With bona fide National Treasures such as Delia Smith, Stephen Fry and Ed Balls amongst their supporters, Norwich City are surely one of the nicest clubs in the Premier League. Homely, hospitable and inoffensive, their sorties into the top division are always welcome.
Newly promoted this season, they arrived at Turf Moor yesterday to take on Burnley fresh from a jaw-dropping victory over Manchester City and boasting among their ranks the Premier League’s in form striker, Timu Pukki and a suitably trendy German coach in Borussia Dortmund alumni Daniel Farke.
It is almost a tradition that coaches bringing teams up into the Premier League stipulate from the outset their intention to be unyielding in their insistence that they will take on the Premier League by playing expansive, open football.
Previous similarly “progressive” coaches have found to their cost what Farke discovered yesterday; that such noble intentions frequently fail to survive an encounter with Sean Dyche’s Burnley.
Often the East Lancashire weather plays its part by greeting such opponents with grey skies and biting cold, thereby adding to the generally attractional atmosphere of Turf Moor on match day. Yesterday, however, the early autumn sun shone its benevolence on us all and the game was played throughout in unseasonable heat.
Burnley sprung into action straight from the outset; covering the pitch with the sprightliness of a puppy but with the killer instincts of a pack of wolves, they harried and hassled Norwich at every opportunity, pressing them in possession and forcing mistakes from which they pounced.
The midfield quartet of Jack Cork, Ashley Westwood, Jeff Hendrick and Dwight McNeill seized control of the game at this early stage and for the first half hour or so Burnley played some of their best football of the season.
During this time they scored twice; the first a near post header by Chris Wood from a Westwood corner; the second, a short while later, a neat finish, also by Wood, after McNeill had beaten the Canaries’ full back for pace and delivered a perfect low cross.
At 2-0 within the first twenty minutes, Clarets’ fans may have expected their team to go on to complete a more emphatic victory, but Norwich established themselves in the game and kept Burnley’s subsequent attempts to add to their score at bay.
They were assisted by two penalty shouts which on another day might have been awarded; indeed the upending of Ashley Barnes in the second half was as clear cut as it is possible to get. VAR was introduced to right such wrongs, but went strangely unutilised.
A jinking run by McNeill into the Canaries’ penalty area led to him serving Wood with a fairly straightforward chance to complete his hat-trick, but his shot found only the grateful arms of Norwich keeper Tim Krull.
As for Norwich, their increased share of possession led to nothing more threatening than an early chance for Pukki which was repelled by Nick Pope’s outstretched leg, and a shot from the edge of the penalty area which thumped against the post. All other efforts to create meaningful chances ran
aground on the twin rocks at the heart of the Burnley defence: James Tarkowski, fresh from his appearance on Question of Sport; and Ben Mee, fresh from celebrating his thirtieth birthday.
As the game neared its end, the heat had sapped the energy from many a limb, most notably those of Dwight McNeill whose rampaging runs down the left wing, which were such a feature of the first half, had all but disappeared in the second.
McNeill is still an ingénue in Premier League terms, and this must be born in mind whilst pointing out that his stamina needs to improve if he is to fulfil his massive potential.
So Burnley complete their second win of the season to increase their tally to eight points from their first six games. A pleasingly plump return from a team who have begun the season vigorously, working hard and doing what Burnley do best; making life difficult for all who cross their path.
Written by Clarets Mad enthusiast Dave Thornley, commenting on a day of sunshine and three points for Burnley Football Club. (TEC.)