Burnley 3, Norwich 0

CHRIS LAKEY Can there be a worse way to prepare for the biggest visit of the year? As if losing at Turf Moor wasn't enough, Peter Grant has to pick a side for Ipswich's visit on Sunday from a group of players who are dropping likes flies with injuries.


Burnley 3, Norwich 0: Can there be a worse way to prepare for the biggest visit of the year?

As if losing at Turf Moor wasn't enough, Peter Grant has to pick a side for Ipswich's visit on Sunday from a group of players who are dropping likes flies with injuries.

His preparations for last night were tough enough, but when Darren Huckerby limped out of contention just minutes before kick-off with a back problem, it seemed the footballing gods were having a laugh at his expense.

An hour and a half later the injury worries were joined by a defeat against a team who are now all but safe from the Championship drop after a match that had “end of the season” written all over it from a Canaries perspective.

If there are excuses it is the injury list, which comprises 11 first team squad members - and then there are four others out on loan.

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Huckerby's omission caught most by surprise and his absence with a back problem wasn't evident until kick-off - and minutes later when he was spotted walking gingerly down the touchline.

That gave 16-year-old Kris Renton his first start, alongside Chris Martin, after his record-breaking appearance at Leicester on Saturday, with fellow teenager Patrick Bexfield, 18, promoted to the bench where he joined yet another of the City kids, 17-year-old Bally Smart - both featuring for the first time.

Andy Hughes moved to right back from midfield in the absence of Jurgen Colin, with Robert Eagle starting on the left of a midfield four.

Jason Shackell shook off a weekend knock to partner Dion Dublin in the heart of City's attack, but once again Robert Earnshaw had to settle for a place on the bench.

Clarets boss Steve Cotterill recalled former Canaries striker Ade Akinbiyi to replace Paul McVeigh, who is on loan from Norwich and ineligible to play against his parent club.

Tony Warner called into the action after just four minutes, grabbing a cross off the top of Akinbiyi's head, but it was City who came closest in the opening stages, Robert Eagle swinging a perfect free kick in from the left for Dion Dublin to catch with a first time sidefoot volley that rattled the crossbar.

Burnley's route to goal was clearly going to be through Wade Elliottt down the right flank, with right back Michael Duff always in close attendance.

Renton showed he wasn't going to be overawed by the big occasion by bowling Eric Djemba-Djemba over as they challenged for the ball in the centre circle.

Lee Croft did well to get a foot in to stop Jon Harley's cross from the left, with Elliott putting his header from the resulting corner a yard wide.

Elliott was in the thick of the action on 11 minutes, firing a shot just over from 20 yards after good work by Jones.

Warner was forced into a quick decision after Dublin skewed a clearance in his own area, the keeper's acrobatic kick on his own line causing amusement among the home fans.

But for City fans behind the goal there was the more serious business of seeing Burnley beginning to spend far too much time in the visitors' half.

Luckily for City, Burnley's final pass - usually by Elliott - was either poor, or cut out by a defender, but the warning sign was the pressure that was mounting, with only the occasional break from City.

Chris Martin sent in a shot from distance on 20 minutes - but it turned out to be the only shot on target that Burnley keeper Brian Jensen had to deal with in the first half.

James O'Connor tried to place an effort past Warner from 20 yards but was wide of the target as Burnley began to ruffle more than a few feathers.

Djemba-Djemba fired a free-kick wide after Andy Hughes had fouled Harley - which earned the City man a booking - before Burnley were finally rewarded for their attacking instincts on 29 minutes.

Inevitably it was Akinbiyi who got it - only his second in the Championship since rejoining Burnley in January - and inevitably it came from their right flank, with Duff's excellent cross met perfectly by the ex-City man from eight yards.

Minutes later Martin blew a great chance to level it. Dickson Etuhu played in Croft down the right and the wide man got the better of Harley before cutting the ball back to Martin on the edge of the box - only for the England Under-19 international to blast his first-time effort high over Jensen's crossbar.

Akinbiyi was off balance when he shot wide of Warner's left post on 40 minutes - a brief respite from a game that was fast deteriorating as any kind of spectacle for either set of fans, but particularly those who had travelled to this part of the world for the second time this season .

Renton headed Hughes cross wide of the target as half-time approached as City tried to get their passing game together.

It was too little, too late, but City's consolation was that they still had

45 minutes left against a team proving why they were even lower in the table than the Canaries.

Akinbiyi clearly had a different view as he strode into the penalty area but somehow hit the ball to his left rather than over Warner, which seemed the logical thing for a striker to do. It was becoming that sort of night, with quality a rare commodity.

When it first emerged - eight minutes after the break, it was Martin who supplied it, working well with Etuhu before guiding a shot from 20 yards which curled just wide of Jensen's left post.

At the other end Akinbiyi turned and shot straight into the grateful hands of Warner - who almost paid a heavy price for a poor kick-out - while the keeper did well to save James O'Connor's carefully-placed shot down to his left on 64 minutes.

While class was still at a premium, at least Burnley were getting efforts on goal, which was more than could be said for City, but at least they had mitigating circumstances for their lack of cohesion given their injury list.

There was another injury worry on 67 minutes when Dublin limped off with what appeared to be a problem with his right ankle: the magic sponge solved it, but no doubt the veteran will be wrapped in cotton wool before Sunday's visit of Ipswich.

Jensen was finally called into action, an easy stop from Martin's left-foot shot, as the game began became ill-tempered, Croft incurring the fans' wrath with a couple of falls, before Grant sent on Earnshaw in an attempt to rescue a point or more.

Some excellent footwork in the box livened it up for the visiting fans before Etuhu shot wide, but it was Jason Shackell who almost provided a shock equaliser after a mazy run which took him 30 yards into the area - before he shot narrowly wide.

Martin saw a shot blocked at the near post with 10 minutes left and from Croft's corner Dublin had a header flicked over by Jensen. City, with Dublin now up front, were finally enjoying some good pressure.

And then came the killer blow - O'Connor fending off Renton's challenge before firing in a long-range effort which came back off a post, leaving Andy Gray the easiest of chances with an empty net only five yards away.

Smart got his debut straight away, with Dublin going off - and with him went any hopes City had of retrieving anything.

The misery was complete with two minutes left, Harley's cross fired home from 10 yards by Elliott.

t Burnley: Jensen, Duff, Thomas, Caldwell, Harley, James O'Connor, Elliott, Djemba-Djemba, Jones (McCann 84), Gray (Spicer 89), Akinbiyi (Lafferty 76). Subs: Coyne, Coughlan. Bookings: Caldwell, 56, foul on Croft. Goals: Akinbiyi 29, Gray 85, Elliott 88.

t Norwich: Warner 6, Hughes 5, Dublin 8 (Smart 86), Shackell 7, Drury 6, Croft 6, Spillane 6, Etuhu 7, Eagle 5 (Earnshaw 72), Martin 6, Renton 7. Subs: Gallacher, Cave-Brown, Bexfield. Bookings: Hughes, 24, foul on Djemba-Djemba.

t EDP Man of the match: Dion Dublin - defended well, and had two great efforts on goal

t Ref: Martin Atkinson

t Attendance: 9,681

t Time added on: 1min/2min

t Shots on: Burnley 5, Norwich 4.

t Shots off: Burnley 5, Norwich 5.

t Corners: Burnley 5, Norwich 4.

t Fouls: Burnley 9, Norwich 11.

t Offsides: Burnley 0, Norwich 2.