Heroes and Villains
Burnley had the heroes last night against Aston Villa, the Villains, with us twice coming from behind to go on and win 3-2 and take our points total at the half way stage in the season to 22.
When the players left the pitch at half time with us trailing 1-0, we couldn’t have been too confident of getting anything out of the game and, despite playing so much better in the second half, it also looked unlikely when Villa went back in front. But in the end, we had those heroes to take all three points.
We came home on the back of two good away wins. Did I say good? I suppose you could put the cup win at Fulham into that category but winning at Liverpool, as we did last Thursday, belongs in a category some way above good.
What we needed was a performance against a Villa side who are having a much better season than many expected but Sean Dyche was forced into two changes from the team that won at Anfield. We knew that Charlie Taylor was out which meant a starting berth for Erik Pieters who had come on for him in that win at Liverpool. Ashley Barnes was also ruled out and that led to Jay Rodriguez starting up front with Chris Wood.
If we were looking for a response then it didn’t come. We were second best for most of the remaining of the half with Jack Grealish, who had been involved in the goal, pulling the strings. If you are not a Villa fan then he’s probably one of those players you just love to hate but there is no doubting that he’s a talent.
Villa got so much on top that a second goal looked inevitable and the final ten minutes of the half were akin to a horror movie for Burnley fans as they pummelled Pope’s goal. On a night when Jordan Pickford was once again failing to cover himself in glory, Pope was simply magnificent when called upon, making a string of top saves, while the defenders did what they could, getting in blocks.
There was an outpouring of relief when referee Paul Tierney blew for half time with the score still at just 1-0 in Villa’s favour. That final ten minutes of the half proved, although we didn’t realise it at the time, to be key. Had we conceded another, which we could have done so easily, then I don’t think there would have been any chance of a comeback.
Villa got in an early attempt that Pope saved to suggest nothing had changed, but it had, we were about to play so much better in a second half that brought four goals and that’s the first time Turf Moor has seen that since December 2019 when we were beaten 4-1 by Manchester City.
Chris Wood has come in for some stick this season. He hasn’t looked as much of a goal threat as in previous seasons admittedly, but with just over five minutes gone in the second half he tussled with Tyrone Mings, the defender that Gareth Southgate astonishingly prefers to James Tarkowski, and won us a corner on the left. Ashley Westwood’s delivery found Ben Mee at the far post and the skipper powerfully headed the ball back across and powerfully into the net.
Despite Villa’s dominance, we were now level just a few minutes into the second half. Mee has been terrific since returning from injury but I have to admit that I never expected to be writing that he scored our final home league goal of 2020 and our first home league of 2021. Suddenly, after a six year wait for a Turf Moor goal, he’s becoming almost prolific.
But that Grealish threat remained. He went on one amazing run only for Pope to deny him but then restored Villa’s lead with a good finish from a Douglas Luiz ball in from the right after he himself had played the ball out to the right.
After all our good work in the second half, it looked as though it would come to nothing with this goal but the best was yet to come.
Did I mention Dyche getting his changes spot on? His third did too. With a quarter of an hour remaining, Rodriguez made way for Matěj Vydra. Four minutes later we were in front and he’d played a part in both goals.
McNeil and Cork were soon in action again with the latter’s cross headed clear. Mee won it back and played it down the left. Vydra was terrific in running wide to get the ball and play it back for McNeil who got in his cross for Wood whose header nestled into the corner. What a header it was. Dion Dublin on Match of the Day spoke about it as did Sean Dyche.
We were in front and had no intentions of letting that lead go. With something to protect, you know we will protect it well. I think Pope made one save of a kind but generally we saw the time out with little concern.
In the end we deserved it. To play as disappointingly as we did in the first half, and that we mustn’t forget, and then to come out and play like that in the second half says so much about us. All the doom and gloom that was here in front of my television during the half time interval was long gone, it was another night to enjoy once that final whistle had gone.
More importantly, it was the first time we’ve won back to back games in the Premier League since beating Watford and Crystal Palace last June and, in a season where the bottom three are some way behind in points than the bottom three were at this stage last season, it’s looking better now having reached 22, only one point behind both Crystal Palace and Wolves.
And finally, our congratulations to JBG whose son was born yesterday morning. As he said: “My son born in the morning and 3 points in the evening what a day it was.” It probably only needed that post match discussion between Ian Woan and Grealish to complete things.
Chelsea, with Thomas Tuchel, and then home for Manchester City next. It doesn’t get any easier but I reckon another four wins from the remaining games will be enough to ensure another season in the Premier League. I’m definitely more confident than I was when we’d won just two points from the first seven games.
The teams were;
Burnley: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Erik Pieters, Robbie Brady (Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson 60), Josh Brownhill (Jack Cork ht), Ashley Westwood, Dwight McNeil, Chris Wood, Jay Rodriguez (Matěj Vydra 75). Subs not used: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Phil Bardsley, Kevin Long, Jimmy Dunne, Dale Stephens, Josh Benson.
Yellow Card: James Tarkowski.
Aston Villa: Emiliano Martínez, Matty Cash, Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings, Matt Targett, Douglas Luiz (Keinan Davis 88), John McGinn, Bertrand Traoré (Mahmoud Trézéguet 83), Ross Barkley (Anwar El Ghazi 83), Jack Grealish, Ollie Watkins. Subs not used: Tom Heaton, Neil Taylor, Marvelous Nakamba, Björn Engels, Ahmed Elmohamady, Jacob Ramsey.
Referee: Paul Tierney (Wigan).