Amidst the genteel and bijou surroundings of Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium yesterday, Burnley took a huge step towards securing their place in the Premier League for next season with a 3-1 victory that was as assured as it was timely.
Vitality was indeed a characteristic largely absent from the play of the hosts as Burnley benefitted from some crass defensive mishaps on their way to notching up their fourth victory of the season away from Turf Moor and completing a league double over Eddie Howe’s Cherries.
During his stint as Burnley manager, defensive structure and discipline were largely absent from the Clarets’ play under Howe and despite the sterling work he has done since returning to Bournemouth, on the evidence of yesterday’s game, those defensive frailties have not been sufficiently eradicated.
The eventual positive outcome for the Clarets did not however look so likely when Bournemouth took an early lead. Ashley Barnes, defending a set-piece, beat Nathan Ake to the ball only to divert his header beyond the grasp of Tom Heaton and into the corner of his own goal.
In previous matches this season (one thinks particularly of home games against Newcastle and Everton) the concession of an early goal has led Burnley to jab down hard on the panic button and abandon their shape and composure in the search for a rapid response.
Happily there was none of that yesterday; Burnley remained focused and purposeful and by the twentieth minute, they had overturned the deficit.
First off the Bournemouth goalkeeper Asmir Begovic flapped at an Ashley Westwood corner, allowing Chris Wood to nod in the simplest goal that Burnley’s Kiwi striker is ever likely to score.
Next up, Cherry defender Chris Mepham’s attempted clearance from a Dwight McNeil cross was merely prodded towards Westwood on the edge of the box; the midfielder’s shot cut a graceful curve through the air en route to the top corner of the Cherries’ goal.
Callum Wilson miscued a free header when he probably should have scored, but that apart there was little in the way of a sustained and credible threat from the home team. And it was left to Burnley to seal the victory in the second half.
Charlie Taylor’s left wing run hugged the touchline to the extent that Bournemouth’s defenders pulled up with arms aloft, believing that a throw in was about to come their way.
As every schoolboy footballer knows, the whole of the ball must cross the line for it to be deemed out of play and TV replays confirmed that Taylor had scooped the ball back in time to keep it in play.
Even with the Cherries defence temporarily rendered motionless, Bournemouth should have still dealt with the problem, but Begovic fumbled what was a reasonably simple gather at his near post.
Chris Wood having probably his best game of the season, won the loose ball and passed to Ashley Barnes who atoned for his earlier own goal with a straight forward finish.
So, a comfortable and comforting victory which hoisted the Clarets into fourteenth place, eight points above the third relegation place currently occupied by Burnley’s next opponents, Cardiff City, in what is likely to be a season-defining game.
Victory should see Burnley safe ahead of the final four fixtures which represent the run-in from hell. Defeat, and Burnley will approach those four games with the need to take points from the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton and Arsenal.
Sean Dyche's Clarets in their last two games, have placed next season's destiny firmly in their own hands. This Burnley team on yesterday's evidence will not allow the threat of relegation to become a reality.
Written by uber Claret fan Dave Thornley, who has already renewed his season ticket, with the EPL fixture list already on his radar. (TEC.)