Frozen and delighted
It was Burnley’s Boxing Day when an Andre Gray goal ten minutes from time gave us a 1-0 win against Middlesbrough to move us back up to 14th in the Premier League table.
In what was his first home start since the draw against Hull in September, Gray, who generally had a quiet game, latched on to a Sam Vokes knock down to hit a volley from just inside the box. Boro goalkeeper Victor Valdes couldn’t hold it as three and a bit sides of Turf Moor rose to celebrate as the ball squeezed into the corner of the net.
That goal, which brought us our first Boxing Day goal and points for four years, has now taken the number of home wins this season to six which is a brilliant return with still another nine games to be played on the Turf.
What a cold day it was. We’d been warned that the temperatures might drop a little but this was extreme and my one regret was not giving the thermals their first winter outing. Going out in such weather is good for you though. My old auntie used to tell me it would freeze the germs. It was her who always advised, when under the weather, to eat ice cream to freeze all the badness out. I’m not so sure it works, but I did acquire a liking for ice cream. I can confirm I didn’t want any ice cream yesterday, a sausage and bacon butty sufficed.
With an hour to go before kick off the team news arrived. We knew there would be one change but wondered if there would be more. The one change saw Jon Flanagan come in for his second home start in place of the suspended Matt Lowton, but otherwise, it was same again with the team that had kicked off at Spurs. That meant a substitute place for Steven Defour for the first time at home and he was alongside Johann Berg Gudmundsson who was back after injury.
We didn’t start well at all. We didn’t look ourselves and in particular Michael Keane, usually such a reliable performer, had a really difficult start to the game, putting us under pressure with some less than accurate distribution.
In that opening period they did only have one real chance when Cristhian Stuani was played in down the right but he fired his shot across and beyond the far post when, at the very least, you would have expected him to test Tom Heaton.
That opening also saw Boro’s Marten de Roon yellow carded. I thought this one was deserved but it kicked off a refereeing performance from Craig Pawson who handed out a total of 11 yellow cards. Some were deserved, the one he gave to Fabio should have been a red, but others, such as the ones shown to George Boyd and the last one of the day to Alvaro Negredo were just farcical.
Having seen off that early threat, we certainly got on the front foot and as the first half progressed we became more and more the better of the two teams. They hadn’t tested Heaton at all but we gave Victor Valdes some work to do and he made good saves to deny both Ashley Barnes and Boyd.
There was also a penalty claim for handball. It wasn’t given but television pictures suggest we were somewhat unfortunate not to. Calum Chambers was the player who handled the ball, he seemed to spend most of the afternoon committing fouls and yet, incredibly, he left the field at the end of the game without a yellow card.
It was still 0-0 when the half time whistle blew but by then I was confident we could take the game on after the break but it just didn’t happen that way. We just didn’t seem to be able to get into the game for long periods. They even forced Heaton into his one real save of the afternoon through a Stuani header.
Vokes came on for Barnes with Defour and then Gudmundsson following but the only thing that was happening was the referee’s card collecting, that was until ten minutes from the end.
We got the ball out of our own box to Defour who was fouled by Fabio. It was a bad one and could have been a red but we’d already learned that Pawson was, no matter what, going to keep all the players on the pitch.
Heaton took the kick and found Vokes and there was Gray to hit the volley. We were in front, the champions of last season were leading the runners-up 1-0 and the home fans let them know. The suspended Lowton was jumping up and down screaming in the press area and Burnley were on their way to twenty points.
There were still ten minutes to go, plus the four minutes added. Middlesbrough, though, had virtually nothing to offer and didn’t really cause us any serious concern. It’s called closing the game down and we did it perfectly.
How did I feel? In two words – frozen and delighted. I was talking to a long standing Claret this morning who said he’d never been as cold on the Turf. Notably the winds have disappeared today which would have been a much better day.
The only downside for me yesterday was being subjected to the appalling Pawson. We will now be punished by the FA because of the number of yellow cards and we’ll also be losing the influential Jeff Hendrick for a game. What they should be doing is looking very seriously at this referee’s performance which was as bad as any I’ve seen in a long, long time.
It was never going to be a classic. The way that Middlesbrough play will always ensure that but throw in Pawson and the wind and you were guaranteed a stop-start scrappy affair. But I got home with the points total having gone up by another three and that, in a game like this, was so vitally important.
I might have a streaming cold today, but it’s not been a bad Christmas has it?
The teams were;
Burnley: Tom Heaton, Jon Flanagan, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Jeff Hendrick, Dean Marney (Steven Defour 75), Scott Arfield (Johann Berg Gudmundsson 77), Ashley Barnes (Sam Vokes 66), Andre Gray. Subs not used: Paul Robinson, Tendayi Darikwa, James Tarkowski, Michael Kightly.
Yellow Cards: George Boyd, Ben Mee, Jon Flanagan, Stephen Ward, Andre Gray, Jeff Hendrick.
Middlesbrough: Victor Valdes, Antonio Barragan, Calum Chambers, Ben Gibson, Fabio, Cristhian Stuani (Adama Traore 86), Adam Clayton, Adam Forshaw, Marten de Roon (George Friend 87), Gaston Ramirez, Alvaro Negredo. Subs not used: Brad Guzan, Espinosa Bernardo, Grant Leadbitter, Stewart Downing, Jordan Rhodes.
Yellow Cards: Marten de Roon, Gaston Ramirez, Antonio Barragan, Fabio, Alvaro Negredo.
Referee: Craig Pawson (Sheffield).
Attendance: 21,562 (including 2,430 from Middlesbrough).
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