Gud day for the Clarets
An 82nd minute goal from Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, his second of the season, earned Burnley a point yesterday in a 1-1 draw against Premier League leaders Manchester City in front of the Sky television cameras.
It capped a wonderful last twenty-five minutes or so when we put City under some real pressure at a noisy Turf Moor that simply urged us on to finally get something from a game that might, earlier in the day, have slipped away from us under the threat of some really good football from our visitors.
It’s been an awful run of home fixtures if you base them on the level of difficulty, but as was said to me yesterday, it really does feel like a privilege to be able to compete with the country’s top teams in league games.
Spurs, Liverpool and Manchester United had already beaten us and this one, quite simply, was always likely to be the toughest of the lot and, as such, this result will rank among the best of this already incredible season.
With the television cameras in town, it was an early kick off, and it was another miserable winter day with rain, threats of snow but at least not quite as cold as was being predicted. It was the sort of day you might want an Arsenal team visiting rather than a good northern team from Manchester. Good northern team? Their match day squad of 17 including 15 foreign players and Raheem Sterling, who was born in Jamaica and brought up in London, leaving Sheffield man Kyle Walker as their only northern player.
I did suggest 17 players rather than 18. Apparently they couldn’t fill their bench due to the number of injuries they have. The total they have injured is less than ours, and with Fredrik Ulvestad’s departure, we were short so included Aiden O’Neill, recently returned from a loan at Fleetwood, as a substitute for the first time in over a year.
Sean Dyche had made two changes and both were significant. Aaron Lennon came in for Scott Arfield for his first start in Burnley colours but the other change, Sam Vokes for Ashley Westwood, meant a change of formation to 4-4-2 with Vokes partnering Ashley Barnes up front and Jeff Hendrick alongside Jack Cork in the centre of midfield.
Among the injured City players was David Silva which robbed us of the opportunity to watch this brilliant midfielder, but there was still a bit of talent on view, none more so than Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Agüero.
The early part of the game was a bit stop start with physio Ally Beattie as busy as anyone. He first came on to treat Barnes, who went down in a tussle with Vincent Kompany, and soon after that we had both Vokes and Phil Bardsley down at the same time in our own box.
When the game did finally settle down it was City who were in control and playing some really good football, and it was no real surprise when they did go in front although probably not as you might have expected. It came from a left wing corner that De Bruyne played back to Bernardo Silva who moved it on to left-back Danilo. With no one to close him down he unleashed a shot into the far corner with Nick Pope helpless.
They were the better side but it wasn’t one way traffic and twice we had chances to equalise with both falling to Ben Mee. He hit a shot on the half volley from which Ederson made a really good save and then probably should have done better when he rose to head a corner wide of the post.
Still, just 1-0 down at half time and as long as we could keep it to one then we would always have a chance of coming back in.
Bardsley succumbed to that earlier injury and didn’t come out for the second half – that’s one more to add to our injury list – with Matt Lowton, who himself lost his place to injury earlier in the season, coming on.
He had a very difficult time in the first part of the half as City really stepped things up. If it wasn’t against us it would be a joy to watch, but maybe they just tried to score the perfect goal and weren’t able to get that decisive second goal.
At some stage, if it stayed 1-0, we would have to give it a go but I was concerned we might try that too early, concede another goal and then potentially lose heavily. We were sensible but I did sense that we were coming more and more into it just past the hour.
Then came two big incidents a couple of minutes apart when we came so, so close to equalising before they should have put the game to bed.
Guðmundsson was becoming more and more influential in the game and got down the left before squaring the ball. It was moved on to Cork who, by now, was playing as well as he’d done earlier in the season. He played in Lennon who looked a certain scorer, only to see Ederson somehow get to his shot and save via the bar.
City had just had an escape but no one will know just how they didn’t go straight down and clinch it but when the ball came in from the right, Sterling incredibly missed the target from a few yards out before diving on the ground in sheer frustration. It was a bad miss, one hard to believe. He was quickly removed from the action and from then on it really was all Burnley.
We were simply brilliant, and against the best team in the land. We put them under some tremendous pressure as the decibel levels inside Turf Moor increased more and more. Finally the goal came.
City ended one good Burnley move and when the ball was played back forward they got it away only for Mee to get in and take the ball from Agüero. He moved it on to Guðmundsson and then it went to the ever improving Charlie Taylor.
His first time cross was just too high but Cork chased it out to the right and knocked it back for Lowton. The full back’s cross was perfect. Guðmundsson got ahead of Walker and finished brilliantly on the half volley. It was the sort of opportunity that could so easily have been blazed over into the Jimmy Mac but he controlled his effort beautifully and, despite Ederson getting a touch, it was always going in.
We’d equalised against City. How would they react? In truth, there was just one moment of real concern when Lennon got back to deny them possession in the box at the expense of a corner. Other than that we were comfortable as the home fans roared us on for an unlikely winner.
I was content with what we’d got to be honest and was punching the air as if we’d won when referee Martin Atkinson, who had an excellent game, blew the final whistle.
City really are a marvellous side but we’ve put three good performances in against them this season and I do think it would have been really unjust to have come away with three defeats.
Back in mid-December, on the way back from Brighton, we sat fifth in the Premier League although we did drop a place on the following day. Spurs were below us but went above us a week later. On that journey home, looking at the immediate fixtures, I said that I’d certainly settle for a top half place by the time we’d played the Manchester City game. We’ve more than done that and still sit seventh in the league.
It felt like a win yesterday as we left Turf Moor and judging from the reaction of other supporters I wasn’t the only one who thought that.
I got home to see former players Jimmy Robson and Trevor Meredith talking about another game against City almost 58 years ago. Jimmy, still a regular at the Turf, said that we are a very good team with no superstars, but he added we have very good players.
What another superb day at the Turf it was.
The teams were;
Burnley: Nick Pope, Phil Bardsley (Matt Lowton ht), Kevin Long, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Jeff Hendrick, Jack Cork, Aaron Lennon, Sam Vokes, Ashley Barnes. Subs not used: Anders Lindegaard, Ashley Westwood, Aiden O’Neill, Scott Arfield, Georges-Kévin NKoudou, Nahki Wells.
Yellow Cards: Kevin Long, Jack Cork, Ben Mee, Ashley Barnes.
Manchester City: Ederson, Kyle Walker, Vincent Kompany, Nicolás Otamendi, Danilo, Kevin de Bruyne, Fernandinho, Ilkay Gündogan, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling (Brahim Diaz 74), Sergio Agüero. Subs not used: Claudio Bravo, Aymeric Laporte, Tosin Adarabioyo, Alexander Zinchenko, Yaya Touré.
Yellow Card: Ilkay Gündogan.
Referee: Martin Atkinson (Leeds).
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