Superb Saturday in Sussex by the Sea
The Clarets recorded a third away win of the season and took our unbeaten run to a record breaking seven games with a 3-1 win against Brighton & Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium as the rain poured down.
Two Chris Wood goals and an Ashley Barnes penalty, yes, incredibly, another penalty, saw us through to what, eventually, was a comfortable win although there were times in the first half when only Tom Heaton coupled with some brilliant defending kept us in the ascendancy against a Brighton team who are now above us only on goal difference.
It’s one of the longest trips of the season and tentative plans had been made until it all had to change because of the later kick off and the rail problems in the area with a replacement bus service in operation. And so it was by car, and for me an initial journey on the X43 to Prestwich. The journey down was trouble free and we were parked up around 15 minutes walk from the Amex in good time.
The team news was interesting. We’d been debating whether Jeff Hendrick would keep his place with fit again Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson and Robbie Brady both fit again and having made substitute appearances in the Southampton game. I thought Hendrick should remain in the team; others didn’t and when the team was confirmed an hour before kick off it was the same eleven who had started in that Southampton draw with Hendrick again on the right hand side of the midfield.
What I never thought to do was look at the seven named substitutes; I assumed it would, with Hendrick playing, be the same seven. Sean Dyche has said only two days earlier that it had been frustrating at times, with all the injuries, to be forced into naming three and even four defenders on the bench. Here were again with neither JBG nor Brady there, replaced by Matt Lowton and Kevin Long, both of whom were doubts. Why? As yet we don’t know, but it is really frustrating to keep losing players, more so key players such as these two who can be so effective.
The game kicked off with us defending the end where the somewhat sparse gathering of Burnley fans were. I can’t say for certain but this could have been our lowest ever following for a Premier League away game.
We had a couple of early attacks that suggested we might be right on the front foot, but it lasted no more than a couple of minutes after which Brighton really did start to ask questions of us. They put us under a bit of pressure and forced Tom Heaton into a couple of saves; one was a very good save, the other probably routine even if spectacular.
But we slowly, but surely, got a foothold in the game although we were thankful to our captain again for keeping us level when he saved brilliantly to deny Solly March. It really was a key save because within no time we were in front.
Ben Mee picked up the ball on the left and played it forward to Ashley Barnes on the half way line. His turn and pass forward to Chris Wood was excellent. Lewis Dunk slipped to allow Wood a run on goal and he finished it in devastating fashion, with such power that Mat Ryan had hardly an opportunity to move.
We held that lead until half time but it wasn’t without some scares, particularly in the last few minutes of the half. Heaton made another good save, Phil Bardsley miraculously cleared off the line and Jeff Hendrick was also on hand to clear another effort off the line following a corner. As the rain came down it was a relief to get off at 1-0 for the half time break.
By the time the players came out for the second half the rain was considerably worse, and things didn’t improve for us initially. We seemed to be retreating too far, allowing Brighton to get at us and it looked as though we were in for a second half with a lot of defending to do.
I felt we needed to get more of the ball. We eventually did and we made it count with a second for Wood just past the hour. It was a good right footed finish from Wood, right into the corner across the goalkeeper but it came about because of the moment of the whole game for me. I think it was Jack Cork who got the ball to Dwight McNeil. The teenager took the ball forward and I thought he was going to shoot. But, he played a very clever little pass to Wood to give him the chance. It was brilliant from McNeil.
Two goals to the good away from home. It’s been a while since we did that and went on to win, and not too long after that we made it three. Brighton went up for a penalty for handball against Hendrick at the far end which referee Stuart Attwell turned down. I’ve seen it since and I think we did get away with one, but Chris Hughton might wish to recall the one his side ridiculously got against us in the corresponding fixture last season before bleating about it.
What was even better was the fact we broke from it. Wood played in Barnes who had stayed in his own half. Barnes probably should have either scored or played a ball to the right for the onrushing Wood but he tried to take it past Ryan. Now in the goalkeeper bringing down Barnes catalogue, this one was nothing like last week’s, but it was a penalty all the same. While I was berating Wood for missing the target with the loose ball, Attwell was, correctly this time, pointing to the spot. Barnes took it and planted it into the corner. Surely we’d won it now at 3-0.
But no, within no time they’d pulled one back. Anthony Knockaert, on as a substitute, took a free kick. Shane Duffy got there first and headed it home. Was it offside? I’ve looked and looked and listened to others. I think it is an almost impossible decision for an assistant to get right or wrong and be certain, but from pictures I’ve seen it looks as though he’s played onside by Barnes’ backside.
It just meant another quarter of an hour or so less relaxed than it might have been. They pushed men forward, I think they took the kitchen sink with them a few times, but we defended it all really well and when that final whistle blew we were fully deserving of the 3-1 win.
That’s when the problems came for us. After the celebrations with the players at the end, the Burnley fans left the Amex with the rain now pouring. That walk from the car didn’t seem too bad, the return walk was not very good given that we were drenched within no time.
But thankfully, with a food stop, it was another reasonably good journey, although not quite so through the long 50 mph stretches on the M6. I was getting out of the car just past 1:15 a.m. at Prestwich and ready for the drinkers’ bus back home from Manchester. To be honest there were very few on it and it was a relatively quiet journey home apart from one American with a particularly loud voice.
Not bad, a 5:30 kick off and back in the house for 1:55 – absolutely delighted with the result and, in truth, the performance. The resilience is very much there again now, the togetherness and the will to win. It was etched all over the players’ faces at the end. We’d defended brilliantly when we had to but take nothing away from us at the other end of the pitch in scoring three goals.
We’re off to Portugal now, that’s the players, not me, my next trip is to Leyland tomorrow to watch the under-23s against Bolton.
And two penalties in successive games, the first time since Andre Gray and Sam Vokes converted in the home game against Blackburn and the away win at Fulham back in the 2015/16 season.
Then there’s the record breaking seven games without defeat in the Premier League. The last time we achieved that in the top flight was between December 1974 and February 1975 when we also won four and drew three. The last time we beat it was in the first eight games of the 1966/67 season. We won the first three games and drew the next five. We’d also won the final game of 1965/66 at Sheffield Wednesday so the total there was nine.
But our target is to get the number of required points to stay up. We don’t know how many that will be so, for now, we have to keep on picking up as many points as we can.
The teams were;
Brighton: Mat Ryan, Martín Montaya, Shane Duffy, Lewis Dunk, Gaëtan Bong, , Pascal Groß (Yves Bissouma 66) , Davy Pröpper, Dale Stephens, Solly March (Anthony Knockaert 48), Glenn Murray, Jürgen Locadia (Alireza Jahanbakhsh 66). Subs not used: David Button, Dan Burn, Beram Kayal, Bernardo.
Yellow Card: Mat Ryan.
Burnley: Tom Heaton, Phil Bardsley, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor, Jeff Hendrick, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Dwight McNeil, Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood. Subs not used: Joe Hart, Matt Lowton, Kevin Long, Ben Gibson, Stephen Ward, Matěj Vydra, Peter Crouch.
Yellow Card: Ashley Westwood.
Referee: Stuart Attwell (Nuneaton).
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