x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Burnley staring at the drop

The last rites might not have been administered by their nearest but Blackburn's victory made relegation increasingly probable for the Clarets.

BURNLEY // The death of a dream is always a cause of anguish. For Burnley, the pain is all the greater because of the manner of their demise and the identity of its inflictors. The last rites might not have been administered by their nearest, although certainly not their dearest, but Blackburn's victory made relegation increasingly probable for the Clarets. David Dunn determined the East Lancashire derby and while the result was deserved, the solitary goal contained a hint of skulduggery.

"We haven't had the rub of the green," said the Burnley manager, Brian Laws, after a contentious penalty divided the local rivals. Not that the vocal travelling fans cared. There were incidents of violence between the two sets of supporters after the final whistle; before then, the Blackburn followers' gloating incorporated chants of "Burnley's going down" and mocking choruses of the name of the Clarets' former manager, Owen Coyle.

Turf Moor used to reverberate to such a sound but the eventual verdict on the season may be that Burnley's fate was decided the day Coyle opted to return to Bolton. His successor, Laws, has now lost 10 of his 12 league games at the helm, taking four points from a possible 36. In that context, his aim of winning three or four of their remaining six fixtures sounded distinctly unrealistic. But there is an idealism about Burnley, with the blend of distant deeds in their history, a commitment to attacking football and a comparative penury that rendered them permanent underdogs. They have a wage ceiling of £15,000 (Dh82,500) per week, much the lowest in the Premier League; under the circumstances, their attempts to outplay top-flight teams have had a naivety to them.

Blackburn represent their polar opposites. A focus on set-pieces and clean sheets may not endear Rovers to the neutral, but safety is ensured. The pragmatism of Sam Allardyce is given vindication by results. "What a season we are having," he said, before adding in a rare moment of self-deprecation: "It was a very important away win to boost our away wins to a massive two, from one." With 41 points, his side's future is guaranteed and they now reside in the upper half of the table. "We should be getting a bit more credit than we are," insisted Allardyce.

It was a day to savour both for him and for Rovers' local contingent. One Lancastrian, the teenager Phil Jones, excelled in the centre of the defence. Another, the lifelong Blackburn supporter Dunn, threw his shirt to the visiting fans after the final whistle. He was twice involved in the pivotal move. Dunn headed the ball into the overlapping Martin Olsson's path. The Swede sped into the penalty area, tracked by Tyrone Mears. As Brian Jensen challenged, he flung himself to the ground. Mike Dean, the referee, awarded the penalty and Dunn dispatched it emphatically.

For Olsson, wrongly adjudged offside five minutes earlier when he had finished stylishly, it may have appeared a case of justice being belatedly administered. For Burnley, it did not. "Slightly harsh," said Allardyce. Laws was more forthright. "The referee thought there was contact," he said. "There was no contact. He got it wrong today and it cost us." Olsson's eventful afternoon also incorporated a sweetly struck half-volley that rebounded off the underside of the bar and bounced on the goal line before spinning out again. "Martin Olsson stood out for me," said Allardyce, impressed by the speed and driving runs his left winger brought. "He's made a massive contribution."

The Blackburn manager added: "We should have won more comfortably." A second could, and should, have been scored. Michel Salgado drilled a shot wastefully wide while Jason Roberts' header cleared the crossbar. Then Olsson fired an effort straight at Jensen and the substitute Franco di Santo headed wide. Otherwise ineffectual in attack, Burnley were inches from an equaliser. Danny Fox rolled in the most inviting of crosses. Either Wade Elliott or Steven Fletcher only needed to apply a glancing touch but neither could not quite do that.

"We've not had any luck," added Laws. "Everyone will write us off, but the facts are that it's still mathematically possible, so we'll keep believing we can do it. We won't give up." @Email:sports@thenational.ae