All in all, it has been a reasonably good week; the negativity surrounding that banner has died down; so too the apparent conflict between Chairman and Manager – a resolution of differences or an uneasy truce? No doubt we will find out in the fullness of time. The injury situation is also starting to ease, and performances and results have been solid.
Last Monday evening’s win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park actually represented one of Burnley’s finest displays of the season; slick and polished in possession and strong in defence when called upon, Burnley showed a side of themselves we perhaps don’t see often enough; players comfortable on the ball and able to weave flowing passages of easy-on-the-eye passing moves.
The enforced deployment of Dwight McNeill in a free role behind Vydra as a lone striker turned out to be a masterstroke. McNeill clearly embraced the responsibility and enjoyed the freedom that the role afforded him.
Whilst it is a tactical formation which would not work with Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood in the team, it is perhaps a system which, with some refinement, would offer the Clarets an extra string to their bow.
Ironically, the decisive goal the only one of the match was when it came, more recognisably Burnley; a free kick to the near post, where Ben Mee dived to head powerfully into the net via keeper and post.
That Palace were unable to offer much in the way of retaliatory threat was testament to the excellence of the Clarets’ defence; Phil Bardsley in particular deserves a mention for job he did in nullifying the threat of Wilfred Zaha.
The gifted Palace winger dominated the last meeting between the two teams at Turf Moor, but this time he was unable to extract any change from Bardsley and had to resort to switching wings in the second half, only to find Charlie Taylor and Erik Pieters in similarly unyielding mood.
Regular readers will be aware of the esteem in which I hold Ben Mee, but since the return from lockdown, the Clarets’ skipper has grown even greater in stature, dealing promptly and honestly with the fall-out of the banner incident in its immediate aftermath, then driving his team to victories over Watford and Palace.
All this whilst having to deal with the swirling vortex of emotions that the premature arrival of his new-born daughter will have caused. At the time of writing, the news is promising. We wish Baby Olive well and welcome her into the World.
It was unfortunate, however, that Mee picked up an injury which caused him the miss the Sunday lunchtime encounter with Sheffield United and possibly the remainder of the season.
This proved to be a tougher assignment than the Palace game, made more so by the absence of the reassurance provided by Mee and by Jack Cork in midfield.
Nevertheless, Burnley stuck well to their task and took the lead after 42 minutes; another free kick and another central defender – James Tarkowski this time – on hand to apply the finish.
Dwight McNeill dragged a left foot shot narrowly wide when a more composed finish would (and should) have put Burnley 2-0 up in the second half and shortly afterwards, the Blades equalised when Egan popped up on the far post to latch onto a flicked header and slip the ball past Nick Pope.
A draw was probably a fair enough result in the end; the exertion of playing four games in so short a space of time clearly showed on Burnley in the last quarter of an hour. With away games at West Ham and the Champions Liverpool ahead in the next six days, there will be little time for recuperation.
But at least reinforcements have arrived in the form of Chris Wood, Robbie Brady and Johann Berg Gudmundsson, all of whom were fit enough to make the substitutes bench today and all of whom will have a part to play as Burnley seek to maintain their position in the top half of the Premier League as this bizarre season reaches its conclusion.
Dave Thornley is back to his week to week job and provides his regular observations on a generally good week at Turf Moor. (TEC.)