It’s back to winning ways for Burnley
Burnley’s run of league games without a win, which stretched back to the end of January when we beat Leicester 1-0, came to an end last night when we beat Stoke by the same scoreline under the Turf Moor floodlights.
Back in January it was Sam Vokes who scored the winner; last night it was George Boyd, with his second of the season, and, despite the words of the perennial whinger Mark Hughes, we were fully deserving of the points by the time referee Kevin Friend blew the final whistle just past the 96th minute.
The goal came with a little bit of an Irish flavour down the left hand side. It started with Joey Barton who played the ball across the pitch to Stephen Ward. He involved Robbie Brady who had been on the pitch as a substitute for no more than a minute.
Brady’s ball to Jeff Hendrick looked a little short but our most recent signing cleverly blocked Joe Allen to allow his best mate to get onto the ball. It was then superb play by Hendrick. He beat another couple of defenders, got into the box on the left hand side and played a low ball across for Boyd who had made a run to get in front of the defenders and fire home with his left foot.
It was just what the Clarets needed on a night when I sensed a lot of nervousness ahead of the game from some supporters who were keeping count of the number of games without a win. Others were suggesting a win because it is ‘only Stoke’ and they are not Spurs. No, they aren’t Spurs, but they are a club fully established now in the Premier League. This is their ninth successive season and they kicked off the game in the top half of the league. These games are not easy.
I’m not sure what the cricket club charge these days for parking on football match days but they surely upped the price a bit for Stoke chairman Peter Coates last night when he landed his helicopter on the cricket square. It reminded me of the story Barry Kilby told me of when he and Paul Fletcher attended our club’s first ever Premier League meeting. Being the top league, Barry thought they should go in style in his Bentley. When they got there, half of the other owners and chief execs were arriving by helicopter.
On the other pitch next door, we were to see two changes from the team that had started against Spurs. Steven Defour was preferred to Scott Arfield in midfield while Sam Vokes got the nod ahead of Ashley Barnes to partner Andre Gray. There were also two changes on the bench where Nick Pope and Dan Agyei came in for Paul Robinson and Jon Flanagan.
Stoke got one over on us even before kick off when they won the toss and forced us to play towards the Jimmy Mac End in the first half. That’s the first time in over a year since our 1-0 win against Nottingham Forest in February 2016.
The one thing you know you are going to get from Stoke is a physical game. They really are a horrible side to play against, trying to push referees to the limits. But, under Hughes, they’ve added an extra. For such a big, strong, over physical side, they don’t half go down easily. We suffered from it at the bet365 Stadium earlier in the season, their antics leading to one of the goals, and they were at it again last night. You can’t be too surprised though when you see the mop of white hair in the away dug out.
Stoke’s last three visits to Burnley have all ended in draws, two of them without a goal scored. Prior to that they beat us 1-0 in a horrible game when their fans were in the Jimmy Mac Stand. None of them were good games and I expected something similar last night. I have to say it wasn’t a classic, but then again, who cares?
There was little action of any quality in the first half. As was the case against Spurs, we were often too careless in possession and it has to be said that Stoke had the best opportunities. Thankfully they all fell to Austrian Marko Arnautovic who didn’t look capable of hitting a barn door. Not as though he was shooting wide; he wasn’t even getting shots in.
Defour was probably our one creative spark, particularly when he drifted inside, but chances were few and far between for the Clarets although I remain convinced we should have been awarded a penalty for a shirt pull on Vokes. Friend didn’t want to know but I remarked at the time that it was the sort of incident that, earlier in the season, Mike Dean would probably have punished with two or three penalties.
Andre Gray was close to getting a shot in on the edge of the box while at the other end the petulant Charlie Adam fired in their best effort but it was straight at Tom Heaton.
Stoke had a couple of opportunities in the second half with Arnautovic this time not quite so guilty when his header went wide, but the game was about to turn Burnley’s way although not before Adam had given us a comedy moment and then caught Defour which prompted our first change.
Ward gave away an unnecessary corner when a shout would have allowed him to let it go out. Adam slipped as he tried to take it, caught the ball with his knee and then dragged it back into the quadrant with his hand to re-take. The assistant looked bemused and it took some time before he, rightly, flagged for hand ball.
Then came the foul and on came Brady. Within a minute, and with his first contribution, we were in front. Hughes incredibly suggested it was a good finish but the ball had dropped kindly for Boyd while Andy Hinchcliffe on the Sky commentary said: “Could this be the goal that keeps Burnley in the Premier League?” I don’t think such a goal has ever been scored in the eighth last game of the season.
Once in front, I get more nervous, but there appeared to be precious few worrying nerves, if any, on the pitch. There was over half an hour to go and yet I can’t recall us ever really looking as though we would lose that lead.
They brought on Peter Crouch and they planted ball after ball into our box. Michael Keane, who I thought had a difficult start to the game, and Ben Mee, my man of the match, stood up to every bit of it.
With twelve minutes to go, Dyche played his trump card; he brought on Ashley Barnes. Now, Barnes didn’t score a goal, he did go on to have a shot which flew just over, but he did seem to upset the Stoke defenders who found the only way to handle him was to foul him. Ashley got up with a huge smile on his face while the Stoke players were losing their cool.
There was one off the ball incident when I shouted: “That’s a red card,” despite not having seen what happened, but their tactics were winding me up by then and I’d have loved to have seen them end the game with a man down.
James Tarkowski came on to help out if needed at the back but the only threat came from fourth official Anthony Taylor when he help up the board showing six extra minutes. For the life of me I have no idea where they came from but it mattered not, we saw them out without any concerns while Barnes won another couple of free kicks.
It wasn’t pretty. It was never going to be pretty, but last night was all about the scoreline which read Burnley 1 Stoke 0. It was our tenth home win of the season. It took our points total to 35. That’s two more than we got a couple of years ago and we’ve still got seven games to go.
I’ve said for weeks and weeks that I thought 35 points would be enough. Maybe it will be, maybe not, but I was confident before last night’s game that we’ll be a Premier League club next season and that confidence has done nothing but grow since the final whistle.
I’ve seen more entertaining games this season and I’ve seen us play better, but that last night was a real boost for us, a fantastic win against the sort of team we often struggle against.
It’s Middlesbrough next and then Everton before we return to the Turf for a clash with Manchester United and Turf Moor’s first chance to welcome Jose Mourinho since his appalling comments after our draw at Chelsea two years ago, since which the word Ginger has never been placed in front of the current United manager’s surname.
Let’s enjoy the rest of the season and enjoy watching the best team we’ve had in over four decades.
The teams were;
Burnley: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Jeff Hendrick, Joey Barton, Steven Defour (Robbie Brady 57), Sam Vokes (James Tarkowski 85), Andre Gray (Ashley Barnes 78). Subs not used: Nick Pope, Ashley Westwood, Scott Arfield, Dan Agyei.
Yellow Cards: Stephen Ward, Joey Barton, George Boyd.
Stoke: Lee Grant, Ryan Shawcross, Bruno Martins Indi, Marc Muniesa, Mame Biram Diouf, Geoff Cameron, Charlie Adam, Erik Pieters, Joe Allen (Ibrahim Afellay 85), Saido Berahino (Peter Crouch 71), Marko Arnautovic. Subs not used: Shay Given, Glen Johnson, Glenn Whelan, Giannelli Imbula, Ramadan Sobhi.
Yellow Cards: Charlie Adam, Bruno Martins Indi.
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).
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