An 89th minute goal from Ashley Barnes gave Burnley a 1-0 win against Stoke City at a bitterly cold and wet Turf Moor last night to lift the Clarets to fourth place in the Premier League.
Yes, fourth place. It might only be for 24 hours with all of Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs to play tonight, but it doesn’t half look good and it’s the highest position we’ve held for over 42 years when Jimmy Adamson’s Team of the Seventies were pushing towards a title chase in the 1974/75 season.
This latest win wasn’t pretty to watch. It never was going to be in the awful conditions and it is only a shame that on the night we got these conditions our opponents were Stoke, a team much more likely to be able to deal with them than say an Arsenal or a Manchester City.
It’s been bitterly cold, and remains so, and just to make things worse we got pouring rain for most of the game although, thankfully, at least it did stop at the end of the game so we could all make our way home dry, if frozen.
We were playing a Stoke side that aren’t going too well right now. Fans clashed with players at Stoke station on the way back from their hammering at Spurs at the weekend and there is no doubt, and we saw further evidence in this game, they are far from happy with manager Mark Hughes.
In response to the defeat at Spurs, Hughes made three changes. Out went Kevin Wimmer, Thomas Edwards and Maxim Choupo-Moting who were replaced with Geoff Cameron, Ramadan Sobhi and Peter Crouch.
No such luxuries for Burnley boss Sean Dyche. With none of the injured players fit to return, it was the same starting eleven that had beaten Watford with the same seven substitutes.
Just ahead of kick off I had the stat thrown at me that Stoke hadn’t won a top flight game on a Tuesday since 1906. That’s a long stretch. Our last Tuesday win wasn’t quite that long ago. You only have to go back to April of this year when we beat Stoke 1-0. Last night was the first time we’ve played on a Tuesday since. I don’t like these stats though; I always think that other clubs’ bad runs will come to an end against us.
Stoke made the brighter start in this one and they were close to taking an early lead when Crouch got in and hit the post with an effort that came his way when James Tarkowski was unable to cut out the ball across.
But generally, neither side were able to carve out too many opportunities. Tarkowski, and Kevin Long alongside him, were both excellent in the centre of our defence and, at the other end, Ryan Shawcross and Kurt Zouma looked equally impressive.
Despite the promptings of Steven Defour for us and Xherdan Shaqiri for Stoke, there was little to excite the crowd in the opening 45 minutes as both sides really struggled with the conditions. They probably had the edge while we suffered a blow just before half time when Stephen Ward was withdrawn with an injury.
Last season, Tom Heaton was outstanding behind a settled back four. When Charlie Taylor came on for Ward to make his Premier League debut, none of those five players were on the pitch with four of them out injured and the other at Everton. We can’t afford any more defensive injuries, that’s for sure, but we are certainly a lot stronger there than we’ve previously been given the quality of player we’ve been able to bring in to the side.
The second half followed a similar pattern with us holding our own, but as time moved on, so we started to get the upper hand. Was it Stoke dropping back settling for a point or was it us trying to push forward for a winner?
Stoke lost defender Zouma midway through the half. It didn’t help them and it certainly gave manager Hughes his excuse, but other than a shot from Defour which forced Jack Butland into action, neither goalkeeper was really tested.
Barnes and Sam Vokes came on for us and then Stoke withdrew Shaqiri with Choupo-Moting coming on. That went down well with the visitors. “You don’t know what you’re doing,” they sang to their manager. When the Burnley fans responded with: “You’re getting sacked in the morning,” it was greeted positively by those away supporters who, otherwise, could hardly find the enthusiasm for a rendition of Delilah.
On a night like this, in these conditions, a game can go any way and you just hope it won’t go against you. I’d long since settled for a point to be honest and considered four points from these two home games to be a very good return.
I checked my watch. There were just under two minutes of normal time remaining, just as Jack Cork collected the ball from Defour close to the half way line. He moved forward with it before playing it up for Barnes. He chested it down to Arfield and he played it back to Barnes who pulled the trigger with his right foot from around 12 yards to leave Butland helpless.
Turf Moor went wild. We were now just a minute or so plus stoppage time from moving into fourth place. Nick Pope gathered one ball in the four minutes added on, but other than that we sailed through and fourth place it is.
I keep looking at the league table. I’m certainly one who falls into the glass half full category. I’m the one looking at the stars in the Stan Ternent analogy, but even I could never have believed we’d have 31 points and be fourth.
Just a few weeks ago, Cork did an interview. It was between the games against his former clubs Southampton and Swansea. We had 19 points at the time and he said: “We will look at Christmas as the next target and maybe try to get to thirty which would give us a good margin for the rest of the season to push on from there. So another few wins before Christmas would be perfect.”
He also said in that interview: “As soon as you get carried away, you get smacked back down. We have to be realistic.” Not for one minute do I think any of our players won’t be realistic. Within no time of the final whistle, the manager said it had been parked and it was Brighton next; that’s the feet on the ground approach that continues to serve our club so well.
But we as supporters can dream, we can get carried away, and sitting in fourth place in the Premier League, well that’s something I didn’t even dare dream of. It’s real though; I’ve just taken another look at the table.
Enjoy it. I’ve no idea where we will finish in the table this season but given the objective was probably to stay in, it’s almost mission accomplished.
Now for the long trip to Brighton.
The teams were;
Burnley: Nick Pope, Phil Bardsley, Kevin Long, James Tarkowski, Stephen Ward (Charlie Taylor 41), Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Steven Defour, Jack Cork, Scott Arfield, Jeff Hendrick (Ashley Barnes 71), Chris Wood (Sam Vokes 82). Subs not used: Anders Lindegaard, Ashley Westwood, Fredrik Ulvestad, Nahki Wells.
Stoke: Jack Butland, Kurt Zouma (Kevin Wimmer 66), Ryan Shawcross, Geoff Cameron, Mame Biram Diouf, Darren Fletcher, Joe Allen, Erik Pieters, Xherdan Shaqiri (Maxim Choupo-Moting 84), Peter Crouch, Ramadan Sobhi. Subs not used: Lee Grant, Ibrahim Afellay, Charlie Adam, Thomas Edwards, Saido Berahino.
Referee: Mike Jones (Chester).
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