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Our year ended, somewhat predictably, with another defeat, this one against title chasing Aston Villa, and it’s a result that has left us, as things stand, six points from safety at the bottom of the Premier League.

Twice we levelled in this 3-2 defeat, and that was some achievement given the only time we’ve ever been able to draw level in a game all season previously was at Arsenal, but a late penalty cost us in this game leaving Villa to move level on points with league leaders Liverpool.

In the first half of this year, there were so many positive reports, so many wins, so many big wins, so many games when we were far better than the opposition on the day, but the second half has been very much the opposite as we’ve struggled to come to terms with playing in the Premier League.

So, another defeat, but this one doesn’t fall into the ‘deserved nothing’ category at all, this loss was at times our own doing but at other times it was because big moments went against us that were totally out of control.

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My trip to Villa yesterday was by bus and car, starting with the X43 from Burnley to Prestwich where we were meeting up to go to the game by car. I got a surprise too at the bus stop at the start of my journey. There were two other people there, a married couple, and the lady asked me if I was going to Manchester for the day. When I told her where I was heading, she said: “My husband played for Burnley.” He confirmed that he’d played in the first team too but, to my embarrassment, I didn’t recognise him so had to ask. It was Len Kinsella who I really should have recognised. Len played fourteen times for us between 1965 and 1970 before moving to Carlisle.

The rest of the journey was trouble free and without any further embarrassment. We were at our regular pre-match destination for games in the West Midlands at Tipton on schedule before moving on to Villa Park where I spoke to another former Burnley player.

I was stood at the end of a row and the Burnley fan two rows in front of me was some way over six feet tall. The person with the ticket allocated between us was ex-Claret Ash Hoskin who looked as though he might have some problems stood behind the tall fan. He muttered a few quiet words before swapping seats with someone and moving down the row.

Vincent Kompany had made one change for this game with Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson preferred to Mike Trésor on the right. Those two players swapped places with Trésor taking Guðmundsson’s place on the bench which saw one more change with Michael Obafemi included at the expense of Josh Cullen.

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Villa made two changes from the team beaten at Manchester United last time out. Álex Morino came in for the injured Lucas Digne and Moussa Diaby was preferred to Leander Dendoncker. Surprisingly, they named only eight substitutes and two of them, Filip Marschall and Sam Proctor, were goalkeepers.

It was a reasonably quiet opening and we hadn’t really come under much threat but we then hit a defensive problem. A few minutes earlier, Jordan Beyer received a pass from James Trafford and then played an incredibly poor ball in the air to the right. From that moment, he looked to be struggling and when Dara O’Shea got across to concede a corner, he went down and signalled he needed some assistance. We immediately got Hannes Delcroix ready to come on, suggesting it was a known problem.

From the resulting right wing corner, Josh Brownhill got the ball out for another corner on the left. Astonishingly, referee Stuart Attwell gave us a corner much to the bemusement of just about everyone else inside Villa Park. The Villa players didn’t like it and it cost Ezra Konsa the first yellow card of the day for his protestations.

Although Villa looked the more likely, we were doing well enough and playing generally as well as at any time on the road this season, and we came close to taking the lead when Lyle Foster, of whom I will write more later in this report, got the better of Clément Lenglet down our right. Once clear, Foster pulled the ball back for Zeki Amdouni who just couldn’t break his stride to get in the shot. Even then, Wilson Odobert got to the ball, found Brownhill whose shot went just wide of the post.

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So far, so good, but there is always the issue with how easily we give goals away and we did just that when Ollie Watkins got the better of O’Shea down Villa’s left. He eventually passed the ball across our box for Leon Bailey who came inside Charlie Taylor to hammer home left footed into the roof of the net.

It’s not a statistic to shout about but in scoring that goal, Bailey became the 300th player to score a Premier League goal against Burnley in just our 324th game.

Almost immediately we got forward down the left and won a free kick for a foul on Taylor by Moussa Diaby close to the touchline around thirty yards from goal. Taken by Guðmundsson, it was met by O’Shea who headed it back across goal for Amdouni to hook it home on the volley.

We were back in it and not much later we thought we’d taken another step towards a potential third away win of the season. Amdouni picked up an O’Shea clearance and sent Foster clear with the striker bearing down on goal to beat Emiliano Martinez. We, from our vantage point, thought he was offside. So, eventually, did the assistant referee, James Mainwaring, who flagged as we began to celebrate.

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The longer than expected wait for VAR to confirm the offside suggested it was close and it was. It’s probably just offside but the pictures offered to the public look as though Foster is wearing flippers or a size 30 boot.

The next VAR decision was definitely correct. This was to check that Watkins was onside when he got down our right before playing the ball back for Diaby to restore Villa’s lead just before half time.

We’d played our part but the defensive frailty meant we went in a goal behind and the first notable action of the second half made things even more difficult for us. Just eleven minutes in, Sander Berge, received the ball from a Taylor throw in. It shouldn’t have gone to Berge but neither should he really have had a tug at Douglas Luiz’s shirt. He’d been carded in the first half and Attwell showed him a second yellow followed by the red. I’ve no complaints over this second yellow other than the number of times I see exactly this in games and go unpunished.

There was no doubt we were very much up against it now, a goal behind and a man down. A few minutes later, Vincent Kompany addressed the hole in midfield with former Villa player Aaron Ramsey coming on for Odobert and joining his brother Jacob on the pitch. The Villa fans gave him a lovely reception too, it was good to see and hear the respect for a former young player whose only appearance for their first team had come as a substitute in a League Cup win at Holker Street against Barrow in August 2021.

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Although Villa were dominating possession, we were still having our moments and the spotlight was firmly on referee Attwell again when Vitinho hooked a ball forward. Diego Carlos and Foster gave chase and there is no doubt that the ball was handled by the Villa player. Yes, it came up off his hip but this was a deliberate move of the arm. Incredibly, the referee gave absolutely nothing but it went to VAR. It was outside the box so clearly there was no penalty issue and given the positioning of the two players, I can’t see how a red card could be considered. The move ended with Foster shooting just wide of the post and the game restarted with a goal kick. This was just down to shocking refereeing by Attwell.

Foster was not to be denied and he got the goal his performance so richly deserved when he broke clear again and it all came from a missed Diaby chance who blazed over the bar. What happened next was not exactly Kompany style Burnley. Trafford took the goal kick long and it was headed on by Guðmundsson on the right hand side. It left Foster clear with four defenders in pursuit. His strength and power got him into the box before he hammered the ball home from the right of goal.

I did suggest I would write more on Foster and following his goal seems to be the most appropriate place.

We all know he has had his problems, problems which I am sure will remain ongoing, and we all know he was missing for a few weeks. None of us can possibly know what he’s going through. We can rightly sympathise and we can rightly support him as best we can.

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He came back as a substitute in the home game against Everton. He’s played more minutes with each game without showing anything much which cannot be a surprise given his fitness levels must have dropped.

Then came yesterday. We spoke on the way down of the need for a striker and what type we needed. I suggested one with strength and pace would be a good start. We got that at Villa. He looked fit and strong again, certainly on the pitch, and never has a player deserved a goal more than Lyle did in this game. Villa struggled to deal with him and with any luck at all he’d have had more than one goal to his name.

How good was he? We wondered where it ranked in terms of the best centre-forward performance we’ve seen from a Burnley player in the Premier League. We will all have different ideas but Andre Gray and Chris Wood have to be considered for their hat tricks against Sunderland and Wolves. Then there was Ashley Barnes at Manchester City just about nine years ago. Foster yesterday can be reckoned with those performances, that’s how good he was.

That he wasn’t on the winning team or even in a team winning a point was definitely not down to him and that takes us to the final major incident of the game when Villa substitute Jhon Durán went down in the box after a supposed Aaron Ramsey challenge. Attwell pointed to the spot while the unhurt Durán rolled around in mock agony. I don’t care that VAR official Peter Bankes supported Attwell’s decision, if that’s a penalty then there is something seriously wrong with this game of football we all love. That was clear diving by the Villa player, simple as that.

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Of course, there was a reaction and I’m sure Connor Roberts must have said something to Jacob Ramsey who then appeared to punch Roberts. Attwell saw it, reacted immediately and yellow carded him. I’d love some explanation as to why that was not upgraded to a red.

Even then the fates went against us when Douglas Luiz hit the bar with the spot kick and saw it go in when it could so easily have come back out. Given our luck yesterday, I suspect they’d have allowed him to take it again as many times as he liked until he scored.

We played around ten minutes of stoppage time but we weren’t coming back again sadly and the final whistle blew on yet another defeat. I’m usually in a sulk after leaving a game we’ve lost; not this though, I was proud of the way we played and still now feel as if we deserved to get something from a game against a team that are right up there in that top group.

A big win for Villa who, in taking the points, recorded a first double over us in almost a century. It was the 1925/26 season that they beat us by this same 3-2 scoreline in the first match of 1926 but that was at the Turf and after they’d beaten us 10-0 earlier in the season at Villa Park.

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Time for home and thankfully a trouble free journey that got us home in good time to bring our travels for the year to an end.

This year started so brightly with that win at Swansea ahead of marching on to promotion and the title in a record breaking season. It’s been so difficult since with fifteen of the twenty Premier League games lost.

We are in a worse position now than we were yesterday morning but at least we showed yesterday that we are capable of getting some results so there is still hope. After the despair of Everton just a couple of weeks ago, there is some hope. It’s not great at the moment but who knows if we can continue to perform like that.

That was 2023. We might not be where we wanted to be come this stage of the season but let’s look forward to 2024 and see what that brings.

The teams were;

Aston Villa: Emiliano Martínez, Ezra Konsa, Diego Carlos, Clément Lenglet (Pau Torres 62), Álex Morino, Leon Bailey (Leander Dendoncker 90+3), John McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Jacob Ramsey, Moussa Diaby (Jhon Durán 82), Ollie Watkins. Subs not used: Filip Marschall, Sam Proctor, Calum Chambers, Nicolò Zaniolo, Tim Iroegbunam.
Yellow Cards: Ezra Konsa, Jacob Ramsey, Emiliano Martínez, John McGinn.

Burnley: James Trafford, Vitinho, Dara O’Shea, Jordan Beyer (Hannes Delcroix 17), Charlie Taylor, Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson (Connor Roberts 74), Josh Brownhill, Sander Berge, Wilson Odobert (Mike Trésor 74), Zeki Amdouni (Aaron Ramsey 59), Lyle Foster. Subs not used: Arijanet Muric, Nathan Redmond, Jacob Bruun Larsen, Jay Rodriguez, Michael Obafemi.
Yellow Cards: Charlie Taylor, Sander Berge.
Red Card: Sander Berge.

Referee: Stuart Attwell (Nuneaton).

Attendance: to be confirmed.

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