Although Friday teatime’s visit to Brighton was a grim and goalless affair, the big plus for Burnley was undoubtedly the re-establishment at the heart of the Clarets’ defence of the old firm; the blessed trinity of Nick Pope, James Tarkowski and skipper Ben Mee.
Mee’s awareness, his composure, his decisiveness and his leadership have been sorely missed during what seemed like an eternity of absence through injury. The contribution his presence makes to the Burnley team cannot be overstated.
After an unfortunate slip in just the first minute which allowed Danny Welbeck to escape his grasp and afford Tariq Lamptey the opportunity to fire over the Burnley crossbar when the Brighton full-back should have set Nick Pope a sterner challenge, Mee was for the remainder of the game, the reassuring figure of defensive dominance that Burnley fans have come to expect and celebrate.
Although the restoration of Burnley’s traditional and tested defensive structure is undoubtedly cause for satisfaction; Sean Dyche and his coaching staff must now address problems which still remain further up the field.
Matt Lowton’s speculative cross-cum-shot which hit the underside of the Brighton crossbar was the closest Burnley (or Brighton for that matter) came to a goal. This was in only the fourth minute of the match, for the remaining eighty-six, Burnley could summon precious little else in terms of attacking play. A poor return by any standard.
The paucity of meaningful chance-creation from the midfield and a lack of both confidence and belief from Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood up front have combined to render Burnley toothless as an attacking force.
We are all familiar with the cliché; that it just takes one scruffy tap-in for a striker’s confidence and his lust for goals to return; and it has been the case that both Wood and Barnes have successfully come through similar droughts in the past.
It appears the intimidation factor that is the very essence of their play seems to have deserted them; defenders have been more comfortable in their presence than previously, leading to the conclusion that perhaps the pace of Matej Vydra and the street nous of Jay Rodriguez may be a more productive partnership up front for a while?
Strikers, of course, also need service; and that means creating chances from midfield. Burnley’s midfielders work hard, but much of that work is done in a defensive capacity; winning tackles, contesting headers, tracking back. All vital tasks, but lifting the head to pick out a forward pass, or delivering a telling cross are also part of the midfield remit.
Stan Ternant’s blind man on a galloping can see that Burnley are missing the off the ball activities of the injured Jack Cork every bit as much as they missed Ben Mee. Hopefully Jack’s come back is not too far away.
As it is, Burnley came away from Brighton with a point and a clean sheet; both will come in handy as the season progresses and the hope must be that the increased defensive security offered by Ben Mee’s return will lead to more clean sheets and that they, in turn, will translate into one-nil wins and Burnley will start to climb the table.
Dave Thornley continues with his weekly post-match reviews, here’s hoping Dave will be telling us about some three-point wins soon. (TEC).