Birmingham City 2, Burnley FC 1

IT seems little old Burnley have turned from media darlings into a figure of derision.

Tuesday, 4th May 2010, 11:25 am

As they home in on qualification for the Europa League through their Fair Play League placing - should Fulham lift the trophy itself next Wednesday in Hamburg - they seem to have offended the national press in the process.

One newspaper said the “idea of Brian Laws taking his team into the Europa League ...was faintly ridiculous”, “beyond comprehension” and “a travesty”.

You would think the club had made the rules up themselves.

Sign up to our daily Burnley Express Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Let’s have it right, whether right or wrong, UEFA, in their wisdom decided this was a fitting reward back in 1995, when their Fair Play ranking was used to grant three berths for the first qualifying round of their secondary competition.

Manchester City have twice been the beneficiaries, back in 2003 and in 2008, on the back of an 8-1 defeat at Middlesbrough, after finishing ninth on both occasions. Aston Villa have also got into Europe through the back door, along with Kilmarnock from Scotland.

And what about Millwall in 2004? They qualified as FA Cup Final losers, after an incredible giant-killing run, having beaten Walsall, Telford, Burnley, Tranmere and Sunderland!

This isn’t something Burnley have been banging the drum about, they will merely accept their fate as and when it is decided.

No-one can have any gripes if the club are to qualify.

And some of the suggestions that the Clarets are so high up the Fair Play League because they have not been competitiive - nonsense, they were relegated with two games remaining and they beat the champions - a defeat which may cost Manchester United a fourth-successive title.

Another paper said the team were “reluctant to put their foot into challenges in the second half of the campaign.”

That was a from a writer who felt Danny Fox should have been dismissed for “a two-footed lunge” on Stuart Parnaby - a tackle which won the ball fairly.

Again, aside from the Blackburn and Manchester City disappointments, any criticism of a lack of commitment is unfair.

It is simply not Burnley’s way. They haven’t been able to mix it in the Premier League with the more physical sides, but. having been praised for their refreshing approach to games, and the spirit they play in, people are now having a pop.

The national media’s “expert” analysis seems to be, win games and you’re great, lose games and you’re rubbish - the same papers who think Carl Cort and Gary Caldwell play for the club.

Anyway, who would begrudge Burnley a place in Europe with their history and tradition?

On Sunday, the club celebrated 50 years since Harry Potts’ heroes clinched the League Championship title at Maine Road - which sealed their first venture into Europe, in the Champions’ Cup.

And it was all about anniversaries at St Andrews as the hosts earned three points to all but ensure their best finish since 1959, as they celebrated 50 years since becoming the first English club to reach a European final - losing to Barcelona in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.

But, on the focus of fair play, a lack of red cards was probably the only bright spot after another away defeat - a 17th, which sets a new Premier League record in a season, bettering Watford and Derby’s efforts - as well as a record number of away goals conceded with 52. And another game without a clean sheet - 26 since the 2-0 win over Hull on Hallow’een - is a new top-flight record.

This latest reverse summed up Burnley’s efforts on the road this season - pockets of good possession and chances, before abject defending and bad fortune set in.

The Clarets bossed the ball at St Andrews in the opening half-hour, but were unable to craft any real openings to test Joe Hart.

And familiar shortcomings led to the opener on 29 minutes as neither Fox nor David Nugent closed down Seb Larsson, and his cross was flicked on by Lee Bowyer ahead of Jack Cork, with Cameron Jerome’s effort inadvertently turned in by the heel of Brian Jensen, for what will go down as an own goal.

And four minutes from the break, Steven Fletcher should have been awarded a free kick as Roger Johnson grappled with him from behind.

However, the ball was pumped up field, and Steven Caldwell beat Jerome to the ball to concede a corner, or so he thought - with Jerome backing his version of events.

The linesman - despite players blocking his view of the incident, gave a free kick with a far more encouraging angle, and James McFadden’s kick was headed back by Johnson for Chucho Benitez to chest in his first goal at home.

The defending was woeful, with Johnson, with his aerial prowess, allowed to peel off to the back post untracked and unchallenged.

The Clarets came out and had a go in the second half, and, as against Wolves and Sunderland, substitute Steven Thompson came on to half the deficit late on, with an expert finish.

Little magician Robbie Blake and Cork combined to release the Scot, played onside by Gregory Vignal, and his first touch set him up for a composed slot across Hart.

An equaliser wasn’t forthcoming however, but, again, Thompson had made a strong case for a new contract. His attitude this season, be it in the reserves or in his fleeting appearances in the first team, has been first class, and he has made a big difference when introduced in games.

He is one of a number of players whose services must be retained if the club are to mount a challenge next season.

The boss said: “We’ve got another game to get out of the way and then we’ll sit the players down individually and talk about their futures.”

It appears bridges need building with a few of them if they are to be convinced to stay.