Home rule continues – with a fairy tale return for Joey
Burnley secured a fourth successive home win and an eighth of the season with a 1-0 victory over Southampton yesterday which has again lifted us into the top half of the Premier League.
With the game still at 0-0 both teams made changes around twenty minutes from the end and there was this thought entered my head that one of those substitutes might just grab the headlines.
Southampton were the first to make a change when Dusan Tadic was replaced by Jay Rodriguez. The former Claret, who left us for the Saints at the end of the 2011/12 season, was making his first return to Turf Moor and was greeted with a warm reception from the home crowd followed by the obligatory chant of: “He’s one of our own.”
Five minutes later, Sean Dyche made a double change. On came Sam Vokes, following Joey Barton onto the pitch, the returning midfielder making his second home debut as a replacement for the injured Dean Marney.
Yes, the thought entered my head, but surely one of them wouldn’t take centre stage. Amazingly, one did and both almost did as Joey scored the only goal of the game to win it for us and Jay Rod forced Tom Heaton into a late save to ensure we kept the points.
The only people who I thought would have been able to script this were the likes of the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. Barton played for much of last season at Burnley yet left having never scored on Turf Moor. For him to come on and score the winner five minutes later is a story that only he and the aforementioned writers could have come up with.
On the subject of goalscorers, I bumped into not one but two from our past yesterday prior to making my way into the ground. I caught the 1960s strike pair of Andy Lochhead and Willie Irvine having a chat before the game, half expecting Willie Morgan to cross the road and provide the crosses for them.
Ours is a special club isn’t it? So often we see former players watching the games. It’s approaching 50 years since Andy & Willie last played in a Burnley team but there they were yesterday, still with as much enthusiasm about the club as they’ve always had. Willie might still speak with that Northern Ireland accent but as he told me yesterday: “Burnley’s my home.” Andy still looks like someone you wouldn’t want to get involved in a challenge with. My word – great, great memories.
But this current team of ours is also providing us with great memories and yesterday the line up was probably as we expected. Scott Arfield was missing from the team that last played in the league, through the injury he’d sustained in the cup at Sunderland. The most likely replacement was Johann Berg Gudmundsson but he’d suffered likewise so Steven Defour was recalled on the left hand side of the midfield four.
Prior to the game we observed a minute’s silence for all those involved with the club, from players to supporters, who had passed away in 2016. Some 119 names were listed in the match programme with all of them appearing on the big screen as we stood in silence with former Watford, Aston Villa and England manager Graham Taylor also being remembered.
The Southampton fans respected our In Memoriam Day and they might not realise that it was a similar occurrence at Southampton that prompted this annual event at Burnley which has been so well received since it first took place in January 2013.
We’d beaten Bournemouth, Middlesbrough and Sunderland in our last three games but this was always going to be a much bigger ask. Southampton, despite kicking off the game only one point ahead of us, are a much better side than the other three and were always going to make it much more difficult for us than those three previous visitors.
The Saints had actually gone into Christmas in seventh place, but three successive league defeats had seen them drop in the league, but we know how good they can be from the game against them down there when they beat us 3-1, albeit with a little bit of help from Mike Dean.
One thing they are not, and that’s as relentless as us. Manager Claude Puel said as much pre-match with his suggestion that they couldn’t possibly play the same team as had beaten Liverpool. They didn’t, and couldn’t with Steven Davis ruled out with injury, but other changes saw Rodriguez retired to the bench.
Even so, they had the better of the first half, no doubt about that. The closest I recall us coming was a shot on the turn just outside the box from Ben Mee that went wide although Mee also I thought might have had a penalty when he was pushed while in the air. Whether it was or not I’m not sure, but I certainly didn’t have a lot of faith in referee Paul Tierney getting much right given his performance.
At the other end, both Mee and Michael Keane cleared goal bound efforts while Tom Heaton made one good save. By half time there was no doubt we’d been second best, but Southampton just hadn’t created enough in terms of chances and hadn’t given Heaton anything like enough work despite their being on top.
We’d defended really well with all of the back four on top of their game while for me Jeff Hendrick had probably been our best performer. The midfielder came in for some criticism earlier in the season which was beyond me; he’s certainly proving his worth right now.
Southampton might not have realised it but probably their best opportunity of winning the game had passed. The second half was certainly a much more even affair when undoubtedly the busier of the two goalkeepers was Fraser Forster who came so close to becoming a Burnley player in 2010.
Forster twice saved from Defour. The first, from a free kick, he dealt with well but he was fortunate with the second effort having first initially failed to gather the ball.
With the Saints defending just as well as us, a stalemate looked likely. On came Jay, a recognised goalscorer, and then Joey and Sam came on for us a few minutes later.
When George Boyd was fouled and we won a free kick some 25-yards out I thought no more of it. I didn’t think Barton would take it but he stepped up to take responsibility. “He’ll probably score here,” said my brother. I sniggered at the very thought but one thing I need to learn is never to underestimate Joey Barton.
It apparently came off Ryan Bertrand’s backside but whether it did or not, he fooled the goalkeeper and in it went to spark wild scenes in the stands and on the pitch. All his three goals for us previously had come on the road but this is the week for him. His first Burnley goal was on 12th January last year and his second three days later on the 15th.
We’d still some time to go but for the most part we ran the clock down comfortably. That was until the 90th minute when Jay got through and forced Heaton into a good save with the England goalkeeper doing even better to keep out the follow up shot from Josh Sims.
Almost immediately the board went up for three extra minutes and we almost got a second. A superb clearing ball down the left from Barton was picked up by Boyd. He made a brilliant run, made his way into their box where finally Vokes saw a shot blocked. And it all ended with James Tarkowski, our third substitute, doing a Jimmy McIlroy and taking the ball into the corner. I never thought I’d see a central defender do that but this was a day when just about anything could happen.
It really was a fairy tale but after the game Joey was quick to point out that it’s a team game and heaped praise on his team mates. And then he spoke about our club. “It’s a real collective effort and it’s just fantastic to be a part of this group again, to be back playing football again and to be in the Premier League,” he said.
“This is a unique football club and a unique group of people,” he added. “You sometimes have to be not in the building to realise just how special that was and certainly I realised that in the summer. I’m very fortunate and feel very privileged to get the opportunity to come back and be part of this again.”
And so this unique and very special football club is now tenth in the Premier League. We’ve achieved nothing, Sean Dyche would tell us that, but to have 26 points at this stage of the season is incredible. Once more we had a bleating manager, bemoaning the way we play, daring to suggest they were the better team, yet leaving as so many have with precisely nothing other than a defeat at the hands of the Clarets.
As for our manager, he’s currently the highest placed English manager in English football.
I’ve been watching Burnley for over 56 years now. I’ve seen good times and I’ve certainly seen more bad times than I would have ever wanted to see. Be absolutely certain fellow Clarets, these are very special times for our football club, very special indeed.
The teams were;
Burnley: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Jeff Hendrick, Dean Marney (Joey Barton 73), Steven Defour (Sam Vokes 74), Ashley Barnes, Andre Gray (James Tarkowski 87). Subs not used: Paul Robinson, Jon Flanagan, Tendayi Darikwa, Michael Kightly.
Yellow Card: Dean Marney.
Southampton: Fraser Forster, Cedric Soares, Maya Yoshida, Virgil van Dijk, Ryan Bertrand, Pierre Hojbjerg, Oriol Romeu, James Ward-Prowse, Dusan Tadic (Jay Rodriguez 68), Shane Long, Nathan Redmond (Josh Sims 80). Subs not used: Stuart Taylor, Jordy Clasie, Cuco Martina, Harrison Reed, Jack Stephens.
Yellow Cards: Maya Yoshida, Oriol Romeu.
Referee: Paul Tierney (Wigan).
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