It is a rare privilege in the life of a supporter of Burnley Football Club to be able to be able to chronicle a week like the one this noble and historic club has just experienced.
After defeating the third best team in the country seven days ago, the Clarets followed this up with a mid-week away win against the fifth best. Those basic statistics are satisfying enough, but what made that away victory all the more special was its venue.
Burnley had not won at Old Trafford since the 60’s when the Clarets were a powerful force and United were still rebuilding after the trauma and tragedy of Munich.
In my piece about the previous meeting between the clubs at Turf Moor over the Christmas period, I expressed the view that this was the worst United team since the one which was relegated in the 70’s. How accurate or otherwise my opinion may be, but this remains an expensively assembled squad with a solid record in their own stadium.
And its Manchester United at Old Trafford for goodness sake! With all the history, the prestige and the grandeur that goes with it.
Burnley’s performance at Old Trafford was nigh on perfect; not perfect in the Barcelona sense of slick passing and rapier-like incisions, but perfect in the Sean Dyche Burnley template of defensive solidity, hard pressing and a touch of physical aggression.
As such, it became increasingly frustrating and anxious for United as their attempts to break through the Burnley ranks ran aground on the defensive rocks personified by Ben Mee and James Tarkowski.
At the other end, Burnley scored a goal in each half, the first a free kick propelled from the half way line towards the far post, where it was greeted by Ben Mee, whose header caused sufficient panic in the heart of United’s defence to allow Chris Wood to apply a neat finish.
The Clarets Mee/Wood combination is becoming a handy source of goals for Burnley, they also combined to provide the equaliser against Leicester last Sunday. Opponents know that Burnley are going are going to employ this tactic, but many seem powerless to prevent it.
Jay Rodriguez’s goal in the second half, by contrast, was a brilliant slice of creative play, which would have had Pep himself purring with pride.
A slick exchange of first time passes down the Burnley left created the space for Rodriguez to fire a vicious shot into David DeGea’s goal via the underside of the crossbar.
After a spell during which Burnley have scored almost exclusively from set pieces – or not at all – it was gloriously reassuring to see that Burnley’ players still have the ability to provide such passages of play.
It was all too much for the United faithful who deserted Old Trafford in their droves; whist distinguished former players, turned pundits, lost no time in venting their spleen on TV or in print. All of which is United’s problem, not Burnley’s. The bigger picture for the Clarets is that a troubling decline in form has been halted and the feel-good factor has been restored.
A pity then that such a momentous week should end on a slightly downbeat note as Burnley exited the FA Cup at home to Norwich City yesterday.
Cup runs do not feature in Sean Dyche’s overall strategy for the progression of the club under his supervision. But speaking as a fan, I look back with the warm glow of nostalgia at glorious cup victories over Liverpool, Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea; still squirm with embarrassment at defeats by Wimbledon and Lincoln City; and still writhe with frustration at the Cup Semi Final defeat to Newcastle in 1974.
In short, the cups still matter to fans like me, and whist I acknowledge that Premier League status is the club’s priority, it would be nice if Burnley would allow the cup competitions a greater priority and afford them a more determined effort.
On reflection this has not been a week for complaints and irritants; this has been a week for celebration for Burnley fans and long may those good vibes continue.
Written by uber Burnley fan Dave Thornley for Clarets Mad, refelecting on a crazy week at Burnley Football Club. (TEC.)