Brilliant Burnley hold Chelsea
Burnley’s run of consecutive home wins might have come to an end yesterday but you wouldn’t have thought so judging from the reaction after our 1-1 draw against Chelsea.
This ‘free hit’ of a game saw us turn in arguably one of our finest performances in the Premier League, and this having gone behind to an early Pedro goal. We were level midway through the first half from a sensational Robbie Brady free kick on his home debut and if anything we might have been the ones to go on and win the game.
Five successive home wins in the Premier League. Add two FA Cup victories to that and it makes seven. But this time it was the runaway league leaders coming to Turf Moor, the team who must judges will tell you are points clear at the top because they are by far the best team in the league.
We joked all week about needing a horrible day weather wise. It’s been considered over the years that the London clubs don’t like travelling up here on these bad days, a theory Jimmy Greaves would often subscribe to. We sort of got it with the wind, the cold temperatures and the snow thrown in yet, to be fair, the only thing Chelsea complained about after the game was the poor quality of our pitch.
The temperatures had been dropping for a few days and the thermals were out and ready. I was down there really early and was impressed with the first Chelsea supporters I bumped into. They were three lads in their late teens looking at the Jerry Dawson picture recently installed and stopped me to ask about him and the others who are featured on the Bob Lord Stand. There was an older supporter with them who asked: “Have you not got McIlroy and Pointer on here?” When I said yes, he said he would go down to have a look.
It was almost a game of spot the ex-striker outside the ground. I saw bread bin builder Paul Fletcher and had a chat with Willie Irvine as Jimmy Robson walked past us. All had done what Brady was about to do; they’d all scored a top flight goal for Burnley against Chelsea.
The team news came through with Sean Dyche making two changes. One of them was forced on him as Jeff Hendrick started his suspension; it was no surprise that Ashley Westwood got his place for his home debut. There was also a home debut for Robbie Brady on the left in place of Scott Arfield who was on the bench.
Chelsea were unchanged. That meant we were up against such as David Luiz, N’Golo Kanté, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa.
That reference to ‘free hit’ is how we described this game, even more so with all of Hull, Crystal Palace and Sunderland having been beaten on the Saturday. Only Middlesbrough of the lowly clubs had picked anything up, securing a point with a 0-0 draw against Everton.
I don’t like losing games but had considered that a defeat here wouldn’t be a disaster. My only concern was that a heavy defeat could damage the confidence. Do you remember the 6-1 defeat against Manchester City in 2010? I should know better really; the current team is too good for that sort of thing to happen.
But it did not start well. Within no time at all Hazard had forced Tom Heaton into a save. They got through us too easily, and they repeated it in the seventh minute but this time there was no escape as Pedro took the ball past Michael Keane with his first touch and finished with his second. We were already 1-0 down and had certainly not suggested there was any easy answer to Chelsea’s start.
Antonio Conte, dressed for Burnley rather than in his Italian designer suit, was dancing up and down and enjoying his first visit to Turf Moor and the Chelsea fans were already sensing a twelve point lead at the top of the table. What they, or I, could not have known is that they would not get another shot on target all afternoon as Burnley gave them the game of their lives.
It took a while, it took a few promptings from manager Sean Dyche (or Daish should Martin Keown be reading this report), but we slowly and steadily started to get ourselves back into the game.
Ashley Barnes forced Thibaut Courtois into a save. It was routine but at least he showed we were fighting back. After another good move the same player, set up by George Boyd, fired wide. The game was changing. We certainly weren’t dominating but we’d got a grip on Chelsea and were now beginning to offer something ourselves.
Then came the big moment and it was good to see Nemanja Matic playing a central role. He needlessly fouled Joey Barton to give us a free kick. Matic, you will recall, was the player who completely lost the plot two years ago which led to Jose Mourinho taking over Sky television.
He was to pay for his indiscretion. While Brady and Barton discussed the options, referee Kevin Friend placed his far from straight white line on the pitch. He, Friend, seemed to have decided that Barton should take it given he was completely blocking Brady as he blew his whistle for it to be taken. He eventually shifted, and Brady announced his arrival at Burnley with a simply stunning free kick.
“What a strike, Courtois didn’t even smell it,” Jamie Carragher told the Sky viewers. We’re certainly putting together a collection of special goals this season and this was another to add to it. I can’t wait for the Goal of the Season vote. The media tell us that’s the first time Courtois has been beaten directly from a free kick in the Premier League, that shows how special it was.
We were more than back in this game. George Boyd saw an effort blocked by former Claret Gary Cahill and Chelsea were thankful to Courtois by the interval for them still being level after he saved well from Matt Lowton, one of only two outfield players to feature yesterday who haven’t scored for us this season, the other being Westwood.
It was superb stuff from Burnley and the final pass from Barton was exquisite. Coming just two days after the latest fiasco at Ibrox I think it is worth commenting yet again on what an influence he’s been since coming back to Burnley. When things weren’t looking too good for us yesterday, his cajoling, shouting and ordering about I felt was a real catalyst for the change in the game.
We might have gone in front early in the second half. Barnes broke clear down the right. His pass shouldn’t have found Andre Gray but it did courtesy of Luiz. Gray’s effort was too close to Courtois.
One thing was certain and that was a fight back from Chelsea. We got it too, they fired in shots from distance, they got men forward, but to a man we defended the whole thing brilliantly to the point that Heaton didn’t have a single shot to save.
They even threw on Cesc Fàbregas and we all know what he’s capable of given his previous two appearances at Turf Moor. He did fire one shot over. Then came Willian and finally Michy Batshuayi, but Burnley stood firmer than firm and when they fired over with a half chance around six minutes from the end they weren’t to offer any more.
Four minutes of stoppage time were added but we saw through that comfortably as well and Friend’s final whistle was greeted with roars from the home stands.
We’d just played the best, we’d just got a point against the best and turned in a performance to remember. It’s also the first time this season we’ve won any points having fallen behind in a game. The last time that happened in the Premier League was in that game at Chelsea in February two years ago.
“Brilliant, brilliant Brady,” said the BBC commentator when our equaliser went in, but this was brilliant, brilliant Burnley. I was gushing with praise after our last home game against Leicester but I believe this was at another level. It had to be to get anything against this Chelsea side.
I don’t want to tempt fate and I know we are anything but safe yet. However, it has to be said that this squad we have now is at a different level to those we’ve had previously in the Premier League.
We went into the game yesterday without the suspended Hendrick and without the injured Dean Marney and Steven Defour and yet we were more than a match for the team that are surely going to be crowned champions in May.
And we are still in the cup, so get ready for that next week.
I’ve said it before and will repeat it – this is a fantastic time to be a Burnley supporter. And if things go wrong, we could always get that Sean Daish bloke Keown was talking about, apparently he’s one of the best two managers in the Premier League alongside the over active Italian.
The teams were;
Burnley: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Ashley Westwood, Joey Barton, Robbie Brady (Scott Arfield 65), Ashley Barnes, Andre Gray (Sam Vokes 82). Subs not used: Paul Robinson, Jon Flanagan, Tendayi Darikwa, James Tarkowski, Johann Berg Gudmundsson.
Yellow Cards: Ashley Westwood, Matt Lowton, Joey Barton.
Chelsea: Thibaut Courtois, Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Gary Cahill, Victor Moses (Willian 72), N’Golo Kanté, Nemanja Matic (Cesc Fàbregas 67), Marcos Alonso, Pedro (Michy Batshuayi 87), Eden Hazard, Diego Costa. Subs not used: Asmir Begovic, Kurt Zouma, Nathan Aké, Nathaniel Chalobah.
Yellow Cards: David Luiz, Cesc Fàbregas.
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).
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