Two Games, Two Different Outcomes

Last updated : 31 January 2021 By Dave Thornley

The indecent speed at which Premier League fixtures are coming around in this strangest of all football seasons offers no time for reflection. This can be both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, there is no time to dwell or brood upon a bad result, but on the other, there is no time to savour a good one. 

Over the last few days Burnley have experienced both; a storming mid-week, comeback from the jaws of defeat win over Aston Villa; followed by a Sunday lunchtime dismantling at the hands of a Chelsea team purring with the desire to impress yet another new manager. 

At Turf Moor on Wednesday teatime, Burnley looked to be truly up against it in a first half dominated by Villa. By the break the visitors had put themselves a goal up, courtesy of a neat left wing move and a near post cross flicked in by Ollie Watkins, a goal almost identical to the one scored at the same end of Turf Moor by Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin a few weeks ago. 

It could have been far worse had Nick Pope not made a succession of saves which had the TV commentators purring, but which regular Burnley fans have become accustomed to regard as commonplace for this outstanding keeper. 

Stevenson, Beresford, Heaton; some marvellous goalkeepers have represented Burnley down the years, but have any been better than Pope? Not for my money. 

Burnley came out for the second half with much stiffer sinews and much sterner resolve. Ben Mee’s towering header from Ashley Westwood’s corner levelled the scores and was just reward for an altogether crisper performance from the Clarets.  

But Villa’s Jack Grealish was unwilling to surrender the points which his team’s first half performance warranted, and he popped up in the centre of the Burnley penalty area to apply a close-range finish to a slick Villa move.. 

Burnley however have a talisman of their own. Dwight McNeil has had a frustrating, in-and-out time of it this season but recently has shown signs of exerting greater influence on games and against Villa he was at his mercurial best.  

In the space of a few minutes, he had cancelled out Grealish’s goal with one of his own; a “daisy-cutter” cross-cum-shot which somehow squeezed itself though the most miniscule of gaps between the outstretched hand of Martinez in the Villa goal and the far post. McNeil followed this up with a cross deep towards the same far post, where Chris Wood skilfully guided a header into the corner of the goal. 

A 2-1 deficit had been turned into a 3-2 lead, an advantage so precious that Burnley would do everything they could to protect it throughout the ten minutes or so that remained in the game. 

The win was Burnley’s third in succession in all competitions and left Villa scratching their heads wondering how they had contrived to allow Burnley back into a game they should have had sealed up by half time. 

Sadly, it was a mistake which Burnley’s next opponents, Chelsea, were not minded to try and replicate. 

This match was, for me, reminiscent of the recent game at home to Manchester United, in that Burnley didn’t exactly play badly, particularly in the first half but then found themselves outplayed by wealthy, high-class opponents.  

Burnley’s efforts to “stay in the game” were admirable, but with no real penetration to offer going forward, it was always going to be tough to prize any sort of opening to threaten the Blues’ goal. Indeed, Burnley found it beyond them even to launch one of their trademark set-pieces into the Chelsea box. 

The 2-0 Chelsea victory with goals late in each half from the unlikely sources of Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso was probably a fair reflection of the game, any more would have flattered Chelsea. 

The two scorers have each been around the Chelsea squad long enough to have seen several backsides resting not to comfortably in the ejector seat behind the manager’s desk at Stamford Bridge, it is nigh on impossible to be able to remember all of them. The latest occupant, Thomas Tuchel, chose this match his second in charge, to register the first three points of his tenure. 

One can only wonder if he will still be in the Chelsea hot seat when the two teams next meet? 

Yesterday’s Football Focus featured an interview with the Clarets new owner Alan Pace, given by Jordan North. It was an interesting, piece in which Mr Pace presented himself as open, articulate and personable and in which he said most of the right things.  

It was however, less than encouraging and slightly jarring that the new Burnley chairman adroitly deflected North’s questions about transfer policy and the prospect of new arrivals.  

Burnley’s recent good form has somewhat lessened the cry for new players, and Pace may have dodged a bullet if as seems likely, the transfer window closes tomorrow with no new additions to Sean Dyche’s squad. 

The ebullient North was correct to remind him that Burnley folk expect deeds, not words and laudable though the emphasis on unearthing young talent for the academy may be, the immediate short-term requirements of the Premier League offer little or no time for such policies to bear fruit. 

If one needs further proof of that - just ask Frank Lampard.

Dave Thornley sums up a hectic few days for the Clarets and it is highly unlikely Manchester City will offer any respite as the Clarets attempt to climb away from the EPL relegation quagmire on Wednesday. (TEC).