Not quite Istanbul but a good performance and point at Southampton
Burnley’s Premier League season got underway yesterday with a point at Southampton in a 0-0 draw but for much of the game this could so easily, and deservedly, been a winning start.
Jack Cork had an early goal disallowed for offside while home goalkeeper Alex McCarthy kept his side in it at times, but a late rally from the home side ensured they at least shared the spoils with against a Burnley team playing in a strange black and white kit.
Last Friday, I published Peter Waters’ account of his trip to Istanbul. Personally, I’d love to be able to report on a trip involving stopovers in such as Amsterdam and Düsseldorf, of river cruises on the Bosphorus and somewhat hectic bus journeys from Sultanahmet square. However, yesterday wasn’t quite like that.
There was nothing exotic at all about this trip, just the familiar drive down the M6, M40 and A34, often in pouring rain, with the only excitement coming via a breakfast stop on a motorway services. It’s a journey I’ve made many times over the years although, just to get the season off to a concerning start, we found ourselves stuck in heavy traffic for the final few miles of the journey.
The first game of a season is always one to meet up with friends you haven’t seen for a few months. There were a lot of familiar faces on the concourse, some telling about trips to Istanbul, some thankful they didn’t go and others, like myself, really wishing they had gone.
But this was Southampton v Burnley, this was the Premier League and this is our third successive season involved in it. And it was an afternoon that was to provide personal milestones for two of our players. Ben Mee, captaining the side, was making his 250th league and cup appearance for Burnley; Ashley Barnes, meanwhile, became the first Burnley player to make 100 Premier League appearances for the club when he came on as a substitute in the second half.
You always wonder ahead of a new season how well prepared you are and maybe how good you are going to be. There is always that nervousness ahead of the first game. Remember Chelsea four years ago? I know they went on to win the title but they blew us away on that Monday night and left a lot of us worrying about whether we’d be able to compete in the Premier League.
We more than compete now and there was nothing to suggest in yesterday’s performance, despite the usual rantings of Mark Hughes, to suggest otherwise. For well over two thirds of the game we were by far the better side and I do believe we came very close to returning home with all three points.
The opening week of the season will have seen many debuts across the league; for us there were none. Joe Hart made his Premier League bow for us in goal but he’d already played in the Europa League. He was a virtual spectator in the early stages as we totally dominated the game.
If anyone thought the trip to Turkey might have taken it out of our players, nothing could have been further from the truth. We were full of energy and fully of guile. Cork had the ball in the net early. It really was very close but it is just offside, one of those considered a great decision if the assistant gets it right but one said is impossible to call if he gets it wrong.
Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson fired a free kick just over and soon after was left with just too much to do when Cork delayed his pass. It was terrific stuff from the monochrome Clarets that just needed a goal.
There were standout performances. Ashley Westwood in the midfield was at his accurate best while Jeff Hendrick played as well as I’ve seen him in a long time. The defenders would have their work to do too as the game wore on. Mee, who came closest to scoring for Southampton, was outstanding but alongside him was the brilliant James Tarkowski.
It was 0-0 at half time and that was the only disappointment to be honest. I don’t think any of us could have expected us to play as well as we did but had we been able to get that goal it would have just about been the perfect half.
Nothing changed really at the start of the second half. Hughes made a double change that saw former Claret Danny Ings come on for his Saints’ debut to play alongside Charlie Austin. Charlie had received, shall we say, a mixed response from the Burnley fans before kick off; Ings was warmly welcomed onto the pitch by the travelling Clarets.
I’m never so sure why some think it right to boo Austin to be honest. He did a damn good job for us and was sold because we needed the money. I don’t recall him ever asking to leave but probably it’s the number of goals he’s scored against us since and the fact that he always celebrates them that upsets some.
I don’t think it was that double change that altered the game, certainly not initially, but with probably not much more than twenty minutes remaining, Southampton, who had changed their formation, decided to give it a real go. They made a third change; that saw Austin go off and that, given his record against us, was of some relief. Ings, though, was becoming an influential figure on the pitch and close to the end he thought he’d won a penalty. It might have been, but I did think we might have had one earlier in the half, so that evened itself out for all but Hughes.
And so it all ended 0-0 but it would have been a travesty had we got nothing from this game. Over the ninety minutes we were the better team and the performance was certainly, a goal apart, everything I could have wished for on the opening day.
A Southampton goal at the end would have been a massive blow. For all they pushed forward, they didn’t really look as though they’d get it. Hart’s saves were pretty routine to be honest. They might look back and realise it was their goalkeeper who earned them the point.
Then it was just the trip home through torrential rain and a pub stop that won’t be on the itinerary again. But home safe and sound with the point. Three away games in just over a fortnight in Scotland, Turkey and the south coast of England. Now it’s home for two games before, hopefully, we can get on our travels to Greece. I’ve missed the Bosphorus cruise but I’d really like to be visiting Athens (I don’t think it will be Switzerland) in ten days time.
The season is well and truly up and running. It wasn’t quite Chelsea 2017 but it was a good performance to kick things off ahead of hopefully another good season.
The teams were;
Southampton: Alex McCarthy, Jack Stephens, Jannik Vestergaard, Wesley Hoedt, Cédric Soares (Mohamed Elyounoussi 56), Oriol Romeu, Mario Lemina, Ryan Bertrand, Charlie Austin (Manolo Gabbiadini 72), Stuart Armstrong (Danny Ings 56), Nathan Redmond. Subs not used: Angus Gunn, Jan Bednarek, James Ward-Prowse, Pierre-Emile Højberg.
Burnley: Joe Hart, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, Aaron Lennon, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson (Charlie Taylor 87), Jeff Hendrick (Ashley Barnes 76), Chris Wood (Sam Vokes 73). Subs not used: Tom Heaton, Phil Bardsley, Ben Gibson, Jon Walters.
Yellow Card: Jack Cork.
Referee: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire).
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