Clarets edge closer at sunny Teesside
Burnley moved a point closer to safety yesterday with a well earned point from a 0-0 draw against Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium, a result that suited us much more than it did the struggling home side who remain next to bottom of the table.
It was an afternoon when both Robbie Brady and Sam Vokes came close for us, when Tom Heaton saved from Alvaro Negredo and Matt Lowton cleared two off the line in quick succession and on another day we might have lost Michael Keane to a red card although I believe Martin Atkinson got it right in keeping him on the pitch.
A year ago next weekend I reported on the events at the final whistle at Birmingham when Sean Dyche strode over to the Burnley fans after a 2-1 win pointing to his strong jaw. It brought a defiant roar from the visiting Clarets and I was reminded of that at the final whistle yesterday as Dyche and the players came over with the supporters raising the volume once more with a quite blatant and knowing chant of: “We are staying up.” It was as if we’d done it, as if it had been determined mathematically. It hasn’t be one thing for certain was the belief from all those Burnley supporters as to where we would be playing our football next season.
It didn’t come on the back of a classic performance but it did come on the back of a dogged and determined performance when our players, every single one of them, gave us absolutely everything to earn this point against a team quite simply fighting for its Premier League life.
What a change that was from a week ago when all the prophets of doom surfaced after the Spurs defeat. We discussed that yesterday on the way to Middlesbrough and felt it was more about the teams below us, such as Hull, getting results than it was of our defeat, that they’d clawed their way back to within five points of us.
The journey via Blubberhouses to the A19 yesterday was a pleasant one as summer arrived, a rather strange event given that the cricket season had just got underway when we can usually expect cold and rain. The weather had even reached our destination. Known as the Smoggies by fellow North East clubs, I can confirm there was no smog around, just clear blue skies and raised temperatures that had you yearning for an Ashes test series.
The Burnley team showed two changes, as we’d expected, with Brady coming in for the injured Steven Defour and Ashley Barnes preferred to Vokes.
Dyche admitted he didn’t know what to expect from Middlesbrough. Under Aitor Karanka you knew you would be up against a team set up not to concede any goals and with what appeared not much desire to score any. Steve Agnew has been tinkering with that and at Hull in midweek went with a strong attack minded team; they lost 4-2, so yesterday he went even more defensively minded with three centre backs, a decision that surprised me given that they have to go out and win games if they are to survive.
Middlesbrough looked to gain an early initiative, mainly via the left wing play of Stewart Downing, one of the players back in favour with the change of manager. There were one or two concerning moments in defence but Tom Heaton was rarely troubled as we defended well, particularly nullifying any threat from Rudy Gestede.
The best chances in that first half fell to us. Brady clipped the top of the bar and George Boyd, the scorer of Tuesday’s winner against Stoke, did really well to get the ball under control when played in by Matt Lowton, but then rushed his shot which flew into the crowd behind the goal.
We were more than comfortable for much of the first half but you sensed that desperate Middlesbrough would have to change their approach in the second half and within two minutes they’d conjured up two opportunities with Heaton making his first save of the match from the second, going down to save a Gestede header.
The game was opening up and we began to cause them lots of problems down our left with Stephen Ward, in particular, a threat. He pulled one ball back for Brady who might have done better than fire wide from the edge of the box, another cross went straight across goal and Vokes was close when his cross found the six yard box.
Suddenly it was all Burnley and they were hanging on, but they brought on Alvaro Negredo, a surprise omission from the starting line up, then Adama Traore and finally Patrick Bamford who was welcomed with cries of ‘Patrick Bamford – he cries in his car’ from the Burnley fans.
Bamford triggered one amazing sequence of events soon after. He went down under a challenge from Michael Keane on the edge of the box that earned the Burnley defender a yellow card. Some thought it should have been red but further watching of it shows that Bamford’s touch was not good which would probably have allowed Heaton to get to it and Keane had actually slipped.
The free kick from Downing was on its way into the net when it was spectacularly headed off the line from Matt Lowton at the expense of a corner. Lowton then kicked the ball away of the line again when the corner was headed towards goal by Daniel Ayala. That was half cleared, came back in for Negredo to fire home only to see Martin Atkinson pointing for a free kick having seen him handle the ball.
I think we could have all expected an onslaught but in truth it didn’t really come and I don’t recall any real threat from them for the remainder of the game including the extra four minutes.
By the time the final whistle blew the home heads were well and truly down but the response on and off the pitch from the Clarets was that one of real defiance with just about everyone believing that we are almost there.
We’ve still not won away, but seriously who really cares? This was another good performance from the Clarets which has taken is to 36 points and that’s all that matters right now. There’s a couple of really tough ones coming up now against Everton and Manchester United, both of whom have won today, but it would take a whole string of results to conspire against us for us to go down now, of that I’m sure.
“We are staying up,” was the chant. I’m certainly not going to disagree with that.
The teams were;
Middlesbrough: Victor Valdes, Espinoza Bernardo (Patrick Bamford 83), Daniel Ayala, Ben Gibson, Antonio Barragán, Grant Leadbitter, Adam Clayton, Adam Forshaw, Stewart Downing, Cristhian Stuani (Alvaro Negredo 58), Rudy Gestede (Adama Traore 69). Subs not used: Brad Guzan, Viktor Fischer, Marton de Roon, Dael Fry.
Burnley: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Jeff Hendrick, Joey Barton, Robbie Brady, Ashley Barnes (James Tarkowski 90+4), Andre Gray (Sam Vokes 62). Subs not used: Nick Pope, Jon Flanagan, Ashley Westwood, Scott Arfield, Dan Agyei.
Yellow Cards: Stephen Ward, Ashley Barnes, Michael Keane.
Referee: Martin Atkinson (Leeds).
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