Ouch. That stung.
Football’s ability to bring you crashing back to Earth if, or when, you’ve been getting overly giddy rarely fails.
Two four-goal wins in two games had us believing that David Wagner had sprinkled over Colney some of the same magic dust he used so successfully at Huddersfield, but Vincent Kompany’s Burnley took no time at all to knock that mad notion on the head.
There will be no fairytale.
The Clarets’ ruthless exposure of City’s defensive fragilities was a stark reminder of what a good team looks like and how far we are from being one.
Being flat-track bullies is fine if your aim is to hover around the top six with the hope of sneaking into one of the playoff places, but to give yourself even a sniff of the automatics you have to be able to go toe-to-toe with the best in the division. And we’re not good enough to.
In case you’re wondering, our record against the current top six is…
- West Brom (h) – Draw 1-1
- Watford (a) – Lost 1-2
- Luton (h) – Lost 0-1
- Sheffield United (a) – Draw 2-2
- Burnley (a) – Lost 0-1
- Middlesbrough (h) – Lost 1-2
- Luton (a) – Lost 1-2
- Watford (h) – Lost 0-1
- Burnley (h) – Lost 0-3
And for the record…
- Goal For – 6
- Goals Against -15
- Total Points – 2
Then, of course, there’s the conundrum known as Carrow Road – one league win in their last ten.
Dean Smith was clearly a problem and was, eventually, addressed but, as has been said many times, wasn’t the only problem. Another was that this squad, when exposed to quality teams, isn’t good enough to beat them.
But, as painful as it was, Wagner will have learned more from yesterday’s horror show than he did from the two comfortable wins. He’ll now know more about those who can handle the heat when the stakes are at their highest and those who can’t.
It was also a reminder to him, as if he needed reminding, of how error-prone and, at times, lily-livered this group can be.
Wagner can do little to change what he has to work with between now and the end of the season, but some cards will have been marked for when he gets down to the post-season squad assessment.
One of the big decisions will have to be around the goalkeeping position and, let’s face it, the future of Tim Krul.
The Dutchman has been brilliant for this club, let’s not forget that, and has been front and centre of some wonderful moments, but his return to the side in place of Angus has been an uncomfortable watch.
His experience and command of those in front of him are presumably why Wagner handed him the shirt ahead of Gunn Jr, but his awkwardness with the ball at his feet is becoming ever more apparent. He got away with a couple against Preston and Coventry – either bailing himself out or being bailed out by others – but not so yesterday.
His eighth-minute cock-up, following a start in which we were already under pressure, set the tone for the afternoon. And playing catch-up against a team of Burnley’s quality rarely ends well.
All ifs and buts of course, but despite being under the pump early on, if it stays at 0-0 and City eventually gain a foothold in the game then who knows how it could have played out.
Those key moments are on which the outcome of a game hinges. Tim knows that and won’t be able to explain why he did what he did in that split-second.
There’s no escaping though that we were second-best all afternoon. At 3-0 up, the Clarets went into containment mode and so it was clear City would have more of the ball in the latter stages, but it was game over well before then.
All in all, it was a painful lesson learned for head coach, players, and supporters. One for which the only option is to dust ourselves down, remind ourselves that we don’t have to play teams of Burnley’s quality every week, and try and right some of the wrongs at Bristol City next Saturday.
We said it would be a useful yardstick. Now we know.
And one can’t help but admire the work done at Turf Moor. A club that found itself relegated alongside us last summer has managed to reinvent itself and is now wholly unrecognisable from the one nurtured for the best part of a decade by Sean Dyche.
The perfect example of how to do it.
For us, there’s now an uphill battle ahead to make the top six. Yesterday’s defeat saw us drop to tenth and having played a game more than two of the teams above us – Millwall (7th) and Blackburn (8th) – there isn’t too much room for any more Burnley-type performances.
That we only have three games left against the current top six can only be a good thing but, of those teams now above us, we still have to go to Blackburn and Millwall, and entertain Sunderland.
If we did somehow manage to squeak into the top six, that stinking record against the good sides would need to be rectified and sharpish.
But, as the saying goes, we go again… at Bristol City. Let’s make sure yesterday was merely a blip on an otherwise upward curve.