Young Reading fan Sam Keogh was the winner of The Football League's Junior Reporter Competition for the Championship, winning himself a trip to Wembley to report on the Coca-Cola Championship Play-Off Final for the Football League website. Here is his excellent report of the match.
COCA-COLA CHAMPIONSHIP PLAY-OFF FINAL
Monday 25th May 2009
Kick off: 3pm
Click here for team line-ups
After 33 long, dull and money stricken years Burnley yesterday found themselves propelled back into the big time after a season nothing short of a fairytale. The club's new motto; "Dare to dream" had been introduced this season as next season will be the 50th anniversary since Burnley were last crowed champions of England. A solitary stunner from Burnley's wing wizard Wade Elliot proved enough for Owen Coyle's classy Clarets to overturn Kevin Blackwell's lacklustre Blades in the world's richest game in football.
Two weeks of arranging, excitement and anxiety were finally over. Four hours prior to kick off, Olympic Way became an endless stream of Claret and Red, slowly filtering their way up the ramps and ascending round the feet of the Sir Bobby Moore statue. Each individual taking photographs along the way, absorbing and losing themselves in those special moments.
With kick off just a few minutes away fans waved countless souvenir flags in the warm May air. The sun streamed gloriously down from a break in the overcast clouds to greet the two sides onto the pitch. Both sets of supporters roared into life as the deafening atmosphere inside the national stadium hit an almighty climax.
The players then finally emerged from the tunnel, making their way onto the red carpet and proudly stood for the National Anthem, before taking to the pitch and stood restlessly waiting to get going.
Burnley got the game underway and the two teams opted to play the ball out to the wings to inspire some creativity. This plan didn't seem to work as the opening few minutes of the game were very cagy, both teams trying not to be the first to make a mistake. Sheffield United were the only team trying to get forward and the first shot of the match went their way. A deflection on the edge of the area had seen the ball bobble up nicely for Kyle Walker, but his shot on the half volley was tame and went straight into the hands Burnley keeper Brian "the beast" Jensen.
On thirteen minutes came the goal. Wade Elliot was the man who finally plucked up the courage and rampaged forward down the middle after picking up the ball from inside his own half, riding every challenge thrown at him. Hurtling down on the edge of the United box, Elliot laid the ball on for an advancing Chris McCann who stumbled. While trying desperately to latch onto the ball it stuck Matt Kilgallon and rolled straight back to Wade Elliot, who hit the ball first time with a sweetly struck right footed effort which had it all; curl, venom and dip before nestling inside the top left hand corner well out of the reach of the helpless Paddy Kenny. The goal sparked wild celebrations from Clarets fans and a moment to savour for Elliot; the game was now with the underdogs.
A scare for Burnley came just two minutes later; Brian Howard collided with Graham Alexander on the edge of the box. Howard looked to the ref appealing for a penalty but Mike Dean simply waved him away and gave a corner. A blow for Burnley followed when Chris McCann hobbled off on 28 minutes following a knock. Joey Gudjonsson filled in his place. Burnley then proved their attacking credentials with two more great opportunities before half time. First Martin Patterson showed a glimpse of why he is Burnley's record signing, cutting inside of Kyle Naughton from 20 yards out and curled in a beautiful left footer which looked destined for the top left corner only to see it whisper past the post. Patterson was then involved again, combining with Gudjonsson before Elliot's cross to the back post was headed narrowly wide by Thompson.
The second half started as the first half had finished, Burnley well and truly on top. United kept on putting half-hearted balls into the box, looking for the towering presence of Greg Halford, but the hero in the Play-Off Semi-Final seemed nothing but a shadow of his former self and the two centre backs, Carlisle and Duff were able to head every attack away.
During a ten minute spell in the second half, Robbie Blake and Gudjonsson had moments to forget. Firstly a sweeping counter by Burnley left a three on three attacking situation on the United goal. Patterson put the ball in to the back post and Thompson un-selfishly headed it back across goal where Gudjonsson had the easy task of sticking the ball in the back of the net. With Burnley fans convinced they were about to go two up, Gudjonsson slipped and his shot was cleared off the line by Montgomery. Robbie Blake also missed a great chance after Thompson played the ball to the back post after a run deemed on-side by the linesman.
Sheffield United had another penalty claim turned down by Mike Dean after Kyle Naughton had a run blocked off by Kalvenes. With time running out, Jamie Ward then got himself into the record books for completely wrong reasons. A second deliberate handball saw Mike Dean give the frustrated striker a second yellow card, the first ever sending off in a Championship Play-Off final; quite an achievement considering Ward had only come on 20 minutes earlier.
Time was fast running out. Blackwell brought on Lupoli and Lee Hendrie for inspiration, but it was too little too late. Five minutes of injury time was still not enough to salvage the game for the Blades and one last ball into the box was gathered by Brian Jensen, which was greeted by huge yells of BBEEAASSTT!! from the relieved Burnley fans. With one last look at the watch Mike Dean, the Cheshire ref blew his whistle for full time, it was the end for Sheffield United, but not for Lee Hendrie, whose comments aimed at the ref earned him a straight red. In contrast, the final whistle was greeted with a huge roar from the Burnley fans in a mass of ecstasy and tears of joy.
Stephen Caldwell led Burnley up the famous Wembley steps to lift the trophy and back down again. For 20 minutes the Burnley end of the ground was complete madness, while the rest of England were trying to come to terms with the fact that Burnley were now a Premier League side and the smallest town to ever be a premier league side as Burnley Chairman, Barry Kilby and manager, Owen Coyle were very quick to point out during the press conference. The population of Burnley is 70,000, 36,000 travelled down to the game, that's over half of Burnley in Wembley stadium!
Burnley's success is another in a growing chain of recent shock promotions. The last 5 years has seen Wigan, Reading and Hull make top flight debuts as well as Stoke, and now Burnley, returning to the Promised land after long spells out. Barry Kilby commented that the £60 million he has now gained since the win "will take some getting used to!"
Burnley have already beaten the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Fulham and Spurs this year in cup runs; everyone involved in football will be looking forward to seeing how the Clarets will fare next season, especially as some of the football they have played this season has been worthy of winning any game in any league in the world.
So, how will Burnley do? Will they sink, swim, or might they just Wade their way through the Premier League?
BY SAM KEOGH
The Football League's Junior Reporter Competition was run as part of the Fans of the Future Campaign. For more information please click here.