Yesterday was a strange Saturday, one in which only two Premier League matches kicked off at three o’clock, as tradition would usually dictate.
A combination of Europa League commitments, the League Cup Final, the demands of television and some rugby match or other in Cardiff, laid waste to the Premier League’s Saturday afternoon schedule.
Burnley’s home match against Tottenham Hotspur was accordingly obliged to be moved to lunchtime to feed the insatiable demands of Sky Sports.
This posed some conundrums for supporters like me; do I have time to go to the gym in the morning? Do I have an early lunch beforehand, or wait until after the game?
If such disruptions to the normal routine were a problem for us fans; heaven knows what havoc they could wreak on the delicately-balanced ecosystems of the highly-trained elite athletes on both teams.
In the event, there was no need for concern as Burnley and Spurs served up a rip-roaring game, brim full of all that the Premier League holds dear and what sets it apart from other leagues: there was full-blooded commitment from both sets of players; energetic end-to-end play; some breath-taking moments of skill and a little controversy to spice things up.
For Burnley, this was certainly their finest display of the season; a match in which Sean Dyche’s game plan was carried out to perfection by players who committed themselves wholeheartedly to what was on the face of it a daunting task.
A task which was made all the tougher by the return to the Spurs’ ranks of England captain Harry Kane, back after injury and no doubt nursing memories of the hat-trick he scored in this fixture last season.
As the game developed however, it became clear that Burnley were adept at marshalling not only Kane, but the accompanying threats posed by Son Heung -Min and Christian Eriksen. There was a point during the first half when a frustrated Harry Winks flung up his arms in exasperation at his inability to envisage a pass which would threaten the Clarets’ defence.
Into the second half, and a long-range strike from Kane was athletically repelled by a leaping Tom Heaton, but by now Burnley themselves were increasing the pressure on a curiously static Tottenham defence, and when Jeff Hendrick was awarded a corner of dubious origin, the resulting kick was headed into the corner of the Spurs’ goal by Chris Wood, whose determination and aggression overpowered Tottenham’s attempts to harness him.
In Burnley’s previous two matches, Hendrick has benefitted from some outrageous pieces of fortune which have each led directly to Burnley goals; the corner incident yesterday coming after his handball which went undetected at Brighton; the “luck of the Irish” indeed.
Mauricio Pochettino was rightly furious that the incorrectly awarded corner had led to a goal and he made the point forcibly to referee Mike Dean at the game’s conclusion; but he would be better advised to address his defence’s failure to adequately deal with what was nothing more than a floated corner to the far post.
A Spurs response was to be expected and a quickly-taken throw-in of questionable legitimacy by Danny Rose released Kane down the Burnley right; for once the England striker had escaped the attentions of Ben Mee and James Tarkowski and he went on to slot the ball past Heaton for an equaliser.
Burnley could have been forgiven at that point for retreating behind the ball and looking to secure what would have been a welcome point. But Burnley are now a vastly different animal from the jittery unambitious outfit who lost this reverse fixture at Wembley in December, and they sensed that Tottenham were below par and accordingly applied themselves to the task of scoring a winning goal.
It came in the 83rd minute, when a miss placed pass was picked up by Ashley Westwood, who slipped the ball to Johann Berg Gudmundsson in the inside left position. Whether or not Gudmundsson was intending a shot on goal only he knows; but what he produced was a perfect cross which Ashley Barnes tapped home at the far post.
The Burnley strike pair of Wood and Barnes have both now scored in each of Burnley’s last four Premier League games, a welcome and necessary surge in form from the two forwards and one which has undoubtedly been the product of a more solid structure behind them and which in turn has allowed for improved service.
Yesterday’s three points were as welcome for Burnley as they were unexpected. The Clarets’ uplift in form since Boxing Day continues, each win more impressive than the last.
Burnley supporters of my vintage will recall the 1977-78 season; when Burnley were mired at the foot of the table and suffered a Boxing Day hammering at the hands of Blackburn Rovers, of all teams. There then followed a spectacular revival culminating in a 2-1 home victory over a then high-flying Tottenham team. Burnley ended that season comfortably in mid-table.
History repeating itself, or the misuse of precedent to fit a tenuous narrative? You decide. For me, Burnley are staying up.
This rather Burnley biased article was produced by uber Claret Dave Thornley. Dave contributes regularly on behalf of Clarets Mad.