Superb Clarets just millimetres away
Burnley fell to a 1-0 defeat yesterday at home against Manchester City as we got embroiled in the title chase between our opponents and Liverpool, but no one will be able to accuse us of not playing our part on a day when we came so, so close to earning a point and becoming the toast of the red side of Merseyside.
City were the better side, and, undoubtedly, of the two teams were the more deserving winners, but we pushed this team of stars all the way and saw them throwing defenders on for fun at the end just to hold the lead they’d gained via goal line technology midway through the second half.
On the day you play Manchester City there is always some nervousness. This is the team that has scored four or more six times this season. They’d already knocked ten past us in the two games, league and cup, at the Etihad this season although our home record against them under Sean Dyche before yesterday wasn’t bad with one win, one draw and just the one defeat with a 2-1 scoreline back in 2016.
You know if they play at their very best then it is going to be difficult and I think, had we still been in need of points to stay up, I’d have been very nervous as I made my way to the Turf for the early televised kick off.
But, with our Premier League place for next season secured, it was all relaxed as we awaited the team news. We knew Kevin de Bruyne and Fernandinho were out but, other than that, this was just about as strong a team as Pep Guardiola could have fielded. Sean Dyche named the same team that had drawn at Chelsea with just the one change on the bench as Anthony Glennon, who has captained the under-23s recently, coming in for Robbie Brady who I am assuming was away on family business with his wife about to have a baby.
We more than played our part in a goalless first half although it is fair to say that City had more of the ball than we did although it wasn’t too often that I was over concerned that we might concede. There was one piece of brilliance from Sergio Agüero that led to him shooting wide and then the same player latched on to an incredible ball forward from goalkeeper Ederson that we were quick to deal with.
Their best chance fell to Bernardo Silva while at the other end Chris Wood just failed to control a ball which, had he done so, would have given him a good chance. It really was an enthralling first half of football and the way we kept our shape and organisation was key to the fact that the league leaders had so few opportunities.
Things did change in the second half. Raheem Sterling had been playing on the right but moved into a more central role in a tactical switch and they started to really get the upper hand. Agüero tends to get a goal against us and he came close with one powerful effort that Tom Heaton did well to keep out but we were now really being put under some pressure.
We defended outstandingly well. We kept them to a bare minimum in terms of chances and the blocks and tackles were going in to protect our goal although it seemed inevitable that at some point they would get themselves a goal and they did just eighteen minutes in but it was a bit of a scrappy affair.
David Silva played the ball into the box for Agüero who did well to get it into his feet and get a shot on goal. Matt Lowton brilliantly kept it out, or so we thought, but referee Paul Tierney, who yet again didn’t cover himself in glory, indicated that it had gone in by just a few millimetres, and pointed to the middle. There is no argument with goal line technology and it was the first time it has affected us since the same referee awarded Jack Cork’s winner at Watford in April last year.
He was looking at his watch again when Ben Mee cleared off the line as City tried to get the game wrapped up. This time the clearance had kept it out and now it was our turn to try and force some defending at the other end.
We didn’t quite create a chance but we did cause them some anxious moments shown by the fact that Guardiola was frantic on the touchline and even sent on two extra central defenders. But they got over the line to top the league again and you would be a brave man to bet against them winning it.
As for us, we were beaten for the first time in five games, but there can be no disappointment with our performance overall. We had a lot of defending to do but did it brilliantly for most of the game. It’s difficult to single out players in such a good team performance but it would be so wrong not to mention the central defensive pair of James Tarkowski and Mee who were both at their absolute best.
The reaction from the stands at the final whistle was not one you would expect for a beaten side, but the home support knew just how well we’d played and just how much we’d put into this game against the best team in the land.
It’s been a tough week in that we’ve played City just six days after travelling to Chelsea, the only two teams to have won the title so far in our Premier League seasons. We’ve given both of them really hard games and could have come out of them with more than the one point we got at Chelsea.
Two years ago, on the night we beat Leicester at home as the January transfer window was closing, I said that I thought we’d become a decent Premier League team. There’s been a hiccup this season but we are back there now, maybe not up to challenging the likes of City and Liverpool for the title but more than up to playing well at this level. I’ve almost forgotten that pre-Christmas period.
Just a trip to Everton and a final home game against Arsenal to come. No matter what happens, we know we are back for a fourth successive season in 2019/20.
The teams were;
Burnley: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor, Jeff Hendrick (Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson 76), Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Dwight McNeil, Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood (Matěj Vydra 72). Subs not used: Joe Hart, Kevin Long, Ben Gibson, Stephen Ward, Anthony Glennon.
Yellow Card: Matt Lowton.
Manchester City: Ederson, Kyle Walker, Vincent Kompany, Aymeric Laporte, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Ilkay Gündogan, David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling (Nicolás Otamendi 90+2), Sergio Agüero (John Stones 83), Leroy Sané (Gabriel Jesus 64). Subs not used: Arjjanet Muric, Danilo, Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez.
Yellow Card: Ilkay Gündogan.
Referee: Paul Tierney (Wigan).
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