It is traditional for the opening game of the football season to take the form of a frolic in the summer sunshine; as teams, resplendent in their new strips, show off their skills on pristine, sun-kissed lawns.
Yesterday’s Premier League encounter between Burnley and Southampton at Turf Moor, was however a different beast; an opening day fixture played throughout under a post climate-change deluge of near apocalyptic proportions.
The elements undoubtedly played a major part in the overall spectacle, making crisp, flowing football nigh-on impossible; with attempted long-range passes being carried on the swirling wind out of the reach of the intended target, or skidding off the drenched pitch and accelerating out of play.
All of which contributed to a somewhat frenetic first half as players struggled to maintain their balance and their footing on an increasingly treacherous playing surface.
The visitors initially adapted better to the conditions; the Saints’ new striker, Che Adams, almost put them ahead early in the game as he slid in at the far post and diverted a low cross just wide of Nick Pope’s goal and a shot from the lively Nathan Redmond was turned over the bar by the Clarets’ goalkeeper.
But Burnley remained strong and their resolve never wavered; they were rewarded in the second half when they took hold of the game.
The Clarets’ striking pair; Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes are not a duo inclined to pick the lock of an opposing defence; rather they prefer the sledgehammer approach.
After the duo had combined to forge a first half close range tap-in for Wood, ruled out for offside by the referee’s assistant and confirmed by the all-seeing eye of VAR, Barnes was more successful in the 64th minute.
He got on the end long ball from the impressive Erik Pieters which was misjudged by the Saints’ defence and Barnes drilled his low shot through the splayed legs of the Southampton ‘keeper Angus Gunn.
A few short minutes later, Pieters floated a teasing left wing cross into the Southampton penalty area, where Barnes had wandered into the space vacated by the Saints’ defenders to apply a neat close-range finish.
After 75 minutes, Burnley put the contest beyond the visitors. The Clarets’ Viking marauder, Johann Berg Gudmundsson did a bit of pillaging to rob the ball off a flat-footed Saints’ defender and home in on Gunn’s goal, finishing emphatically from a tight angle.
It was particularly gratifying for Clarets' fans to witness the manner in which Gudmundsson took his goal after an injury-punctuated season last term. The goals he contributed two seasons ago, together with his general play, were fundamental to Burnley’s seventh place finish.
So, an excellent start to Burnley’s fourth consecutive season in the Premier League and their fifth of the last six. This increased familiarity has brought with it a measure of contempt as Burnley are no longer seen as endearing plucky underdogs, punching way above their weight.
Instead their robust, direct style of play and their defensive rigidity invites sniffy comments on social media, implying that Burnley are uncouth throwbacks whose successes are the product of random happenstance, rather than by excellent coaching and sheer hard work, which is actually the case.
There is no doubt that yesterday’s climatic conditions favoured Burnley, but the reason that were able to win so handsomely and start their season so impressively, was that they adapted to those conditions with a greater surety than Southampton could muster.
All in all, this was a morale-boosting start to a season which promises so much for Sean Dyche and his team, who opened the new campaign with a strong performance. Erik Pieters impressive debut was also worthy of a mention in despatches.
Dyche's other new arrivals such as Danny Drinkwater and the returning Jay Rodriguez waiting in the wings, are certain to make their marks as the season progresses; things are looking good for the Clarets as a new day dawns.
Post match report from long serving Clarets Mad contributor Dave Thornley. (TEC)