PL25: Allardyce’s warriors triumph in a Lancashire hotpot of a derby

To celebrate 25 years of the Premier League each week in Football Fancast we’re going to be looking back at a memorable game that took place on the corresponding date. This time out we revisit a tempestuous east Lancs derby laden with goals.

From the moment Wade Elliott’s Play-Off final goal at Wembley in 2009 secured Burnley passage to the Premier League a large tract of Lancashire was thinking of one thing only – the first top flight ‘Cotton Mill derby’ for 43 years. For Blackburn supporters it was the solitary silver lining to an otherwise disastrous development that had seen their nearest and bitterest rivals join them in the highest echelon. For Burnley fans the prospect of going toe-to-toe with neighbours who had lorded a title and riches over them in recent times was the cherry on top of a realised dream.

The fixture list scheduled October 18th to be the date when these two fierce rivals – both founding members of the Football League – would meet which gave Rovers plenty of time to struggle out of the blocks gaining just seven points from their opening seven games. Overly reliant on the midfield dynamism of David Dunn this was anything but a vintage Blackburn side and a pale imitation of the one that challenged at the top during the Jack Walker era. If Sam Allardyce’s men looked to Dunn for their inspiration Owen Coyle’s side turned to the ferocious hothouse of Turf Moor for theirs with four wins from four at home as they experienced the heady thrill of competing as equals against Manchester United and the rest. Away from Turf Moor it was a different story altogether with four straight losses which boded badly for them since this highly anticipated local dust-up was being held at Ewood Park.

Just five minutes in however and the script was tore up. Amidst a feverish atmosphere that had built up a whole hour before kick-off Burnley started the brightest and when Robbie Blake found space out on the left he rampaged forward, cut inside and unleashed a twenty yarder low to Paul Robinson’s right. Cue an explosion of ecstasy from the Darwen End and such furious gnashing of chewing gum from Allardyce – one day away from celebrating his 55th birthday – that the Jack Walker Stand trembled. It was game on.

If this was a workmanlike Blackburn team in comparison to its predecessors there was compensation in its honesty and in Nelson, Samba, Nzonzi, and Andrews – all topped off by the gnarly horribleness of Diouf up front – there was an abundance of players whose attributes very much synced with the demands of a derby. Then there was Dunn who once again came to his hometown’s rescue with an individual equaliser just four minutes after falling behind. Better yet for the home side their talisman went on to influence proceedings for the remainder of a first half that saw two further goals as Blackburn recovered in some style and led 3-1 at the break.

The second period heralded little respite as the game continued to be played at a frenetic pace. It was a wonder there were no more goals until a consolation from Chris Eagles in the 92nd minute. It was a miracle there were no red cards, just a smattering of cautions. As everyone hoped it was a proper, earthy, old-fashioned, nasty and tasty Cotton Mill Derby.

If the narrative of the game has been somewhat whizzed through on this occasion there is a reason. Because a banner displayed in the away end on the final whistle deserves a paragraph all of its own. Unfurled in defeat to remind the victorious home support of their respective league placings the defaced bedsheet read “Burnley FC – Beaten but still above you lot”.

At first glance the banner prompts a chuckle until you consider that it was made before the game itself; before a ball or winger had been kicked. A fatalist harbinger of inevitable doom the banner said everything about the inferiority complex built up over thirty years of not getting one over on their east Lancashire rivals. In that respect Burnley were beaten before they took to the pitch.

What happened next?

Owen Coyle’s shock departure for Bolton in January derailed a club already mired in a relegation fight. They exited the Premier League after one season after giving it – and us – a great deal of drama and excitement.

Blackburn’s mid-table finish perfectly represented a perfectly average side. They won their battles, they drew their war.