For since the grim years of post-War austerity – 1951 to be precise, Burnley have won twenty and drawn five of their 25 home League fixtures with the Cottagers, scoring 61 goals and conceding just eighteen.
During the wretched relegation season of 1979-80, Burnley managed just six victories but almost inevitably one of these was against Fulham on a Turf Moor glacier. Just to rub in Burnley’s dismissive supremacy – at least at home, away is another matter – they have won both FA Cup ties here, too. Jimmy Robson, Willie Irvine and Peter Noble distinguished themselves as hat-trick heroes in the Clarets’ more emphatic League victories. On this greasy, grimy evening, Andre Gray should have joined them.
|Andre Gray had run the Fulham defence ragged in the first half|
During the first half of tonight’s game it seemed as if Kit Symons’ team had arrived with the same sense of weary predestination as their forbears. Andre Gray had run the Fulham defence ragged, capitalising on a superb whipped left-wing cross from Jones to send a thumping header past Joe Lewis at his far post, and latching onto Scott Arfield’s exquisite through ball to lash in a second.
Only imprecise finishing by Vokes, who otherwise was back to his bullying best, and Jones and Barton, plus a heavy first touch from the predatory Gray, saved Fulham from a first half avalanche.
The visitors’ three at the back seemed as statuesque as Anthony Gormley’s sculptured iron men. Lacking sufficient protection from their bewildered midfielders and negligent wing backs, Stearman, Burn and Ream were as isolated as Wichita linemen.
How the fleet-footed Gray and burly Vokes revelled in the space they found around or between them, exploiting gleefully the outstanding service provided by the peerless Jones, and the industrious Barton and Arfield. Meanwhile Burnley’s vigorous pressing and robust defending left Fulham baffled, beleaguered and blunt.
The half-time chatter centred on the prospects of Fulham raising their game. They could hardly lower it. To their credit, they did just that, playing at a higher tempo, winning more aerial duels at both ends of the pitch, being quicker to seize the second ball and finding greater space on the flanks.
A procession of challenging crosses duly arrived in the Burnley box. Although impressive going forward, Darikwa remains vulnerable to right wing crosses slung over him to a blind side runner. Nevertheless, the reinforced Burnley defence generally coped well with this renewed assault. Keane, Duff and Mee stood firm while Barton, too, lent his head to the cause. However, a momentary slackness allowed McCormack the space to curl a shot past Heaton in the 51st minute, lifting the visitors’ hopes of salvaging something.
Gray should have put the game beyond their reach when he seized on a delightful lofted pass from Jones to dink the ball over the advancing Lewis only for it to find the bar rather than the gaping net. Encouraged by this reprieve Fulham renewed their bombardment, Dembele firing narrowly over and McCormack shooting straight at Heaton who, in truth, was rarely tested during this period of increased pressure.
As the clock wound down, the tension tightened, not helped by our exasperation at Burnley’s failure to place a game that they had dominated so decisively beyond Fulham’s grasp.
Dyche replaced Boyd, who is still struggling to recapture his Premier League form, with Taylor. Thankfully, he allayed our fears by slipping in Arfield’s short cross past Lewis’s outstretched right arm to secure the points.
Focusing on his side’s improved second half showing, Fulham manager, Kit Symons reflected that they had deserved something from the game while Sean Dyche reminded us that no Championship game is ever ‘a walk in the park’. But in reality only those who deny karma could say such things. They were surely joking, right?
Burnley: Heaton, Darikwa, Duff, Keane, Mee; Boyd (Taylor), Barton, Jones, Arfield; Vokes and Gray (Long).