‘Tis undoubtedly the season of goodwill, the annual season for giving.
Unfortunately, the spirit of the season has been taken a little too far by the players of Burnley Football Club in their festive fixtures at Everton on Boxing Day and at home to Manchester United on Saturday evening.
Defeats in both those matches were the direct result of Dwight McNeil and Charlie Taylor respectively gifting possession to their opponents in Burnley’s own defensive third of the field. In each case, the gifts resulted in goals from which Burnley were unable to recover.
Such sloppiness has been an unwelcome recurring theme in the first half of what is turning out to be a curiously “start, stop” season for the Clarets, one in which both victories and defeats have tended to arrive in batches of two or three at a time.
Similar defensive mistakes occurred in matches against Liverpool, Chelsea and Crystal Palace, on each occasion, Burnley fell behind and were unable to respond.
Possession may be nine tenths of the law, but it is ten tenths of Premier League prosperity. To squander it so carelessly and in such dangerous positions is asking for trouble to be visited upon the Clarets’ house.
Perhaps even more puzzling is that the guilty parties have been players who canususally be relied upon to discharge their tasks with efficiency and aplomb.
Mistakes happen, of course, and those committed by Burnley in past matches have been swiftly rectified in subsequent games. But I would urge Sean Dyche to emphasise the need to concentrate and respect the sanctity of possession.
The Boxing Day match against Everton was tedious in the extreme and is probably best glossed over. For the record, Sidibe’s cross after pouncing on McNeil’s hesitancy found Calvert-Lewin’s head for the only goal.
Against perhaps the worst Manchester United team since the post Best, Law and Charlton days under Frank O’Farrell in the seventies, Taylor hesitated in almost identical fashion to McNeill and the ball was swiftly ushered to the feet of Anthony Martial who made no mistake from close range.
To their credit, Burnley rallied in the second half and had periods in which they posed a serious threat the United’s lead. The introduction of the fit-again Johann Berg Gudmundsson provided much of the impetus behind those periods of pressure.
Their quest for an equaliser was not helped by every Claret’s least favourite official, Mike Dean, whose infuriating indulgence of United’s attempts to break up play resulted in the award of a number of imaginary free kicks; coupled with the disregard of a credible penalty claim for a handball by Harry McGuire, shortly before Marcus Rashford scored on the breakaway with the game’s last kick.
So, Burnley’s half-term report shows a return of twenty four points and although the successive defeats have seen them slip to thirteenth place in the table, if the second half of the season replicates the first, Burnley can look forward to a tally of forty eight points and the comfort of mid-table.
The report however must also carry a cautionary note to concentrate harder and cut out the defensive blunders.
Christmas match reports presented by Dave Thornley, who contributes regularly on behalf of Clarets Mad. (TEC)