Clarets move closer to title after beating second place Blades
I’ve felt it was a matter of when rather than if for some considerable time but surely even the biggest doubters will now have realised we are going to be returning to the Premier League as champions after following up our win at Middlesbrough with a 2-0 home win against second place Sheffield United.
Both of us had won our Good Friday games with Sheffield United beating Wigan at home which left us kicking off last night with an eleven point advantage over them. This win takes us fourteen points clear and in need of just five more points at most to the win the league.
On a bitterly cold and wet night in Burnley, it was a case of dodging the rain on the way down to the Turf and thankfully I managed it reasonably successfully, meeting with friends from the locale, from over the Irish Sea, Melbourne in Australia and even from Yorkshire.
We discussed Middlesbrough, we made initial plans for our Reading trip and we talked about the promotion and the upcoming title win. We awaited the team news that showed us make three changes from the team that had started the game on Teesside three days earlier.
In front of another big crowd, all but the away end buoyant and celebrating the promotion, the team received a huge reception as did manager Vincent Kompany on his 37th birthday although the PA tried to subdue that by announcing the team line-up as he walked across the pitch.
Our visitors had the first effort on goal with a speculative overhead kick but the game struggled to settle down in the opening exchanges although that all changed just past the quarter hour with an incident that saw us get a penalty, then have it taken away as Sheffield United went down to ten men.
It started with a ball down the right hand side from Josh Cullen for Nathan Tella to chase although Blades’ defender Jack Robinson looked favourite. Rather than play the ball out, the hapless defender tried to shepherd it back as goalkeeper Wes Foderingham came out. They made a right pig’s ear of it, Tella got past them only to be brought down by Foderingham.
There was a wait until substitute goalkeeper Adam Davies could get on with Robinson far from happy that he was the chosen one to depart. I was happy; I don’t like Robinson at all and even this doesn’t make up for him getting away with a horror challenge on Guðmundsson in the League Cup two seasons ago.
When Davies did get on, he could have been picking the ball out of his net immediately but Foster’s header from Tella’s free kick went over the bar with a touch from Sander Berge giving us a corner.
For the remainder of the first half it was almost one way with the ten man Blades content to try and contain us and for the most part they were doing it successfully. We just couldn’t find any real chances and we were heading into half time with the scores level.
It didn’t happen but right at the end of the half we did force Davies into a save from the most unlikely of sources as Jordan Beyer unleashed a shot from around 30-yards that the goalkeeper tipped over the bar.
At half time, the feeling was that we hadn’t made it difficult enough for Sheffield United. They’d remained in their shape and had mostly prevented us from creating too much. Vincent Kompany obviously thought so too and made a double change ahead of the second half. On came Guðmundsson and Manuel Benson, replacing Cork, whose role had become almost redundant given their approach, and Foster.
We immediately looked more dangerous down the flanks with Tella now on the left and Benson on the opposite flank. Guðmundsson was also having a big effect on the game but I’m not sure we could have envisaged us how much an effect he was going to have.
We played it down the right, came inside, got it back out right where, of all people, Harwood-Bellis got in a superb cross. Tella reached it just beyond the far post and headed it back for Guðmundsson to strike a superb shot and we were finally in front.
Ten minutes later, we repeated it. This time Benson crossed and it was Maatsen who hooked it back. A defender got a head to it but it just dropped for Guðmundsson to score again. These were his third and fourth goals of the season, his first brace for the club and the first time he’s scored two in a game since netting twice for Charlton in a 2-2 draw at Leeds in 2014. They were also his first goals at the Turf since he scored our equaliser in a 1-1 draw against Brighton in February two years ago.
It was over as a contest. Guðmundsson came close to a third too when Davies saved well down to his right, but Sheffield United, other than a flurry in the closing few minutes, never threatened to get back at us and, in the end, this was a comfortable win that has left us so, so close to winning the league.
As it turned out, the Easter programme couldn’t have been tougher with games against the two teams in second and third places before the games were played. Those who were still nervous were pointing to these two fixtures with some concern but we’ve beaten them both and picked up another six points. In truth, neither of them really laid a glove on us and the only goal they could muster came via the most generous of penalty decisions.
There was a time this season when I thought we were the best team in this league; now I know that we are the best team in this league by a country mile. We’ve now got six games to become the best ever Burnley team at this level. With ninety points won, we need just four more to beat the 93 we ended the 2013/14 and 2015/16 seasons with, our highest ever points total.
Before we play on the Turf again, we have away games against Reading and Rotherham. I’m looking forward to them both.
The teams were;
Burnley: Arijanet Muric, Connor Roberts, Taylor Harwood-Bellis (Charlie Taylor 69), Jordan Beyer, Ian Maatsen, Josh Cullen, Jack Cork (Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson ht), Nathan Tella (Michael Obafemi 87), Josh Brownhill (Samuel Bastien 77), Lyle Foster (Manuel Benson ht), Ashley Barnes. Subs not used: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Vitinho.
Yellow Card: Taylor Harwood-Bellis.
Sheffield United: Wes Foderingham, Anel Ahmedhodzic, John Egan, Jack Robinson (Adam Davies 19), Jayden Bogle, Sander Berge (Chris Basham 82), Oliver Norwood, Tommy Doyle (John Fleck 73), George Baldock, Oli McBurnie (William Osula 73), Iliman Ndiaye (Billy Sharp 73). Subs not used: Ciaran Clark, James McAtee.
Yellow Cards: John Egan, Jayden Bogle, Iliman Ndiaye.
Red Card: Wes Foderingham.
Referee: Michael Salisbury (Preston).
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