The Championship – Tuesday 4th March 2008
A game which had everything? Aye. Scintillating one-sided first half? Check. Crazy goalkeeping error? Check. Ridiculous wonder goal which the KC has never seen the like of before? Check. Spate of bizarre red cards? Check. City won the game, but at a price.
The risk of having three-match bans increased due to the authorities’ definition of “frivolity” means that Phil Brown may not bother appealing the two straight reds dished out to Caleb Folan (angry) and Jay Jay Okocha (baffled). Mike Riley (“you’re rubbish Riley, get back to the Premier League” shouted one Utter Idiot With No Sense Of Logic near me) was our official, and as he stopped Okocha attacking down our right flank because a Burnley player had been decked within the reach of the Folan elbow, we can assume he saw everything and got it right – not that Folan saw it that way and angrily protested his innocence until his skipper advised him it was futile. But the Okocha incident – were there ever one – was most odd.
The ball was dead as Burnley prepared to take a corner, and suddenly a claret-clad being was writhing around in agony after undoubtedly being shot by Okocha, who is of course renowned for taking a .22 automatic on to the pitch which he hides under his left shinpad. Referee saw nothing, the linesman saw nothing (he wasn’t flagging) yet somehow the two unsighted officials managed to convince each other that Okocha must have clumped the Burnley player (I don’t care who it was) and out came another straight red. Incredulity from everyone. Players, manager, supporters. I doubt the Burnley players – even the thespian still clutching his face in the foetal position – had much idea of what was transpiring either.
A tiny amount of sugar was added to the soured cake by the fact that Burnley cocked up any hopes of a manpower-related comeback by having two of their own dismissed – for straightforward second bookable offences – in the seconds after each of City’s red cards. Stephen Caldwell hacked through Fraizer Campbell, while Joey Gudjonsson seemed to speak out of turn twice in quick succession for Mr Riley’s liking in the moment after Okocha had ambled down the tunnel. Burnley.
Fools. See also Burnley – outplayed. The first half was mesmerising. City, fielding the XI which started at West Brom (Turner and Okocha restored; Marney and Clement on the bench) created chance after chance, passed crisply, chased everything, closed down, won fierce but fair tackles and generally gave the Burnley fans even more cause to be annoyed, as an appendix to the knowledge that a 10pm A63 closure meant they were going back across the country via a 20mph diversion through North Ferriby.
Folan swatted wide an open chance after Campbell’s challenge on hateable Burnley keeper Brian Jensen (he always seems too concerned about his appearance to me). Okocha hit the roof of the net with a swerving free kick. City embarked on a heart-gladdening spell of total football, aided by Burnley’s lack of patience on the ball and consequent tendency to hand possession back. The lead was acquired when Campbell, at an angle, fizzed a low shot through a crowd of players towards goal. Jensen should have had it – indeed, he seemed to for a split second – but the ball unrepentantly evaded his total grasp and snuck over the line.
Then Garcia, following Campbell’s example from the West Brom game by ignoring a man to his right, belted a magnificent 30 yarder beyond Jensen’s palm to bring the freezing but enthralled KC crowd to its feet. A wonder goal and more. Folan’s dodgy control let him down as he burst through one on one after gorgeous interplay between Okocha and Ricketts, and Jensen smothered both man and ball. Campbell shot across goal from a scrummy Okocha reverse pass. Henrik Pedersen, who had a superb night, then whizzed in a delectable cross which evaded Campbell’s sprint ‘n’ stretch by a stud length. The rapturous handclaps rang through the players’ ears as the half time whistle shrilled. What a first half display. Before the officiating insanity commenced, City were still on top, though Burnley had become more taut and only Andy Dawson, with a low, rainbow-shaped free kick, tested Jensen’s grip.
The two cards for Folan and Caldwell then came out, and Burnley almost took heart from the disruption with Andrew Cole hitting the bar with a close-range header. It was the nearest they’d come. Okocha then went, followed swiftly by Gudjonsson, and once Campbell was subbed, it was Pedersen who went up front in an obviously unorthodox 4-3-1 formation, aided by the fresher legs of subs Ryan France and Dean Marney, the latter of whom will now have much on his shoulders as a certain starter against Scunthorpe. The game was blessed with wide open spaces now, clearly, but Burnley had long given up and City were playing out the seconds.
The cards had killed the whole occasion off, but as City were winning and comfortable, it scarcely mattered. Already we could think about what the hell we’d do up front against Scunthorpe with Folan suspended and both Windass and Barmby injured. To give Mike Riley some slack, he probably got Folan right.
He certainly got the two Burnley dismissals right. Okocha’s marching orders were, however, decided upon through most surreal methods and only if the video shows absolute evidence of contact and intent should City not appeal. City’s position remains largely unaltered; just outside the play-offs with a game in hand, and a cup final for the primitive, simple people of Scunthorpe next. March really is going to make or break us.