Friday 19 January 2018

Clarets dream of safety after Alexander hits the spot

Kilbane 3
Paterson 35, Alexander pen 64, pen 70, Elliott 90

Simon Turnbull

GRAHAM ALEXANDER is not the first set-piece king to come out of Coventry.

Alexander, the great penalty practitioner, was born there in October 1971, 12 months after Willie Carr and Ernie Hunt executed their celebrated “donkey kick” for Coventry City against Everton at Highfield Road. That was a free-kick teed-up by Carr nipping the ball between his ankles, flicking it behind him and up into the air for Hunt to crash home a dipping volley. Harry Catterick, Everton’s manager at the time, said it was “like something out of a circus” and FIFA banned it.

Thankfully for Burnley and their manager, Brian Laws, Alexander’s penalty trick is perfectly legal and remains unfathomable to opposition goalkeepers.

This cut-throat relegation rumble was tied at 1-1 until the native Coventrian stepped up to perform his party piece midway through the second half – not just once, but twice.

The gaze fixed on the ball and the straight runup to the spot betrayed not the slightest directional hint to Boaz Myhill.

First time around, the Hull City goalkeeper dived left as Alexander drilled a toe-poke of a shot into the bottom-right corner. Six minutes later he was beaten again, Burnley’s midfield anchorman toe-ending another kick to the right, this time with a little elevation.

The Clarets were 3-1 up and on their way to a victory to savour following a week of headlines about dressing room unrest. The odds remain stacked against Burnley beating the drop. They are above Hull on goal difference but four points from the safety zone with just four matches to play.

Still, having picked up their first away win in the top-flight since April 1976, they have given themselves “a fighting chance,” as Laws put it.

They might win their fight if they can keep supplying Alexander with ammunition from the spot. His penalty conversion rate is seven out of seven this season, an outstanding 73 out of 78 in his career.

“It’s not just coincidence,” Laws reflected. “Like all great professionals, he practises. He takes a lot of penalties during the week, hitting the back of the net on a consistent basis.”

For the Burnley manager, having taken a few hits himself (not least from the out-of-favour Joey Gudjonsson, who accused him of “losing the dressing room”), it was the sweetest of victories.

“It’s been a very tough week,” Laws acknowledged. “But the players have responded in the right manner. Stupid as it may sound, I might even look back on the thumping from Man City as a blessing in disguise.”

Hull (4-4-2): Myhill; McShane (Geovanni, 67), Sonko, Mouyokolo, Dawson (Barmby, 50); Mendy, Boateng, Bullard, Kilbane; Fagan (Vennegoor of Hesselink, 75), Altidore. Substitutes not used: Duke (gk), Folan, Marney, Cairney.

Burnley (4-1-4-1): Jensen; Mears, Cort, Duff (Caldwell, 85), Fox; Alexander; Paterson, Cork, Elliott, Nugent (Thompson, 90); Fletcher (Bikey, 81). Substitutes not used: Weaver (gk), Carlisle, Blake, Eagles.

Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).

Booked: Hull Altidore, Fagan, Barmby, Boateng, Mendy; Burnley Mears.

Man of the match: Alexander.

Attendance: 24,369.

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