It is a great pity that Burnley’s 3-0 home win over Bournemouth yesterday afternoon came to be dominated by the two VAR decisions, both of which fell in Burnley’s favour, because it failed to tell the full story of an impressive performance by the Clarets, particularly in a rampaging second half.
Another key factor, largely ignored by journalists and pundits, was how the two teams dealt with the gale-force gusts of wind which swirled around Turf Moor throughout the game and was generally at the backs of the team attacking the end of the Jimmy McIlroy Stand.
As Bournemouth attacked that end in a first half of which they had the better of the play, Burnley responded by dropping deep to defend the edge of their penalty area.
On the occasions when that defensive structure was breached, Nick Pope was on hand to produce a couple of the neat, unfussy saves which don’t catch the eye, but are nonetheless the hallmark of a quality goalkeeper.
Bournemouth thought they had taken the lead when Josh King stabbed the ball into the Clarets’ net after the ball broke loose following a corner. To the naked eye, it looked to be a perfectly good goal – albeit a rather clumsy one to have conceded – but the goal was chalked off after a VAR review in which an alleged handball was detected amidst the melee.
The image of the offence was displayed on the big screen, but did nothing to dispel the mystification of fans in the stadium and after a number of subsequent television viewings, whether the ball struck arm or shoulder remains a moot point.
Bournemouth could rightly feel aggrieved, but even if the goal had been awarded, it is doubtful that it would have tilted the eventual result in the Cherries’ favour.
That is because in the second half, Burnley harnessed the wind to their advantage, upped the tempo and simply tore Bournemouth apart.
Born again Claret Matej Vydra was first to land a punch; breaking clear into the penalty area after receiving Dwight McNeill’s through ball; sidestepping a challenge; the Czech striker opened up the space for himself to slot the ball past Aaron Ramsdale to put Burnley one up.
On this form, Vydra offers something extra to Burnley’s attack; he has pace, an eagerness to commit defenders and can finish with aplomb. He has also won over the fans, long may it continue.
Shortly after Vydra’s goal, McNeill sent over a deep left wing cross; the breeze propelled it beyond the far post and in the general direction of Jeff Hendrick and Bournemouth’s Adam Smith.
The bounce was awkward and no doubt mindful of the approaching Hendrick, Smith brought the ball under control and began a passage of play which saw Bournemouth break clear and create a move which ended with Harry Wilson squeezing the ball past Nick Pope.
Unfortunately for Bournemouth, what was clear to most of the fans in the stadium, as well as the Burnley players – but not referee Mike Dean – was that Smith had used his arm to control the ball.
Back to VAR and this time, the “clear and obvious” test was most certainly passed. VAR overturned the goal Bournemouth believed they had scored and awarded Burnley a penalty, which Jay Rodriguez thumped into the top corner of Ramsdale’s net.
For all Bournemouth must have felt furious and enraged, it remained the case that this time the decision of VAR was unquestionably accurate.
Thereafter, Burnley continued to push forward; McNeill having an increasing influence on Burnley’s attacking play. A sumptuous cross-field ball to Rodriguez drew a brilliant save from Ramsdale, then a shot of his own cannoned off the inside of the post, without having the decency to cross the line.
But McNeill did apply the final coat of veneer to the Clarets’ victory – and his own performance – with a late goal, stuck with venom from outside the penalty area.
Bournemouth will have left Burnley feeling that they were obliged to grasp the rough end of the stick; they have a point; they are by no means the worst team to have visited Turf Moor this season and I for one sincerely hope that they avoid relegation.
But the fact is that their high defensive line leaves them open to the kind of attacks Burnley were able to mount in the second half. Using the wind to slot the ball over, round and through their back line, Burnley played the conditions perfectly.
It has long been a criticism of Eddie Howe’s teams, going back to his time as Burnley manager, that they continually leave the back door ajar and simply concede far too many goals. If they are going to remain a Premier League club, they need to arrest that tendency.
As for the Clarets, the front three of Vydra, Rodriguez and McNeill were irresistible yesterday, and that sort of form and confidence can only bode well as they put the relegation scrap into the far distance behind them and instead gaze upwards towards the EPL summit.
Regular Clarets Mad contributor Dave Thornley shares his views on VAR at Turf Moor yesterday. Spot on Dave! (TEC).