Clarets' blues

Burnley 1 Eyres 81 Portsmouth 2 Durnin pen 36, Symons 61 Attend ance 10,666
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The Independent Online
THERE CAN never have been a more demoralising time to be a Burnley supporter. Not only are their despised east Lancashire neighbours at Blackburn poised to win the Premiership title, but the Clarets, always so proud of coming from what is at heart a more passionate football town, slipped yesterday into the Second Division of the Endsleigh League.

Burnley's claim to a superior football culture has been based on a certain amount of firm evidence. It is hard to imagine Ewood Park packed for a game that could send Rovers into non-League football, for instance, or Turf Moor half- empty for a European tie. But the practical gap between the two old rivals now looks a lot wider than the 10 miles between their towns on the map

For most of a match against a side who started with relegation worries of their own, Burnley looked a desperately poor side, ragged and ill- disciplined. Although some frantic activity in the second half saw them hit the bar and the post, have a goal disallowed and a furious penalty appeal turned down, they were largely outplayed by a Portsmouth team which, for all its own struggles this season, was in a different league of sophistication.

A typically acute piece of play from Alan McLoughlin, the Republic of Ireland international who, along with Jason Rees, gave Portsmouth a midfield craft and cohesion Burnley could not match, produced the first goal. An exchange of passes with Paul Hall took McLoughlin into Burnley's penalty area and Steve Davis's clumsy tackle brought him down for John Durnin to score from the spot.

Forced by their situation to throw everything into attack in the second half, Burnley left themselves wide open to a counter-punch, which, when it arrived, duly floored them.

The 18-year-old Dion Burton, playing impressively at the front for Portsmouth, timed his pass to send his captain, Kit Symons, striding through from halfway. When he drew and beat Marlon Beresford, Portsmouth were safe and Burnley, once Sunderland were confirmed as winners, were relegated.

Burnley fans are renowned for their sticking power, but hundreds had left before their side staged a late rally, David Eyres scoring with 10 minutes to go when left unmarked in the heart of the Portsmouth penalty area.

For all their belated pressure, however, their only other concrete achievement was to have Jamie Hoyland sent off for a foul on Burton in the final stages.

Small wonder that Burnley have just staged the country's biggest blues festival. The Clarets woke up this morning as blue as a Blackburn shirt.