Dave Thornley, the Clarets Mad resident match summariser reflects on Burnley chucking away three vital points today in a game they had done enough to win.
There was a time, not so long ago, when World Cup qualifiers were huge games which gripped the nation; eagerly anticipated matches against high-quality opposition such as Italy, Germany or the Netherlands.
As FIFA expanded the number of World Cup entrants, ensuring that the footballing nations with the highest profile (and by association the largest television audiences yielding maximum advertising revenue) would more than likely safely negotiate the qualification process.
The net effect is that qualifying fixtures have become little more than tick-box exercises for England and the other major nations (although Germans may not agree after their stumble against North Macedonia – which I didn’t even realise was a country!).
With little actual meaningful action to discuss, media pundits have had to resort to filling up columns, web sites and airwaves by pouring over any minor disagreement, any tactical blemish, or any perceived mishap that can be seized upon and fashioned into a full-blown controversy.
Accordingly, Burnley’s Nick Pope, whose three games guarding the posts for England were little more than a watching brief, found himself unjustly vilified for not being Franz Beckenbauer with the ball at his feet and had accusatory fingers pointed in his direction, when the one serious piece of action he had to deal with culminated in a goal for Poland after John Stones made a complete hash of a simple pass from Pope.
In the television studio, Ashley Cole and Ian Wright (shame on you Wrighty, as an ex-Claret we expect much better from you) wasted no time in apportioning part of the blame for Stones’ meltdown onto Pope.
This played into the narrative that had been developing throughout the international break that Pope’s perceived inability to “play out from the back” would hinder his prospects of a prolonged international career whilst Gareth Southgate is manager.
For the record, the pass Pope played to Stones was a routine one, accurately struck and found Stones in space and under no immediate pressure; Pope plays the same ball to Ben Mee or James Tarkowski several times during most Burnley games.
By extension, this criticism of Pope is a thinly veiled criticism of Burnley’s style of play, which the pompous, elitist voices of the petit bourgeois insist is primitive, unsophisticated, crude and ill-suited to the rarefied atmosphere of the Premier League.
Burnley’s style of play under Sean Dyche requires the goalkeeper and defence to relieve pressure by clearing their lines. Passing the ball in and around one’s own penalty area drives fans mad as it does nothing more than invite more pressure.
Two examples from yesterday’s Match of the Day highlight the folly of this ridiculous trend; firstly, Liverpool’s Allison launched a long ball which Mo Salah seized upon and almost scored; whilst in the same game, Arsenal’s defence (not for the first time) were picked off when trying to play their way out of their own penalty area. Two passes later, Liverpool had scored.
Personally, I try my hardest to resist as unfounded paranoia the notion that there is a covert media agenda against Burnley and their position in the Premier League; but Pope’s treatment by the same media whilst on England duty, along with regular back-handed compliments about “making the most of a limited budget” and being “defensively organised”; plus, Burnley’s regular spot of last place on Match of the Day; then the evidence starts to become compelling.
It would have been lovely to think that Pope and his teammates would set matters right on the field, but this lunchtime’s visit to Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium saw Burnley at their worst, having opened the game at their best.
Burnley don’t do end-to-end shoot outs; under normal circumstances they either go ahead and defend their lead or fall behind and find themselves unable to come back.
So, when Erik Pieters was upended for Chris Wood to score from the spot, optimism soared. It increased further when Matej Vydra scored the Clarets’ second after Wood’s header placed the ball perfectly into his path.
But Armstrong almost immediately pulled a goal back for the Saints to instil some nagging doubts; doubts which were confirmed shortly afterwards when Ben Mee was uncharacteristically hesitant facing his own goal to allow former Claret Danny Ings to nick the ball off him and bear down on Burnley’s goal. A sidestep past James Tarkowski’s sprawling attempt at a block; a finish between Nick Pope’s legs, and suddenly Southampton were level.
As the game developed Southampton became more assured and more threatening and it was no surprise when Nathan Redmond volleyed in at the far post to give the home team a lead they would not squander, despite Chris Wood having his shirt blatantly pulled as he stooped to head a McNeil cross goal wards.
Burnley traditionally don’t lose two-goal leads, especially against opponents who were, according to the league table at kick off, no better than the Clarets. That they did so was a shock.
Relegation worries, which had receded after the win at Everton, have once again lapped up on Burnley’s shores and will not go away until the points required to banish them are gathered.
Ken Hanson posts across social media articles written by Dave, which are edited and posted from Clarets Mad, by The Editors Chair (TEC).