First of all, may I wish fellow Clarets everywhere a very happy new year.
Hopefully, as 2020 progresses, we will see an upturn in Burnley’s fortunes, as the team are currently subjecting us supporters to a woeful run of results in the Premier League. But with the next four League fixtures involving appointments at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford, interspersed with home matches against Leicester City and Arsenal, this could be a very bleak midwinter unless performances show a marked improvement.
On New Years Day, Burnley were at home to struggling Aston Villa; a game from which one might realistically have expected to take three points.
However, Villa worked their collective socks off, were more resolute and generally hungrier than the Clarets. In the first half they scored twice against a lethargic and flat-footed Burnley – it might well have been three had not VAR detected a stray heel in an offside position.
Whilst gladly accepting the reversal of the decision to award a goal against Burnley – to have it overturned on so flimsy a pretext is why fans in general become exasperated by how VAR is applied.
2-0 down at half time; barely a glove laid on the opposition and a chorus of boos ringing out around Turf Moor. Not a happy place to be.
The recent form of the team, even in victory, has been pedestrian, the fans have become restless; there’s a tetchiness among the players that hasn’t previously been present and one’s thoughts turn to Sean Dyche and whether he is becoming frustrated, or worse still bored, with managing Burnley.
Certainly there is too little snap or vigour about Burnley’s recent play and although the performance levels against Villa improved in the second half, the Clarets’ inability to turn possession into pressure and then into chances was as obvious as it was depressing.
Too often, the midfield played square balls without ever probing the Villa defence sufficiently to uncover a weakness. Such passages of possession are fine for the likes of Barcelona or Manchester City, but those teams have the equipment to enable them to pounce quickly and create chances. Sadly, it is unlikely that Lionel Messi or Kevin De Bruyne will be joining Burnley any time soon.
Indeed, the mood music from the club would suggest that no one will be joining in the current transfer window, as the club’s hierarchy seem willing to allow another window to drift by without providing Sean Dyche with an opportunity to introduce some new blood.
This perceived intransigence is a further source of irritation for supporters who see other clubs going to great lengths to strengthen their numbers, whist Burnley just seem content to amble along.
Back to the Villa game, and an eightieth minute header from Chris Wood saw Burnley get back into the game.
In attempting to keep Wood’s header out of his net, former Claret Tom Heaton suffered an injury which will keep him sidelined for the remainder of the season – a sad exit for Tom on his return to Turf Moor, where his past performances have rightly afforded him some reverential treatment from the home fans.
The treatment administered to Heaton caused a lengthy delay and Villa were required to see through nineteen minutes with their lead halved and a substitute goalkeeper between their posts.
Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of the game for Burnley fans was the team’s abject inability to seize the situation and apply some meaningful pressure on the young substitute. From memory, he had only one corner to deal with, which in fairness, he handled with confidence and command.
So, Burnley have a fractious club and a disgruntled fan base on their hands; but at least a 4-2 victory over League One Peterborough United in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup applied a soothing balm to the Clarets wounds.
It also allowed Jay Rodriguez (who scored twice) and Aaron Lennon (who was outstanding throughout) to present their credentials to Sean Dyche for his consideration when it comes to selecting a team for the visit to Chelsea on Saturday.
Progression in cup competitions has not been Burnley’s thing in recent seasons, and Peterborough were just the sort of team who Burnley have struggled to overcome; so it was pleasing to see Burnley approach the game positively and secure their passage to the next round.
Since recent form has had the effect of leaving Burnley looking over their shoulders at the relegation zone, it is unlikely that a cup run is something that Dyche would be prepared to commit his team to, but worse teams than Burnley have gone a long way in the FA Cup in recent seasons – so why not us?
Written by Dave Thornley, who contributes regularly for Clarets Mad. (TEC.)