The ectasy and the agony

THE look on Clarke Carlisle’s face says it all.

But ecstasy turned to agony for the Clarets at Villa Park on Wednesday night, as Stewart Downing struck the winner for Premier League Aston Villa in the Carling Cup, after Carlisle’s late equaliser sent the tie to extra time.

Carlisle, however, was buoyed by the performance, and, looking ahead to a return to his old club QPR tomorrow, feels Burnley can use the positives from the night in their favour at the Championship leaders.

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He said: “There’s a lot of pride in the dressing room, we know we’ve done well.

“There’s mixed emotions because we’ve given a great account of ourselves, performed well and shown people what we’re capable of, but we’re out of the cup, and we felt we could have progressed to the quarter-finals and beyond.

“It’s tough, but we’ll reflect and get back to the day job.

“The performance sets things up for QPR, but I wouldn’t have expected anything less.

“The lads came here with no pressure, as underdogs at a Premier League side, and it gives you the freedom to express yourself.

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“But our focus is on QPR, and our recovery from here, and no matter what happened at Villa, I would expect a thorough performance at Loftus Road.”

Burnley arguably were the better side on the night at Villa, with Brad Friedel the stand-out performer for the hosts, pulling off a string of saves.

Carlisle – back in the side after completing a three-match suspension – said: “We feel more than aggrieved to have lost.

“It wasn’t just the effort and the industry, but the quality we showed for large parts of the game, to be the away side at Villa, and we really took the game to them.

“I thought we were excellent and very unfortunate.

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“I’d rather it had gone to penalties and lost than lose in extra time, because I feel we warranted more than to lose 2-1.”

The Clarets may well have pulled level in extra time, only for Wade Elliott to be unceremoniously pushed over by Marc Albrighton, who was sent off – sparking debate again about a fitting punishment for a professional foul.

Carlisle feels a sending-off is sufficient in such cases, however: “The punishment fits the crime because the man is sent off, and we had 20 minutes with an extra man. It was the right decision, I just think we could have utilised that extra man better.

“Tired legs, tired minds, we went a little bit route one when shifting the ball from side to side might have been more effective, but it’s easy to say that in hindsight.

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“When you’re out there, you know time’s running out and you need to get another goal.”

Carlisle, meanwhile, returns to Loftus Road tomorrow, where he spent four years and helped the club win promotion back to the Championship in 2004.

He said: “When you’ve been around a bit like me, almost every other week you’re going to an old club, but obviously I remember fondly my time at QPR, but they’re the opposition, there’s been a massive turnover of personnel, and they’ve overhauled the club.

“All the friendly memories I have...everyone else has shifted on as well, so I’ll be going there with a professional mindset to get three points, and put in a consummate performance if selected.”

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And he comes up against a manager who tried to sign him six years ago: “I’ve only met Neil Warnock once, the season I left QPR I spoke to him about going to Sheffield United, but I chose Leeds in the end.

“It was a tough decision, and more based on geography because I’d just come out of a tough period for myself, and the move wasn’t motivated by finance or my career, it was a place I needed to be, so I went to Leeds - my wife is from Leeds.

“He seemed a real nice guy, he’s a character, and you hear if he’s your manager, he looks after you really well.

“He’s doing a good job there and knows the division inside out, so I’m sure he’ll have them prepared, but we’ll take our A game down there and see what happens.”

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Two years ago Burnley went to QPR after beating Chelsea in the Carling Cup at Stamford Bridge after extra time and penalties, and they shrugged off the effects of a long night to win.

Carlisle hopes for more of the same tomorrow: “It spoke volumes about the squad. The dedication and professionalism and the commitment to the cause. It was all down to the unity we had at that time and the experience we had in the squad knew we could be open to an after Lord Mayor’s show syndrome and made sure it didn’t happen. We went into that game saying we should not let ourselves down. We knew it was going to be tough after 120 minutes and penalties at Chelsea but what we did do was go out, give 100% and the result went our way.”