Dave Thornley, the Clarets Mad resident match summariser reflects on yesterday's game at Goodison Park.
I have mentioned previously being a Burnley supporter isn’t always easy. Watching the Clarets play can be a frustrating, nerve-wracking, and infuriating experience. But the reward for all that suffering, and forbearance is that we occasionally get to experience our team play like they did in the first half against Everton at Goodison Park yesterday evening.
At the start of the game, Burnley’s situation was not exactly precarious, but equally, not exactly comfortable. Four points clear of eighteenth placed Fulham, and in a run of games where they have scraped together enough points to maintain the gap, without ever pulling clear.
Everton away is a tough task; led by Carlo Ancelotti, they are genuine top four contenders, with a crop of highly rated and expensively assembled players.
It was therefore deeply gratifying and pleasantly surprising to see Burnley spring straight into their stride and take the game to the Toffees.
In the thirteenth minute, Josh Brownhill picked the pocket of Everton’s Tom Davies and fed Dwight McNeil on the left, his cross was deflected into the path of Chris Wood, who calmly took a touch to open up a gap and bend the ball into the bottom corner of Jordan Pickford’s net
Burnley continued to press forward; there was a real snap and hunger about their play; more precision to their passing; more fluency in their movement; and more fire in their collective bellies.
A corner swung to the far post was contested by Ben Mee and an Everton opponent. The ball ricocheted off the Evertonian's arm as the pair rose to win the header. Burnley’s appeals for a penalty were denied (no surprise there) as it fell into the “seen them given” category.
Not that the Clarets dwelt on their perceived injustice for too long; Matej Vydra held the ball up on the right-hand side long enough for McNeil to find space in the centre. The young Burnley winger side-stepped a flat-footed Allan and curled a left foot shot with pin-point accuracy into the top corner. A superb goal, and no more than Burnley and the effervescent McNeil deserved for their first half play.
The bit was firmly between Burnley’s teeth and Johann Berg Gudmundsson was the width of a post away from adding a third. In the process, Pickford injured himself as he dived. It seemed innocuous enough at the time, but, although he tried, the England keeper was unable to continue and was substituted by a rookie Portuguese goalkeeper by the improbable name of Virginia.
Clarets’ fans nerves started to jangle before half time when Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s header pulled a goal back for Everton. One imagined that the home team would lay siege to the Burnley goal in the second half, but, although Everton had the majority of possession after the break, they rarely seriously threatened Burnley’s lead.
Indeed, it was Burnley who had the better changes in the second half; Vydra and Jay Rodriguez both drew saves from the substitute goalkeeper and Ben Mee saw his far post header bounce off the crossbar.
We don’t see Burnley play like this often enough; on the front foot, passing the ball with precision and authority, opening up angles for attacking options, whilst remaining calm, resolute, and organised defensively.
McNeil, for his brilliant goal and a bravura all-round display, won most of the plaudits. Even Match of the Day pundits Alan Shearer and Jermaine Jenas were fulsome in their praise and were visibly grateful to be able to employ adjectives other than “shape” and “organisation” to praise Burnley’s play.
But McNeil was just one shining light in an excellent all-round display; Josh Brownhill and Ashley Westwood were superb in midfield, as were Chris Wood and Matej Vydra up front and of course, we have become accustomed to excellence from Ben Mee and James Tarkowski.
Thanks to Burnley’s victory and Fulham’s subsequent dismantling by Manchester City, the Clarets now go into an extended break of three weeks with a sturdy seven-point advantage over the bottom three. Yesterday’s result has gone a long way towards banishing any lingering fears of relegation.
Finally, if you would forgive me the indulgence, I would like to pay a brief tribute to Murray Walker who passed away yesterday; not because I am a Formula One fan, far from it, but because he was the last of the golden age of sporting commentators.
Walker was one of the most prominent of a group of commentators who popularised the sports they covered and became virtually synonymous with them. Names like David Coleman, Harry Carpenter, Peter Allis, Richie Benaud, John Arlott, Bill McLaren, Peter O’Sullivan, Eddie Waring and Dan Maskell; like Walker, they all infused their commentaries with knowledge, authority, humour, and an inimitable style.
Ken Hanson posts across social media from articles written by Dave, which are edited and posted from Clarets Mad, by The Editors Chair (TEC).