LATICS attracted a record home League attendance for this keenly awaited top-of-the-table clash – and then suffered a terrible bout of stage fright!
A crowd of 11.986 passed through the JJB Stadium’s turnstiles, but the home faithful were forced to squirm in their seats for the first half-hour as Burnley gave John Benson’s boys the run-around.
In that opening 30 minutes, Latics fell behind, couldn’t string two passes together, and rarely got within sight of the visitors’ goal.
Thankfully, they started to rediscover their form in the minutes leading upto the interval, and Simon Haworth’s 12th goal of the campaign levelled things up.
After such a dreadful first half showing, Latics went on to enjoy the majority of the play in the second, but couldn’t find the killer in front of goal.
Burnley, too, had a couple of late chances to snatch victory, although at the final whistle both sides appeared content with a share of the spoils.
That’s 19 unbeaten in the League now for Latics, and the club record of 21 could be matched before Christmas if results at Scunthorpe next week and at home to Brentford on December 18 are favourable.
More importantly, they are still leading the division, albeit on goal difference – and are averaging a shade over 2 points a game.
That’s promotion form in anyone’s books if it’s continued over the course of the season, even if the actual displays aren’t quite matching up tp anyone’s expectations.
The opening exchanges of this derby clash were tense and scrappy, with theevents off the pitch grabbing most of the attention.
Overcrowding in the North Stand holding the 5,000 Burnley supporters saw a section of them force their into the as yet unopened East Stand.
A small group made their way across the stand to goad the Latics fans at the other end of the ground, and it took most of the first half for stewards and police to restore order.
On the pitch, Burnley midfielder Paul Cook was booked for a crude tackle on Andy Liddell after just nine minutes, while most of the action centred on the Latics goalmouth.
Steve Davis headed a cross form Glen Little wide of the target, while the returning Roy Carroll had to punch a cross from Cook behind for a corner with Gordon Armstrong closing in.
But it was that flag-kick which led to Burnley taking the lead after 17 minutes.
Cook drilled over the corner, Carroll came off his line to try and punch clear but failed to make contact, and the ball dropped to Little on the far side of the box.
He chipped the ball back into the middle with Carroll still out of position, ANDY PAYTON rose to head home from six yards.
Latics suffered a further blow six minutes later when Kevin Sharp was forced to leave the pitch with a broken nose, Darren Sheridan coming off the bench to take up the left-wing-back’s role.
As the half went on, Latics started to find their feet and Stuart Barlow had their first shot of the game in the 31st minute – his 25-yard effort smacking into the chest of keeper Paul Crichton.
At the other end, Cook whistled a long-range drive just wide of the near-post, while a free-kick from Davis struck the wall and went for a corner.
With half-time approaching and the home fans preparing to voice their disapproval, Latics equalised after 41 minutes.
A quickly taken throw-in from Scott Green on the right wing found Barlow on the side of the box.
He crossed low into the middle and slack marking allowed HAWORTH to turn sharply and fire a shot past Crichton from seven yards.
That was the Welshman’s fourth goal in three games since his return from injury, and his overall contribution to the game suggests that he is nearing his best form.
With the goal in the locker and no doubt a few home truths from Benson in the dressing room, Latics looked a different side in the second half.
Just 21 seconds had been played when Liddell’s cross found Barlow in the middle, but he got his angles all wrong and steered a header well wide of the far post.
Haworth saw a shot blocked by a defender after a pass from Green had set him up, while O’Neill volleyed straight at Crichton after the visitors had only half cleared a Sheridan free kick.
Barlow, looking for a seventh league goal in as many games, curled a shot wide of the post from the edge of the area after an hour, and should have added to his remarkable tally nine minutes later.
A slide-rule pass from Haworth carved open the Burnley defence putting Barlow through on goal. He reached the pass a yard inside the box and lifted the ball over Crichton who was diving at his feet, but the effort dropped agonisingly the wrong side of the woodwork.
In the 73rd minute, a cross from the industrious Liddell picked out substitute Roberto Martinez at the near post, but his shot was beaten away by Crichton for a corner.
Much of the play was being channelled through Liddell who was playing a role wide on the right in an attempt to exploit Burnley left back Armstrong’s lack of pace.
And when Armstrong was replaced by Graham Branch – normally a speedy winger – the idea to switch him from his usual striker’s role looked spot on.
Latics were given a fright four minutes later when Little broke clear down the left wing, shrugged off the challenge of Green, and aimed a cross to the far post.
Payton stole a yard on the defence but couldn’t quite get his head to the ball.
Late pressure from Latics saw Arjan de Zeeuw head a free-kick from Liddell over the bar, while Crichton managed to grab a low cross from Liddell at the foot of the post with Green homing in.
But the draw was almost snatched away from them in the second minute of stoppage time.
Payton’s cross from the right found substitute Alan Lee unmarked in the middle but with nearly the whole goal to aim at, he headed striahgt into the arms of a grateful Carroll from close range.
Match Report by Dave Seddon – Wigan Evening Post