Happy New Year

Last updated : 02 January 2008 By John Secker

This was a Burnley side, remember, who were undefeated in their last seven away games, and who were very recently in contention in the playoff zone. But they were simply unable to cope with the pace of a Blackpool team who all worked hard, passed and ran quickly, and who produced some tremendous goals. In fact it could very easily have been a much larger score, while Burnley only threatened when they were given a free kick close to the box. Blackpool have won three, drawn one over the Christmas period, their best for decades surely, with ten goals scored and one conceded. This does not look like a side doomed to relegation, indeed they are just about midway up the table, and any strengthening of the team in January will need to be carefully judged. Today was a clear demonstration of the way that team spirit and determination will defeat a team of expensive stars who let their heads drop. Signings should be chosen to build for the long term, ensure that the morale of the squad is not damaged, and look to next season and beyond.

There was one change made by Blackpool to the team which defeated Colchester on Saturday, with Andy Morrell dropping to the bench and Ben Burgess playing alongside Scott Vernon, whose two goals in that game ensured him a start today. Ian Evatt was back from suspension, but he was on the bench with Michael Jackson retaining his place in defence. Apart from that the Blackpool side had a settled look, with Barker, Gorkss and Crainey in defence, and Taylor-Fletcher, Flynn, Jorgensen and Hoolahan across midfield. It was a full house at Bloomfield Road, with both home and away sections packed, as Burnley kicked off towards the north end.

Burnley came with a good reputation and a strong away record, and a couple of their midfielders were large and strong, but Blackpool got stuck in and won the battle. Taylor-Fletcher, Jorgensen and Flynn all worked hard in the middle, getting to the ball first, closing down and tackling hard - Flynn in particular has gone from strength to strength since his goal at Scunthorpe, and he is now looking like a very good prospect. In the early stages Hoolahan was not able to impose himself very much, though he was fouled a couple of times, and was clearly being watched specially by Burnley.

From the start the pressure was coming from Blackpool, though at first they did not turn it into direct chances. Most of the work was being done up the right wing with Barker and Taylor-Fletcher linking up and the central midfielders helping out. There were a couple of moments when the ball bobbled in the Burnley area, and once Burgess took it and turned, but hit a weak shot wide of the right hand post. From another attack up the right the ball was lobbed beyond the far post where Vernon took it down and controlled it. He might have been better to shoot quickly, but he had too much time perhaps, he tried to lob it across the goalmouth and found the keeper's arms instead. Vernon and Taylor-Fletcher were both guilty of putting chances wide from loose balls inside the Burnley area as the Blackpool pressure continued.

Both the big Burnley midfielders were booked for wild tackles in quick succession, and after a wild few minutes the game settled down again. Blackpool had a number of corners - two from the right were hit too long and wasted, but then they won one on the left. Hoolahan took it and hit it hard and flat, head height some way out from the near post. Gorkss got ahead of his marker, stooped slightly and sent a bullet header down towards the bottom corner - the keeper got his fingers to it but there was too much power and the ball was in the back of the net. This looked like a planned move, it was delivered with precision and Gorkss certainly took it well.

Blackpool continued to be the better side, and had all the pressure, but they could not score another. Hoolahan began to get more involved, and he set up a great chance for Flynn to shoot from outside the box, but the midfielder was leaning back and his shot soared over the bar - poor technique for a professional with nothing to do but practice all week. Hoolahan had one of his runs into the box where he kept promising to shoot but held on too long and was tackled. Crainey has a different style entirely - given a chance he will generally deliver a good first time cross, and he created several such moves in this spell, but the defence held out. However Blackpool were very close to a second as Jorgensen picked up a clearance about thirty yards out and tried a hard low shot. This hit a defender and took a big deflection but the keeper, who had already dived to his right, did very well to twist back the other way and get a hand to the ball.

At the north end Burnley pressed forward a number of times, but they were unable to create much. Crainey and Barker deflected most of the attacks up the wings, and when the ball did come into the centre it was dealt with comfortably. Only free kicks were giving Burnley any chance at goal, and as the half wore on Blackpool conceded three increasingly dangerous ones. The first was out towards the Burnley right, and the ball was swung in and cleared. Then Burnley won another, much more central and only about ten yards outside the box. This time they tried a shot, but it struck the wall and rebounded away. Finally, as Burnley pushed forward up the middle they were awarded a kick only a foot or two outside the box, in the middle. The wall was lined up carefully, but there was a lot of pushing and shoving, and as the kick was taken one of the Blackpool players was clearly pulled out of position. The shot was struck hard and was heading for the right hand corner of the goal, but Rachubka, diving away to his left, pulled off a tremendous save and pushed it around the post for a corner. It was the one really difficult moment for him in the game, but he rose to the occasion and may well have contributed a lot to the result. If Burnley had scored at that point things might have been different.

Half time came soon after this, and when the game restarted, Burnley had their best spell of the match, as Blackpool sat back a little and allowed the visitors to come to them. For about ten minutes the pressure was almost all at the Blackpool end of the pitch, although it must be said that Burnley still failed to carve out any more clear chances, and the defence was able to clear each time. It was just that during this period the clearances usually went to a claret shirt, and the ball came back into the Blackpool half again.

It was only around ten minutes, and then Blackpool began to put their foot on the ball, to pass it and hold it, and to build attacks rather than just clearing the ball. Hoolahan started to come into the game again, making himself available to collect the ball, holding it and passing well. But he was not the only one, and one positive feature of this game was the way that the whole of midfield contributed. Blackpool won several corners, and from one Burnley cleared the ball out to Crainey, who was covering back on the half way line, right of centre. He took the ball, looked around and then hit a beautiful long high pass, about 60 yards diagonally forward to the left wing, spot onto the boot of Hoolahan, who dropped it dead at his feet and then turned towards goal. The defence came to him and he turned once or twice, then he slid the ball to Jorgensen who had sprinted across to run into space outside him. He took it and hit a cross into the goalmouth where it was won by Burgess, using his height to get there first and plant his header firmly down into the bottom left hand side of the goal. A great move, with vision, skill and hard work, rewarded by a determined finish.

Given Burnley's poor showing you had to feel that this was probably enough, but Blackpool did not sit back on their lead, and continued to push forward for more. Only a couple of minutes later Blackpool played a ball up the middle to Burgess, who flicked it on into the area. Vernon and a defender both went for it, and it was half cleared, lobbing out and dropping a few yards outside the box. Here it was met on the volley, several feet off the ground by Jorgensen, who showed great technique to get over the ball, hitting it with a slightly sideways swing of his leg, which sent the ball flying hard, flat and low into the back of the net. Another great goal, and no more than Blackpool deserved.

The game really was over now, and it was just a question of whether Blackpool could keep a clean sheet, or indeed score another. Burnley had introduced Akinbiyi just before Blackpool's second, and while he looked strong and showed some useful moves he was unable to create anything against the home defence. Taylor-Fletcher had a chance to shoot but struck it at the keeper, and Flynn also picked up a couple of half-chances but could not find the killer blow. As time went by Blackpool began to make changes, mostly to rest players I suspect - Vernon came off for Morrell, and then Fox replaced Taylor-Fletcher. Morrell looked eager to get involved, and indeed put the ball into the net after a one-two, but was adjudged offside. He showed the way to beat the offside trap with a well-timed ball to Hoolahan up the left, but after cutting in well Wes's left-foot shot was always sliding the wrong way and went just outside the post. Fox tried a shot from outside the box but it was way over the bar. The final substitution was Burgess, giving way to Slusarski who was playing the final game of his current loan period. A neat ball from Hoolahan saw Morrell scurrying into yards of space on the left of the Burnley box, and his low driven cross was nearly turned in, then a higher cross from deep on the left saw Slusarski get above the defence, but he was not able to keep the ball down and his header was over the bar.

Through all this Burnley mounted the occasional attack, but they were getting no joy out of the defence who cleared, blocked and tackle with a will, and so Blackpool kept another clean sheet to end a splendid holiday sequence. It's hard to pick a man of the match, everyone played a great game, and while Gorkss was a rock in the centre again my tip would go to Flynn, who was everywhere in midfield and has really made himself a key part of the line-up.

Team (4-4-2): Rachubka, Barker, Jackson (Capt), Gorkss, Crainey, Taylor-Fletcher (Fox 80), Jorgensen, Hoolahan, Vernon (Morrell 75), Burgess (Slusarski 85)

Subs not used: Evatt, Welsh