterested swipe from the edge of the area that rocketed towards the top corner - as the final ten minutes began.

As it turned out, there was no need to worry. Even if we hadn't been allowed to score the third, most of those ten minutes would've been occupied by the game's last incident...and Messias' piece de resistance - the utterly inexplicable addition of just three extra minutes, presumably on the basis that he wanted to go and hide in a corner somewhere as quickly as possible - would've finished off Burnley's comeback on our behalf. We got the third anyway, absurdly. The fair-minded part of me rather wishes that it hadn't happened; not as much as the referee, though.

The whole incident was a nonsense, really. The only bit of it that'd stand up in a court of law is Darius Henderson's dogged persistence in the late stages of a fairly physical contest: chasing down a long ball, he easily beat the flapping Jensen in an aerial challenge, leaving the keeper sitting on his backside with his goal unguarded. From there, it all descended into chaos. At the time, it simply seemed that Jensen had decided to act his way out of the situation, clutching his face and rolling around on the floor to considerable derision from the Rookery. In those circumstances, who'd pass up the chance of scoring? Who'd reward someone else's gamesmanship with undue fair play?

Not us, evidently. Having played on, it was then up to the referee to decide whether the injury was genuine or not. And bloody hell, we gave him long enough to carry out a full medical examination: he stood over the prostrate keeper as Darius Henderson scraped a cross along the goalline, then Paul Devlin knocked it back in, Marlon King contested the high ball, a defender headed clear...and finally, Matthew Spring marked his debut by thumping a low finish past the cluster of claret shirts in the six yard box. And then, as the celebrations died down, we wondered whether the referee might allow Jensen to be treated before the teams kicked off again....

It's not something that we do often, I know, but we have to be fair to Burnley here. In the circumstances, they managed to remain remarkably calm...and, although it would certainly have been interesting to eavesdrop on the conversation between Cotterill and the referee as half the visitors' coaching staff clustered around the injured party, the threat of a major diplomatic incident was somehow averted. The remaining minutes, despite being too few due to Messias' absurd time-keeping, passed off without an eruption of the simmering tension, mercifully.

Not because that eruption wouldn't have been entertaining. It just would've distracted further from the rest of it, that's all. From the good stuff. The football. Because, much as controversy and chaos are exciting, it's the football that'll get people talking. And the football's coming along very nicely indeed, it seems.