Law, Bergkamp, Wise; down the years there have been a number of Dennis’ who have had a significant impact of football matches. Yesterday, at Southampton’s St. Mary’s Stadium their number was joined by a “Dennis” of a meteorological variety; as the storm bearing that name circled around the stadium throughout the lunchtime Premier League fixture between the home team and the visitors Burnley.
The torrential rain, propelled by a viciously swirling wind was a massive contributory factor to the passage of the game and the quality of football permissible in those conditions.
Incidentally, I have never understood why it has become necessary to attach names to weather phenomena; any explanation would be gratefully accepted.
Talking of grateful acceptance; the crowd had barely settled into their seats at the start of the game, when Burnley were the recipients of a gift from their hosts. Chris Wood squeezed a corner out of Southampton’s on-loan full back Kyle Walker-Peters and up-stepped the Clarets’ “Sultan of in-swing”; Ashley Westwood.
Westwood’s corner kicks have been a regular source of goals for Burnley throughout the season; defences throughout the league have found his delivery from the flag to be teasing and confusing and when his kick arrived in the Saints’ goalmouth yesterday, it was inexplicably allowed unencumbered passage into the Southampton goal by former Claret Danny Ings, who chose not to intervene at the near post.
It was a strange manner in which to take the lead, but no less welcome. It did not however deflect Southampton from their game plan, and for the remainder of the first half, it was the hosts who had the better of the game.
Ings redeemed his earlier brain freeze with a crisply struck equalizer, squeezed through the narrowest of gaps in the Burnley defence and into the bottom corner of Nick Pope’s goal.
There was some subsequent on-line criticism of Ings for celebrating his goal against his former club. I find such reactions somewhat precious; there was surely no slight or disrespect involved in the celebrations; merely satisfaction at a well-taken goal and relief at having redeemed his earlier error.
Had either of the former Saints in the Burnley team (Jack Cork and Jay Rodriguez) scored, I, along with most other Burnley fans, would have expected them to celebrate. Ings surely has enough credit in the bank with Burnley’s supporters to indulge him on this occasion.
Whilst those celebrations were taking place, Burnley’s medical staff were administering treatment to Chris Wood who had pulled up with a muscle strain.
Burnley’s leading scorer was thus unable to continue and with Ashley Barnes still a week away from fitness, it was left to Matej Vydra to step onto the field in his place.
The rarity of Vydra’s appearances for Burnley has been a cause of mystification and wry amusement amongst sections of the fan-base. Sean Dyche rarely rotates his starting line-up; and with Wood, Barnes and Rodriguez all playing reasonably well, this season he has not felt the need to select Vydra for all but a couple of Cup ties.
So, having lost both the lead and their top goal-scorer, Burnley were definitely up against it as the game progressed into the second half.
Given the conditions, it seemed more and more likely as the match progressed that it would be settled by either a mistake or a moment of sheer quality; as it transpired it was the latter, and it was the much maligned Vydra who provided it.
Jeff Hendrick’s “Beckhamesque” ball from the right wing was taken on the chest by Vydra with his back to goal; he shrugged off two Southampton defenders before striking a powerful left foot shot on the turn and into the roof of the Saints’ goal.
Burnley’s lead was not thereafter seriously threatened, save for a credible penalty shout when a cross struck Ben Mee’s arm. VAR pondered for a while before concluding that the handball was not deliberate and no penalty was awarded.
It is Mee’s job to put himself in the path of balls entering Burnley’s penalty area, it is a job he does very well, but the risk he runs is that sometimes he will do so with his arm.
He got away with such an intervention against Leicester recently and did so again yesterday. It was a marginal decision, and probably the correct one, but had it occurred at the other end, Burnley fans would have been incandescent with indignation.
As it was, Burnley hung on to secure the win and raise their points total to 34, ten of which have been gained from the last four games.
In a long hard season, matches like these, in conditions which are uncomfortable and not conducive to flowing football, still need to be won. By winning at St Mary’s yesterday, Burnley displayed that they possess the character, the stamina and the determination to do so.
A very happy Dave Thornley provided his weekly contribution for Clarets Mad, whilst strapped in his armchair waiting for Storm Dennis to abate. (TEC).