Even closer to that tour after home draw
Burnley and Brighton & Hove Albion won a point apiece for a 0-0 draw at the Turf in a game that could hardly be described as inspirational, but the points won are vital to both of us for very different reasons.
I chatted with some rather concerned Brighton fans before the game. They were still worried about a potential relegation, certainly given that their three remaining games are against the current top three, but I think they’ll be OK. It would be a surprise to see them go down.
As for us, we went into the game knowing that four points would see off Leicester while only two were needed to ensure we finished above Everton, these being the only two who could pass us. While we were drawing, Leicester, whose players look as though they are trying to get yet another manager sacked, were taking a hammering at Crystal Palace and are now out of the reckoning. Everton did win but it’s very unlikely, given the respective goal differences, that they could pass us.
On a bright Turf Moor afternoon, Sean Dyche kept an unchanged team from the one that had drawn at Stoke six days earlier. The only changes came on the bench where Dean Marney, who it was confirmed this week would be leaving the club, and Jon Walters were replaced by fit again Georges-Kévin NKoudou and Nahki Wells.
Brighton, meanwhile, left out Glenn Murray, public enemy number one from the game at the Amex, with Argentine striker Leonardo Ulloa, on loan from Leicester, getting his first Brighton start since their play-off semi-final defeat against Derby in May 2014.
In a turgid first half, the only real concern we had was when Bruno Saltor fired a shot across our goal and wide of the post and it wasn’t too much different at the other end where twice we remonstrated with referee Roger East, who had an appalling afternoon, for what we considered were hand balls against Lewis Dunk.
The first of them provided us with virtually all of the first half entertainment which all came about when Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson’s free kick caused mayhem in the Brighton box. From my vantage point, I couldn’t see exactly what had happened but I was convinced the ball had crossed the line and that either East’s watch or the goal line technology had failed us. That argument was strengthened with our players clearly making their point known to the referee.
It hadn’t gone in, it wasn’t even close. Mat Ryan saved twice, I think from Barnes, and then the ball was back heeled across goal by James Tarkowski for Kevin Long to hit the post with a left foot shot. When the ball came back out it definitely hit Dunk’s arm but, for me, the referee got this one right. The next shout was similar, but again I thought the referee got it right although I think that when we finally do get a penalty it will probably be a poor decision in our favour.
Ryan saved easily from Barnes and then, close to the interval, he saved a Guðmundsson free kick. Our Icelandic international was down injured right at the end of the half. It was a naughty challenge that East, and his assistant who was so close to the incident, both missed.
By now the good news was coming through from Selhurst Park. We knew that all we had to do in the second half was get the game won and our European place would be confirmed.
Getting the game won proved to be the difficult task although there was no point that I thought we were every likely to lose it. They had a bit of the play in the early stages but never really tested us as we stood firm defensively, but we just couldn’t really get going much and when we did get close to an effort on goal it was more speculative with very few, if any, clear cut chances coming our way.
Chris Wood picked up an injury and was replaced by Sam Vokes. NKoudou came on for an out of touch Aaron Lennon and with just under ten minutes remaining Ashley Westwood gave way to Jeff Hendrick.
That’s five successive draws against Brighton now. The last time a game between us ended in a positive result for either side was when they beat us 2-0 at the Amex in August 2013 in the game that saw Tom Heaton ridiculously sent off by referee Darren Sheldrake, I’ve just looked back at that game; three players started who were also in the starting line ups yesterday. Ulloa and Stephen Ward were in the Brighton side while Long played for Burnley.
Back to yesterday, it was as disappointing a game as we’ve had, and it was probably the least entertaining game we’ve been involved in all season, but that was no surprise. Brighton are not the easiest of teams to play against, they spoil, niggle and do all they can to disrupt the game. Still, it was another point. We are so, so close to confirming our place in Europe. Get your passports dusted, they are going to be needed in just under three months time.
The teams were;
Burnley: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, Kevin Long, James Tarkowski, Stephen Ward, Aaron Lennon (Georges-Kévin NKoudou 72), Ashley Westwood (Jeff Hendrick 81), Jack Cork, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Chris Wood (Sam Vokes 66), Ashley Barnes. Subs not used: Tom Heaton, Phil Bardsley, Charlie Taylor, Nahki Wells.
Brighton: Mat Ryan, Bruno Saltor (Ezequiel Schelotto 89), Lewis Dunk, Shane Duffy, Gaëtan Bong, Anthony Knockaert, Beram Kayal, Dale Stephens, José Izquierdo (Solly March 85), Pascal Groß, Leonardo Ulloa (Glenn Murray 67). Subs not used: Tim Krul, Connor Goldson, Jürgen Locadia, Markus Suttner.
Yellow Cards: Dale Stephens, Glenn Murray.
Referee: Roger East (Wiltshire).
Attendance: 19,452 (including 1,912 from Brighton).
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