Stoke draw takes us another point closer to Europe
A second half comeback with another Ashley Barnes goal earned us a point yesterday in a 1-1 draw at the bet365 Stadium against a battling Stoke City and took us a point closer to what might be needed for European qualification.
A goal behind at half time, and after a 45 minutes in which we never really hit the heights, we turned things round after the break and could so easily have gone on to win it, and would have done but for Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland.
Stoke’s current stadium has been a decent one for us. In ten previous league visits we’ve won six times and, prior to this season it was one of only four grounds where we’d come home with three Premier League points, that in November 2014 when we won 2-1 with a Danny Ings brace.
Add that to the fact that we’ve lost only four times on the road this season, were travelling there on the back of three successive away games and facing a relegation threatened side, it was probably no surprise that there was a little bit of confidence as we departed from Burnley.
What we found on arrival were some very unhappy home supporters. Keen to talk to us, they firmly placed the blame on their current situation at the feet of former manager Mark Hughes. They continue to bemoan the loss of players such as Glenn Whelan and Phil Bardsley and even more so Jon Walters, a player who was almost worshipped in the Potteries.
There’s no anger towards new boss Paul Lambert despite him having won only one game since taking the job in mid-December. They’ve all but accepted their fate, and that was before the game, but they are at least relieved that Hughes is no longer there.
It looked clear what Lambert might be trying with the inclusion of Peter Crouch up front. Glen Johnson (nowhere near as good as Bardsley according to some Stoke fans we spoke to) was back too while Sean Dyche was able to name an unchanged Burnley team. Our only change saw the aforementioned Walters, who received the warmest of receptions from the supporters of his former club, replace Nahki Wells on the bench.
My concerns were the first ten to fifteen minutes. I thought that Stoke would throw everything at us, that we’d need to stay firm and resolute. Getting through that opening period unscathed would surely deflate the home side too.
It didn’t quite happen like that. They didn’t put us under anything like the pressure I thought they might, but they did take an 11th minute lead through Badou Ndiaye, scoring for the first time in Stoke colours having signed from Galatasaray in a £14 million deal at the end of January. He did well to get his shot in but certainly benefited from the slightest of deflections off Kevin Long.
It took a while for us to show any sort of response and the real fear was a second goal for Stoke. That would have made things very difficult. It didn’t happen and we started to offer a threat ourselves. We might have equalised just before half time but then they probably should have got that second goal they so needed.
Our opportunity came via a free kick after Jack Cork had been tripped. Only a superb save from Butland denied Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson who got the ball just over the wall. It was heading into the corner until Butland seemed to appear from nowhere to push it wide of the post.
But Mame Biram Diouf, who scored his first ever Premier League goal against us for Manchester United, missed the chance of the game almost immediately afterwards. From a right wing cross, he looked a certain scorer but the former Blackburn forward failed to even get any sort of shot in.
Just a goal down then at half time but the second half was so different and it seemed that it was a contest between Butland and Burnley. He tipped over a Cork header which might have seemed routine, but his save to deny James Tarkowski a first Burnley goal was outstanding.
Just past the hour he denied Tarkowski again but this time he couldn’t deny Burnley. He incredibly came in for some criticism on Match of the Day 2 as he again saved from Tarky following a right wing cross from the increasingly influential Ashley Westwood. This time though it could do nothing as Barnes thighed it into the net right in front of the Burnley fans.
Stephen Ireland came on for Stoke and hit the post, although Nick Pope clearly had it covered, but apart from that they didn’t really threaten us again. We looked more than comfortable and I just felt that we might have gone on and pushed harder to win it.
That we didn’t was down to the Butland duel with Guðmundsson. When JBG cut in from the right and fired in a left foot shot, Butland saved well again. The ball dropped for Chris Wood who got it back for Guðmundsson, this time his right foot shot went just wide of the left hand post.
Then, Westwood played in Jeff Hendrick, on for Aaron Lennon. Hendrick moved down the left and played the ball across for Guðmundsson. This time his shot went agonisingly inches wide of the left hand post.
It wasn’t to be, we couldn’t get the winner, and we had to settle for a seventh away draw of the season to take our points total to 53. A win would have seen us secure four successive away wins for the first time since September 1961. We played four away games in that month and won the lot. We beat Manchester City (3-1), Birmingham (6-2), Leicester (6-2) and finally Fulham (5-3).
Those were heady days, but make no mistake, these are heady days too. I keep having to pinch myself. There are times when I really can’t believe how well we are doing, but the league tables don’t lie do they?
Europe? Every point counts but we got another boost yesterday as we made our way home. Someone said to me the other day: “It would be typical of Burnley to finish seventh and then Southampton won the FA Cup and robbed us of a place in Europe.”
That was the boost. Mark Hughes, now manager down there, couldn’t get his side to Wembley for the final. They are out and that means whichever team finishes seventh in the Premier League will be in next season’s Europa League.
Heady days indeed – it’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
The teams were;
Stoke: Jack Butland, Glen Johnson (Kurt Zouma 59), Ryan Shawcross, Bruno Martins Indi, Erik Pieters, Xherdan Shaqiri, Joe Allen, Badou Ndiaye, Moritz Bauer (Stephen Ireland 69), Mame Biram Diouf (Tyrese Campbell 75), Peter Crouch. Subs not used: Jakob Haugaard, Geoff Cameron, Darren Fletcher, Ramadan Sobhi.
Yellow Cards: Erik Pieters, Badou Ndiaye.
Burnley: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, Kevin Long, James Tarkowski, Stephen Ward, Aaron Lennon (Jeff Hendrick 79), Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Chris Wood, Ashley Barnes (Sam Vokes 74). Subs not used: Tom Heaton, Phil Bardsley, Charlie Taylor, Dean Marney, Jon Walters.
Yellow Card: Ashley Barnes.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral).
Attendance: 29,532 (including 2,287 Clarets).
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