What a difference a week makes
Yesterday saw the Clarets return home and with it a massive return to form as we came back from last week’s defeat at Sheffield United to comfortably beat West Ham United by that same 3-0 scoreline.
Sometimes we will play well and other times not so well, but such was the performance at Bramall Lane against the Blades, I’m sure, even yesterday morning, everyone was still reeling at how poor we’d played and that gave me a nervous feeling, probably more so because West Ham are in a poor run and poor runs always come to an end sometime.
I, indeed no one, need to have worried because this was a cheese and chalk performance. West Ham might not have proved to be the most difficult opponents but we saw an outstanding display from the Clarets.
Strike pair Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood both put pen to paper on new contracts during the week; both scored their fifth goals of the season in the first half and we completed the scoring via an own goal from West Ham goalkeeper Roberto in the second half. It could have been more than three, but VAR and a very generous referee ruled out two other goals while Roberto made a string of second half saves to keep it down to three.
The trip to Sheffield had not been a good one and much of the talk during the week had been of potential changes. We know Sean Dyche had a quiet word with them at half time in the Bramall Lane dressing room and I’m sure there has been a lot of work done on the training ground since, including a behind closed doors game during the week.
Dyche had hinted at changes and then, perhaps, hinted at no changes. We expected Wood to return if fit; he was and he did, at the expense of Jay Rodriguez, and when the team news came through there were two other changes which saw Phil Bardsley and Charlie Taylor return in the full back positions at the expense of Matt Lowton and Erik Pieters.
We needed a good start, I felt, and that’s exactly what we got. We got on top right from the start and, if I were to use a Dyche term, it was relentless. This was, you could see already, a team clearly wounded by the events of the previous week.
It didn’t take too long to get in front although we probably did need a little bit of a helping hand from Lady Luck. It all started when Dwight McNeil crossed the ball from deep on the left hand side. Roberto inexplicably opted to punch. In fairness he did get it out of the box but only to Bardsley whose shot took a deflection with referee Kevin Friend and his assistant agreeing on a corner.
Now, television pictures do show that it was probably a goal kick but McNeil’s flag kick from the right was swung in and found James Tarkowski beyond the far post and the central defender headed it down for Barnes to touch home right footed for his first goal since that stunner at Wolves in August.
Before going any further with this report, and there was more to come from our number 11, I have to refer to McNeil’s crossing of the ball. Prior to the goal he’d got in a cross from the left that came to nothing but it had me screaming Dave Thomas in that it looked impossible to get any sort of cross in. Thomas, who I rate the finest crosser of a ball I’ve seen at Burnley, and I’ve seen some outstanding wingers, had that knack of getting in a cross when there seemed to be neither time nor space to do so. McNeil seems to have that same quality.
Never mind that, or the cross that led to the goal. The one for what should have been goal number two was simply outstanding. He received a short ball from Taylor right out on the touchline. He did a little drag back and then produced one simply brilliant cross that Wood met with his head and powered into the net. What an outstanding goal to make it 2-0, or so we thought. Sadly, in came the game killer by the name of VAR and by the most ridiculous of margins it was ruled out by VAR.
“It’s sucking the life out of the game,” wrote Matt Law in the Daily Telegraph after a Sheffield United goal had been equally nonsensically disallowed at Tottenham. “Fuck VAR,” sang the Burnley fans who, like supporters of every other Premier League club, are sick to the back teeth of potentially the worst thing ever introduced into our game. It’s killing it. I don’t care whether Wood was a centimetre offside or not, we surely don’t want decisions like this in the game and we don’t want to have to wait an age for them to be given either, time which, incidentally, was NOT added on at the end of the first half.
But McNeil and Wood stuck two fingers up at VAR, or Wood mockingly stuck his finger in his ear when, just before half time, we did get a second via the same pair. Roberto was involved again when he threw the ball out to Fabián Balbuena whose touch, if I’m being fair, was not very good. McNeil was quickly onto it. This time his cross was early and low. Wood met it with a first time left foot shot that the West Ham goalkeeper got a touch to but had no hope of keeping it out.
A 2-0 half time lead. It could have been more. We’d totally dominated and the players left to rapturous applause from the home fans while the 2,300 plus in the away section looked bemused and forlorn. There was to be precious little to brighten up their afternoon in the second half.
How often have you heard that 2-0 is a dangerous lead? I’ve always found it better than being 1-0 in front or not leading at all but I get the point that should the opposition pull one back then it can change the whole game. So, getting our third just nine minutes into the second half ended all that concern and, like our first goal, it came from another corner.
Was Roberto more concerned about the presence of Barnes than he was of Ashley Westwood’s corner? Maybe, but he did get to the ball and only managed to flap it into his own net and with it any hope they might have had of getting back into the game. We did have yet another wait while VAR was checked but there was absolutely no reason to rule it out.
In terms of a balanced report, they did have one opportunity only for Nick Pope to save well from Aaron Cresswell but down at the cricket field end the beleaguered Roberto proceeded to keep the score down with a string of fine saves. He denied Wood twice, he saved superbly to keep out a shot from Bardsley, he tipped over a goal bound effort from Jeff Hendrick and then did really well to save a deflected Jack Cork shot.
But there was little he could do when Ben Mee headed home what we thought was a fourth. Maybe, on this occasion, he was fouled by Barnes, but Mee was clearly, clearly fouled himself prior to that and the referee should have been pointing to the penalty spot. They got away with that but they didn’t get away with too much all afternoon in a game that we totally dominated.
We needed something to lift us after last week. We needed a reaction. I always thought, to some extent, we’d get it but this was one terrific performance from Burnley, this time beating West Ham without a few punters running on the pitch planting corner flags on the centre spot.
I don’t think we could have asked for more. I left home hoping we could get a win and hoping we would play much better than we’d done seven days earlier. This was way above my hopes and expectations. While West Ham look to be facing a difficult time, based on that performance, we looked like the sort of side I believe we are.
Just a note on our Barnes and Wood. As 2018 came to a close they were in the team that beat West Ham 2-0 in which Wood scored the opener. Including that, yesterday’s game and all games in between, they’ve partnered each other in 28 Premier League games. In those games they’ve netted 27 goals between them. That’s some record and again in this game we saw just how key Wood, who has missed the last two games, is to this team.
I thought long and hard before I wrote my match report last week. I couldn’t skirt around it, I had to tell it as it was and the performance just wasn’t anything like. I didn’t have to do quite as much thinking this week; it was so much easier to tell it like it was.
This was an exceptional performance and what a difference a week makes.
The teams were;
Burnley: Nick Pope, Phil Bardsley, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor, Jeff Hendrick, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Dwight McNeil, Ashley Barnes (Jay Rodriguez 81), Chris Wood (Robbie Brady 90+4). Subs not used: Joe Hart, Matt Lowton, Kevin Long, Erik Pieters, Aaron Lennon.
Yellow Cards: Ben Mee, Ashley Westwood.
West Ham: Roberto, Ryan Fredericks, Fabián Balbuena, Issa Diop, Aaron Cresswell, Declan Rice, Mark Noble (Andriy Yarmolenko 20), Robert Snodgrass, Pablo Fornals (Albian Ajeti 64), Felipe Anderson (Manuel Lanzini 56), Sebastien Haller. Subs not used: David Martin, Pablo Zabaleta, Carlos Sánchez, Angelo Ogbonna.
Yellow Card: Ryan Fredericks.
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).
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