City 1, Burnley 2
Barry Conlon must wish that the pre-season never ends.
The hard-working targetman couldn’t buy a goal at times last year but suddenly he cannot stop scoring.
Conlon’s well-taken finish at Valley Parade last night was his third in four friendly outings; not to mention the legitimate-looking one he had chalked off against Motherwell.
Stuart McCall reckoned this would be a game to stretch City to the limit. And he got his wish.
City were pushed extremely hard, with the 16-1 corner count emphasising the pattern of play, but they dug in until Burnley came up with a last-minute winner.
It was a tough but worthwhile work-out – particularly for Rhys Evans.
As the big kick-off looms, the keeper hopes to be the answer to McCall’s keeper search. His performance against the lively Clarets will surely have given the manager a mighty nudge.
Burnley have got a cosmopolitan look about them these days.
Owen Coyle has made six summer signings, including a goalkeeper from Peru, Norwegian left back and an uncompromising Dutch midfielder who played in the Champions’ League semi-finals under Guus Hiddink three years ago. Not to mention a Latvian trialist playing on the left wing.
But there was one very familiar face in their ranks: Robbie Blake. He cuts a more streamline figure now, apparently losing eight pounds since last season, but that old swagger about his play remains and he was soon pulling the strings just behind strike partner Martin Paterson.
Talking of class, Paul McLaren wasted little time in proving why Valley Parade has always been one of his favourite grounds.
Paul Heckingbottom’s free-kick was knocked out of the Burnley box and McLaren latched on to it from 25 yards. His half-volley flew past keeper Diego Penney but former Leeds centre half Clarke Carlisle was on the line to deny him.
Burnley operated a shoot-on-sight policy in the early stages and Evans made an excellent one-handed stop low down from youngster Alex MacDonald – the first of a string of key saves.
The on-trial keeper followed that up with another good stop from Paterson after Blake’s deft touch had created the space.
Blake was beginning to run the show and delivered a free-kick to the back post that was begging to be finished by Carlisle.
Willy Topp tested Penney before another twist and turn from Blake left Paul Arnison chasing shadows.
Everything from Burnley was coming through Blake and he beat Matt Clarke before setting up Alex Solovjovs, who nudged into the side-netting.
Burnley were clocking up the efforts on goal – but it was City who grabbed the lead as half-time approached thanks to good old route one and some shocking defending.
A long punt upfield from Heckingbottom should have been comfortably dealt with by Stephen Jordan but the centre half allowed the ball to bounce and Conlon anticipated perfectly to slip behind him and calmly lob over Penney.
As Conlon maintained his pre-season hot streak, Evans continued to look the part at the other end and produced nifty footwork to dribble away from danger as Paterson looked for an immediate response.
It was an open game for the 2,227 crowd to enjoy, though the sizeable Burnley contingent must have been wondering how their club was behind at the break.
The second half began in familiar fashion, with Joey Gudjonsson testing Evans low down. Then Blake took off again, ghosting between Heckingbottom and Clarke before dragging an effort wide.
The pressure was increasing and Burnley struck back from a corner – their tenth in 55 minutes – as Blake’s kick was nodded home by one-time City loanee Steve Caldwell with the home defence static.
Blake delivered his poorest corner so far but it nearly produced a second goal as the ball ran out invitingly to Alan Mahon. He looked to place a left-footer in the top corner but Evans was equal to it with a fine tip-over.
Heckingbottom was inches away from restoring City’s lead with a dipping free-kick but the momentum remained the other way and Evans once more saved the day from Mahon before clutching Ade Akinbiyi’s near-post header.
Akinbiyi left Clarke trailing – and appealing in vain for a foul – before crossing low for Solovjovs, whose cheeky back heel was smothered on the line by the keeper.
City finally managed a corner after 72 minutes but it was only catching practice for Penney. The danger remained in the home penalty area where Graham Alexander floated a chip wide after spotting Evans off his line.
Not to be outdone by the other full back, Christian Kalvenes whipped in a cross-cum-shot which Evans turned over the bar at full stretch.
But Evans was finally beaten again in the final minute as Jones flicked home inside the near post from Gudjonsson’s cross.