Barnes injury catastrophic but should inspire hopefuls

The news regarding the injury of Ashley Barnes was horrific.

It was a sad way to end what has been a real breakthrough for the striker in many ways this season; the Ashley Barnes of Brighton was often ridiculed for his apparent lack of quality though those doubters will be much quieter now that’s for sure. Though for some people within the squad, they should – in the nicest possible manner – have their mouths watering at the moment for it lowers the level of difficulty into breaking into the starting XI, even if a striker is bought in the summer.

Certainly I’m of the mind that clubs, particularly Burnley, don’t really take advantage of their youth systems. And what is the point? If you blood through young talent but continually deem it surplus to requirement it really is a pointless exercise. And it’s the same with the big clubs. Manchester City boast outstanding training and coaching to train an army of young guns yet they never get a look in as far as the first team is concerned.

So in regards to my brief rant, the promotion of Jason Gilchrist to the first team squad would be something I would certainly vouch for.

Gilchrist’s goal-scoring in the youth league’s was excellent and his hat-trick against Manchester United in the FA Youth Cup is no mean feat. His experience at Accrington Stanley for the latter half of the season gave him a real taste of professional league football and despite not finding the net, his time spent there will have been a real learning curve.

Jay Rodriguez struggled to find the net in his early loan experiences with Stirling Albion and Barnsley but it’s those learning experiences which will have helped his development massively. It was the season after these loan moves where he developed into a prolific hitman in front of goal.

Perhaps Brian Laws’ greatest achievement as Burnley manager was helping to transform a diamond in the rough by giving him successive opportunities to succeed. There is no reason why Gilchrist cannot follow a similar path if given confidence by the manager that he will have chances to get in the team this season even if it doesn’t work out in his first few matches.

In contrast, Sean Dyche has two more experienced pros in Lukas Jutkiewicz and Marvin Sordell who really need to seize this opportunity.

Jutkiewicz has been a disaster, there are no two ways about it, and in many ways you have to feel sorry for the big man.

He would have hardly believed his luck that a Premier League club were after his signature and following his arrival, a flurry of goals in pre-season had depicted the notion of success. Unfortunately, the Premier League is a very difficult league and after a few decent matches at the start, in which he tussled hard with opposing centre-halves, Jutkiewicz then wasn’t making those goalscoring runs, antagonising the centre-halves as much and looked scared to receive the ball. People must remember, Burnley didn’t just pull £1.5 million out of the air to secure his services, they were pushed heavily by Bolton Wanderers who were willing to bid up to £1 million for the Middlesbrough man, who they greatly admired.

The Premier League is vastly different to the Championship. In the Championship, defenders don’t hold their position as efficiently and it’s relatively easy to pick out holes, even with long hoofs up from the back. In the Championship rather than getting than one chance which you have to take, you get multiple opportunities to find the back of the net. Certainly Jukiewicz could benefit from this. It is clear in his game he was playing with zero per cent confidence and therefore people must take into account what he could potentially do with more confidence and I dare say more than has been seen thus far.

As for Marvin Sordell, he has proven to be a frustrating enigma. His fabulous, crisp half volley from 20 yards against Tottenham in the FA Cup was a sign of the young talent that once had potential in abundance. The young talent that scored with a sensational turn and rocket from 30 yards for the England youth setup against Isreal and the man who earned a big reputation with his efforts at Watford.

Yet his career has stalled and at times – in the biggest league in England – he looked disinterested and lost. He looked a defeated man as soon as he stepped on to the pitch. Amazing when you consider his rapid speed, silky skills and eye for goal, the main reasons why Dyche took a punt on him in the first instance. Mentally he didn’t look ready for the top flight but with that long, grueling season now over, the manager needs to take him under his wing and swap this pale imitation for the talented one that has been locked up. Otherwise, one can only see the forward making further declines in his career.

So in essence, the Barnes injury is pretty much the worst possible news that could have happened in the past week.

But there should be two hungry strikers and an even hungrier home gown talent itching to capitalise on the apparent striker shortage and that can only help get the best out of them.

Could Jutkiewicz, Sordell or Gilchrist step up in Barnes’ absence? Comment below. 

Analysis: Aston Villa 0-1 Burnley

A headed finish by Danny Ings was a fitting way to conclude his eventful Burnley career as Tim Sherwood’s men slipped down the table, finishing the season only one place above the drop zone in what should signal a reality check to all Aston Villa supporters ahead of their FA Cup final against Arsenal.

1st half highlights

Aston Villa 0-1 BURNLEY (Ings, 6)

Kieran Trippier’s lofted pass into the middle was hopeful and indicative of Burnley’s struggles in carving out chances this season. As it is, the Villa defence only half cleared out to the edge of the box where the presence of the forward thinking Fredrik Ulvestad was felt. His returning header to Ashley Barnes resulted in the ex-Brighton man continuing the flow of headers, nodding across the box to strike partner Danny Ings who in turn finished with a fine lofted header across helpless youngster Jed Steer

– After Fabian Delph’s partially cleared free kick, Leandro Bacuna’s sweeping return was nodded down for Ron Vlaar though the big Dutchman’s venemous drive from just inside the box arrowed narrowly wide of the top corner

– Superb footwork from George Boyd bamboozled Nathan Baker and his excellent delivery fell on a plate to Ings who lashed high and wide on the volley from eight yards with the goal gaping

– Christian Benteke’s excellent chest control from a raking ball from deep set himself up as he turned, swivelled but his flashed shot took a slight deflection and flew just wide

– Almost immediately after his first opportunity, Benteke was in the thick of the action again, towering above and bullying Kieran Trippier in the air to reach Delph’s pinged cross but Tom Heaton was quickly across to make a fine tip around his near post

– Ashley Westwood reacted quickest to a loose ball in the box and – with back to goal – orchestrated a fine powerful strike, forcing Heaton into another fine fingertip save

2nd half highlights

– Having skipped inside Michael Keane and Jason Shackell, Benteke couldn’t pull the trigger and the ball squirmed to Gabby Agbonglahor with only Heaton to beat but his finish was far too conservative and weak, allowing the Clarets keeper to block with his leg

– Ings had the Villa defence backpedaling not for the first time in the afternoon, and his delicate through pass to play Boyd in on goal was first class, much like the quick-thinking of keeper Steer who rushed from his line to block the shot

– Delph strode forward without an outlet to find and so powered a 25-yard piledriver at goal which stung Heaton’s gloves; he did well to dive and push the ball to safety

– A weak clearance by Keane spelled trouble as it gave Charles N’Zogbia an invitation on his rocket of a left boot from the edge of the area. Once again however, Heaton was on hand to make an impressive sprawling push over the top to thwart the subsequent howitzer

– Once again, the impressive Delph had found room before cutting across the ball and striking it narrowly wide from 35 yards

A case for Fred

In the centre of midfield it was a case of two polar opposites. In David Jones, a man who has been at lots of clubs and can read the game well. His style of play consists of graft and ball retention. The latter is both important but also frustrating as passes are often sideways or backwards and without Dean Marney’s ability to usher the team forward, it is more and more evident. In Fredrick Ulvestad, you have a potentially younger version of Dean Marney. His energy and willingness to tackle, albeit not as forcefully as Marney, is there to see but his role in the opening goal, acting as a midfielder pushing towards the edge of the opposition box, is something that has been missing recently.

Certainly this performance and his cameo against Stoke last week offers hope that Burnley may have found (without spending a penny), an effective alternative in the middle should one of Marney or Jones be unavailable in periods next season but nonetheless, a fourth central midfielder should still be considered.

The Burnley spine

Every team has a spine. It’s what holds the team together. Every team has its flair players that create that bit of magic to decide matches yet it’s the spine that is the key. Manchester City won the title last season with a spine of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero. Chelsea won the title this campaign with a spine of Thaibaut Courtrois, John Terry, Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa. Yes, David Silva was involved heavily too in the former, and of course Eden Hazard was in the latter, yet without the base of those respective four players, the team as a whole would not function to the best of its ability. And that is the same with any team.

Burnley’s spine is Heaton, Shackell, Marney and Ings. The past few months, the absence of Dean Marney in the middle has been severely felt and has hampered the survival bid. Being the cog in the wheel that linked defence and attack, it could be argued that his loss would have been greater than the loss of any other members of the Burnley spine, such was his influence at both ends of the field. Though the problem that will arise is what happens when the spine is heavily fractured? What happens when it is highly plausible that Marney may be the only remaining member of that spine?

In Tom Heaton, Burnley had found a diamond in the rough after his release from Bristol City. His England call-up recently will no doubt spark waves of interest from many top flight teams with Southampton most notably in for a shot stopper to fill the spot of injured Fraser Forster. Many will forget though sitting on the sidelines, the Clarets have Matt Gilks, a former player of the year at Blackpool who has both Premier League and Championship experience under his belt. Not for one moment am I suggesting he is better than Heaton – he is not – though keepers in the mould of Heaton cost a good few million and it’s highly doubtful that the funds Sean Dyche has available will be spent in that position.

Jason Shackell – as mentioned in my player ratings – is now a very solid centre half that could do more than a job for your West Hams, Newcastles and West Broms. Should he move on to a bigger club, it is his vocal presence that will be missed the most. His marshaling of the back-line in the past two campaigns has been nothing short of outstanding and the way he is able to neutralise some of the best attackers in English football shows how far he has come in the way he handles himself and doesn’t allow himself to be dragged out of position. Thinking logically though, the signing of Keane in January was a signing based on the near future rather than the remainder of the season. Most would have expected he would replace the ageing Michael Duff though with the veteran set to extend his contract by a further year, the duo may strike a partnership mixing age and experience with youth and development which can sustain many of the second divisions attacking threats.

Then of course there is Danny Ings. The talisman that played a massive role in Burnley’s promotion, and an equally massive role in the survival plan with his signature rumoured to be being pursued by giants Liverpool and Manchester United. While I am not doubting his ability and the potential he has for the future, I can’t help but feel he is not a top six or top seven player. In all seriousness, he’s too good for Burnley and too good to be fighting the drop next season, so deserves a spot with a smaller club pushing for bigger things, like Swansea or Southampton. Wherever he does end up, I’m sure all Burnley fans will be greatful for all his contributions while at the club and will wish him well for his future career.

The issue with Danny Ings is that there is one obvious avenue in place to deal with his absence though it may not be as fruitful as one may expect. In Sam Vokes, Burnley have a man who hit 20 Championship goals last season so should be considered potent at that level of football. In Ashley Barnes, there is a footballer who could be argued wasn’t really fit for regular Championship football though his performances over this season of grit, determination and a touch of quality would condemn those thoughts. When Steven Fletcher left, Jay Rodrgiuez stepped out of the shadows. When Rodriguez left, Charlie Austin stepped up to the billing. When Austin left, Ings – and to a large extent Vokes himself – were on hand to fill the hole. When Danny Ings leaves, will Vokes and Barnes take charge?

Only time will tell but the last year has been a torrid one for Vokes in terms of injury and his performances post-injury have been a tame imitation of what he produced last season. Equally, Barnes is not a proven goal-scorer, nor does he look like getting 15-20 goals a season and so the burden would be well and truly on Vokes to rediscover his form.

There is then the option of delving into the transfer market and trying to replace Ings but in truth, you’re letting a £10 million player go for potentially less than half his true market value (when the compensation does arrive). Quite simply, Burnley would most probably have to break their transfer record by about £7 million in order to sign someone of equal quality to Ings as the lack of scouting means most business is between clubs in England. His first touch, bits of magic, dribbling ability and finishing nous made him the most complete player at the club and so you’re not just losing a striker, you’re losing a playmaker, a workhorse and a magician. You’re losing a top drawer player.

What if Trippier leaves?

Because he is not essentially part of the “spine,” I hadn’t included him in the above, though his departure for me would be on a par with that of Ings. While Ings is not just a striker, Trippier is far from being just a right-back with his powerful surges down the right, the catalyst for five goals this season and a staggering 14 the season before. His influence on the team cannot be replicated as attacking full-backs that can defend as well as they push forward are a rarity and that’s why Trippier will be sought by Premier League clubs.

My solution is a tad obscure but it certainly worked for Chelsea, move the secondary left back to right back. Well, in Chelsea’s case, Cesar Azpilicueta, who has in the last eight months or so been labelled the best defender in the country, was playing second fiddle to the formidable Branislav Ivanovic on the right side of Chelsea’s defence and so was drafted in on the left.

Stephen Ward for me is far too good to be sitting on the bench because of Ben Mee. With all due respect to Mee, I can’t for the life of me see why Ward has not taken the left-back berth as he is superior both defensively and offensively in that position. Though the Irishman is well known for his versatility – playing up-front with previous clubs – and certainly you could envisage him slotting in at right back and doing more than a job in that position, considering the fact he is as comfortable with his left foot as he is his right.

Burnley MOTM

Tom Heaton 8/10: Has kept Burnley in many games this season with his performances and has deserved a place in Roy Hodgson’s England squad for the level of consistency displayed throughout the season. Made five very important saves, including two excellent pushes over the bar, to deny Villa at least a share of the spoils.

Kieran Trippier 7/10: A comfortable performer in the top flight now and a dangerous threat when bombing down the flank

Michael Keane 6/10: The 22-year-old has the potential to be a top quality centre half but moments of indecisiveness in the match highlight why Duff was preferred during the back-end of this campaign

Jason Shackell 7/10: Has evolved into a defender of Premier League standard now with his reading of the game and he will no doubt have suitors from clubs in the bottom half of the top tier

Ben Mee 6/10: It has been a inconsistent season for the Clarets left-back, with some very good performances balanced out with some very poor ones. The Championship will provide a more stable ground for his feet

Scott Arfield 5/10: Back out wide though often not in the game and when on the ball, his crossing flattered to deceive

Fredrik Ulvestad 7/10: Nothing too spectacular but a promising debut for the Norweigan which highlighted his eagerness to push the Clarets up the pitch in a similar vein to Dean Marney. It would seem foolish to believe that he won’t play a part in the promotion push next season

David Jones 6/10: Tackled well in the middle but outshone by his young counterpart who’s attacking prowess worked in contrast to his safe, conservative and at times uninspiring game

George Boyd 7/10: Best appearance for a some time in a Burnley shirt. Terrorised Baker in the first half to tee up Ings and latched onto Ings’ through ball, forcing Steer into a smart save

Ashley Barnes 5/10 (Sam Vokes 5/10): Neither striker particularly made a notable impact on the encounter as the latter replaced the former after his back injury. Though one would expect both of these forwards to up their game as it may be the new-look attack that is aiming to fire Burnley to promotion

Danny Ings 7/10: A truly menacing display that really reinforced what a hole Burnley will have to fill as a squad to cope with his departure. Lovely goal and some fine runs and passes caused problems

Aston Villa MOTM

Fabian Delph 8/10: An epitome of the attacking intent and freedom Tim Sherwood asks of his players when they go into every match. Buzzed around the middle of the park and played some fine passes to his team-mates to create openings. Tried his luck from distance on numerous occasions and although the final product was slightly lacking, his ambition and confidence should be commended

Steer 6, Bacuna 7, Vlaar 6, Baker 6, N’Zogbia 6, Cleverley 5, Westwood 7, Agbonglahor 5, Benteke 7, Grealish 6

Analysis: Hull 0-1 Burnley

Danny Ings ended his long-running goal drought with a fine poacher’s finish after Hull failed to clear their lines, though his tenth of the season was overshadowed by the fact that Burnley were ultimately relegated as Newcastle, Sunderland, Leicester and Aston Villa all gained positive results to scramble over that 35-point threshold – the maximum number Burnley could have got. Ings’ goal does have significance as it piles the pressure on Hull who go into their final two matches against Tottenham and Manchester United in the bottom three.

1st half highlights

– A sweeping delivery from Robbie Brady was met at the far post by the usual supplier of crosses, Ahmed Elmohamady, although the Egyptian headed well over

– David Jones’ flat corner met Ashley Barnes on the edge of the six-yard box but under the attentions of James Chester the Clarets striker’s effort was always looping over the top

– Paul McShane lost his marker George Boyd from Brady’s excellent corner and his powerful header sailed narrowly over with Tom Heaton beaten

– Barnes, having had Burnley’s only actual attempt on goal, was presented with a marginally better opening than his first chance gave him. Matt Taylor’s accurate delivery from wide picked him out 12 yards from goal but his glancing header was comfortably stopped by Steve Harper

– Brady – provider of Hull’s only decent chances until this moment -was a lick of paint from firing the Tigers into the lead with a fabulous 30-yard free kick which he whipped over the wall with lots of dip, and was only foiled by the crossbar

2nd half highlights

– Ashley Barnes’ acrobatic effort from Taylor’s tee up lacked pace but still had Harper scrambling as it bounced just wide

– Tom Huddlestone was urged to shoot by the crowd and with little back-lift from long range, the ex-Tottenham midfielder rifled an effort on goal and Heaton was grateful it was fairly central, enabling him to gather

– Taylor and Barnes’ link-up play was on show all afternoon and the former’s venomous delivery across the six-yard box was glanced well wide by the latter when a firm contact was required

– Danny Ings awakened the watching faithful with a glimpse of his undeniable quality. Starting on the flank, the target of many top Premier League clubs jinked inside Chester, Michael Dawson and then McShane before losing the ball. Hull failed to clear and despite breaking kindly for Scott Arfield in the centre of goal, his well hit strike was blocked as the deadlock looked like being broken

Hull 0-1 BURNLEY

A goal which infuriated Hull manager Steve Bruce. As Ings wheeled away in celebration, Bruce was left to rue the fact that skipper Dawson was off the field due to a bloodied nose and the position he would have vacated was the space which Ings exploited. His goal came following a corner which wasn’t properly cleared by the hosts. The ball was recycled to Ben Mee whose delivery caused problems – neither McShane nor Chester were able to get central and properly deal with the cross and Brady tried to intervene. This however was because their structure would have been for them to vacate their respective positions and allow Dawson to sweep clear. Unfortunately for Brady, his touch was heavy and Ings was able to pinch the ball before swiveling and striking beyond a helpless Harper with a fine half-volleyed strike.

– Elmohamady’s wicked cross was only half-cleared and the pressure continued to mount. Substitute Nikica Jelavic’s header was initially blocked before Stephen Quinn’s diving headed follow up was also blocked. The ball then bounced to fellow substitute Abel Hernandez though his intelligent back-heel was straight into the gloves of a thankful Heaton who was sat on the floor

– Hull’s most creative player on show Robbie Brady once again felt the wrath of lady luck with an almost identically placed free kick to the one in the first half, with a strike which drew incredible parallels to that in the first half, with a similar dip and a similar swerve yet the same result of it ricocheting off the bar

– Danny Ings powered onto a lofted pass, leaving Dawson for dead yet the ex-England international’s obvious push on Ings went unpunished and it allowed Steve Harper to collect. Ings’ honesty at staying on his feet perhaps cost the Clarets a penalty and a man advantage

– Huddlestone’s hopeful punt from wide lacked any real speed though had Jelavic and Hernandez lurking. Neither striker could get on the end of it as it appeared Heaton expected and the Burnley stopper had to adjust to claw the ball out for a corner

Win for the fans

Other than their surprise 2-1 victory at the Britannia Stadium against Stoke, Burnley have flattered to deceive on the road, failing to record a single other victory. When visiting tickets are sold out for almost every away fixture, it can be painful for the supporters to come away from a defeat on journeys that are already long enough without any hyperbole to that longevity. So first and foremost, to come away with a victory and a clean sheet from the KC Stadium must be savoured (as best as it can be) by the fans.

There were pleasing aspects to the performance as well. As soon as Danny Ings turned home the winner, you never felt as if Hull were going to get back into the tie. A couple of genius strikes from Robbie Brady aside, Burnley contained the Tigers, even when they threw the likes of Hernandez and Jelavic on from the bench. Make no mistake, barring the occasional freak result such as the 4-0 drubbing at the hands of West Brom at the Hawthorns, Burnley’s defending has been assured all season and is a shining light in a campaign that has ultimately lead to relegation. It has meant that there have been very few embarrassments for Burnley this season and the supporters can come away from the season with their heads held high that their team has competed to the best of their ability and given good accounts of themselves.

Equally pleasing was the fact that Burnley are not going down with a whimper and have well and truly stuck a knife through Steve Bruce’s plans of retaining his team’s Premier League status. When you look at Hull’s squad and the pedigree in that team. Tom Huddlestone and Michael Dawson were regulars in the Tottenham team for many years, Nikica Jelavic and Abel Hernandez cost an staggering £16 million combined yet were sat warming the bench while the likes of Jake Livermore, Ahmed Elmohamady and Robbie Brady are all very talented professionals. A mere consolation would be that Hull are potentially going to drop down a division having spent a large amount on transfer fees for a club of their size while Burnley have battled all season on a shoe string budget and their loss is ultimately much less.

While the news of relegation may threaten to dampen things, it really shouldn’t because this performance shows that Burnley have gone down fighting, and they will no doubt do so until the very end in the final matches against Stoke and Aston Villa.

Delight for Danny

The heat truly has been on Danny Ings of late and quite frankly, it’s been too much for the young lad to cope with. It would be easy to label his goal drought on the fact he’s been distracted by the attentions of other big clubs and has lost his desire to play for Burnley however that would be absolute garbage. In my previous analysis, I recited how in one moment in the Everton match, he ran from inside the opposition half into his own box to throw himself into a challenge on Seamus Coleman, yet people will pick up on the fact he didn’t score and question his commitment.

His overall commitment to the cause today was no different to any other week. His attitude was no different to any other week. The only difference was that in Hull, Burnley faced a team that play quite openly with only three at the back, and three whom aren’t blessed with a great deal of pace; the wing-backs Elmohamady and Brady like to push on and this leaves space in behind which can be exploited. Ings thrives on space to run into and utilise his excellent dribbling abilities and of course, if given a number of half opportunists, he will find the net. He had one against Leicester, one against West Ham and at the third time of asking against Hull, he managed to find the goal. Most strikers get three half chances per game which makes you question the supply that Ings has been getting.

Golden Oldies and Dyche imperative

It would be very easy to be get bogged down by relegation but it’s important at times such as these that you keep together and get behind the team.

As the Championship dawns next season, it’s imperative for the Clarets to retain the services of their experienced professionals. At times, some of Matt Taylor’s deliveries into the box were of a very high order and much better than any other man in claret and blue could muster. His range of passing in a division where space is more frequent and defenders don’t have the same excellent sense of position will be the quality difference that will decide matches. Also worthy services are those of Michael Duff who should be given a further year at Turf Moor.

Of course as well, manager Sean Dyche is the key once again. Some have questioned the manager’s tactics, labeling them predictable, and have suggested that there is potential for life after Dyche. Unfortunately I don’t share that optimism. Dyche is more than simply a manager of a team. He is a symbol of respect and togetherness, that inextricable link between board, players and fans. Taking that away could potentially alienate the board and the fans depending on who they choose to replace him and will no doubt affect the morale and mood of the players who it seems idolise the 43-year-old. I’m afraid if he follows top-scorer Danny Ings out of the club, unless his replacement was nothing short of God, then the remaining band of overachievers will find it difficult to punch above mid-table next season.

A missed opportunity…

Would be the best way to describe the current season. Following the final match against Aston Villa, I shall be evaluating exactly what went wrong in the campaign and how the 2015-16 season must be approached. But for now, there are two matches to follow and therefore the season isn’t entirely finished. You cannot write off the rest of the season when you can all but confirm thousands of fans will travel to the Midlands on the final day of the season and that 20,000 will be watching from Turf Moor this following Saturday.

If I were Dyche, I’d take this opportunity to shake things up a tad and allow starts for the likes of Michael Keane, Frederik Ulvestad, Michael Kightly, Stephen Ward and maybe even Marvin Sordell. It gives a bit more of an incentive for Burnley other than merely pride to go out there and get three points as it’s in a way putting some of those who haven’t had much action a chance to prove a point and be involved with Burnley next season.

Burnley MOTM

Jason Shackell 8/10: Resilient once again in a back four that – for the majority of the season – has continuously done its job despite the frailties of the attackers. Some excellent blocks and neutralised the array of Hull City attackers that made their way onto the field over the 90 minutes. If Burnley can hold onto their skipper going into next season, they will have done very well.

Tom Heaton 6/10: A quiet afternoon that probably brought into question his communication with his defenders on some occasions

Kieran Trippier 6/10: Didn’t bomb on too much and his set pieces are strangely poor considering his generically fabulous crossing in open play

Michael Duff 7/10: Always an assurance whenever he plays at centre half that he will be difficult to breach. Certainly 36 years young would be an apt way to discuss his age

Ben Mee 5/10: Not his greatest day in terms of passing or positioning. It may be harsh though you can’t help but feel a better defensive and offensive option in Stephen Ward has been waiting in the wings

George Boyd 5/10: Lots of running as ever but lacks involvement when it matters. Cut inside on numerous occasions but lacked the ability to make that final pass and lacks the skill to take men on

Scott Arfield 7/10: Got involved in the middle when Burnley pushed forward and worked hard. One of his better performances in the middle for the Scot having looked out of his depth in there for the most part

David Jones 7/10: A generic display by the workmanlike man. Safe in his passing, in his positioning and in everything he did really. A stable head as ever in the middle, which is important

Matt Taylor 7/10: Some promising link-up play with Ashley Barnes perhaps a sign of the top flight quality that the 32-year-old could have brought to Burnley if not for his achilles injury

Ashley Barnes 7/10: Making good runs that are finally being rewarded with deliveries from Taylor that do those runs justice

Danny Ings 7/10: Very pleasing for him to find the net and silence any ridiculous critics that questioned his commitment. Some flashes of genuine top flight quality epitomised why he is being sought by Liverpool and Manchester United


Robbie Brady 8/10: Slightly at fault for the goal with a heavy touch in his own box but was nonetheless the single most creative threat on the pitch. Two free kicks of the highest order were desperately close to rippling the back of the net and some wonderful crosses into the box were just lacking that killer finish from his team-mates.

Harper 6, Chester 6, Dawson 6, McShane 6, Elmohamady 7, Livermore 6, Huddlestone 6, Quinn 5, N’Doye 5, Aluko 5

Where next?

The Clarets welcome mid-table Stoke City to Turf Moor in their final home match of the season. It was a resounding 3-0 victory for Mark Hughes’ men against top-four chasers Tottenham this weekend, a result really testament of their fine season which has seen them surge comfortably into the top half of the table. With two matches to go, Hughes will want to set his sights on eighth placed Swansea as he bids to finish in what would be the Potters’ highest ever finish in the top flight. Burnley though with nothing to truly play for will perform with the shackles off and aim for a positive result for a packed Turf Moor. Burnley 1-1 Stoke

Analysis: West Ham 1-0 Burnley

A Mark Noble penalty and dismissal for veteran Michael Duff proved to be enough to tame the Clarets despite their best attempts with ten men to salvage something from Sam Allardyce’s struggling West Ham team. The home side were hardly mesmeric in their play but did just enough to see Burnley off and temporarily satisfy their frustrated fans.

1st half highlights

– Aaron Cresswell powered down his left hand side, sending over one of his notorious wicked deliveries which fell perfectly into the midriff of Enner Valencia, who somehow failed to connect

– Kieran Trippier’s clever little dink towards Danny Ings almost proved the catalyst for an opener as the Clarets striker turned his man excellently but his flash across the six yard box has no one on the end of it to tap home

– Ings was again in the thick of the action though this time, having been superbly picked out by Matt Taylor from the wing – with young Reece Burke not following his run – he could only direct his header over with the goal at his mercy

WEST HAM 1-0 Burnley (Noble, 24 (p))

INCIDENT: Cheikhou Kouyate had Michael Duff where he wanted him. The Burnley defender was slow to read the midfielder’s movements and after he had jinked inside the dangling leg of Duff was exactly what he wanted. Kouyate saw the opportunity to win the penalty and rightfully got it. It was a clear trip and perhaps a yellow card.

RED CARD: Referee Jon Moss sent off Duff, who appeared shocked and angry. He was right to be as well for there were enough Burnley bodies behind the ball to stop Kouyate from scoring. Yes he was close to goal but it wasn’t necessary a clear chance to score.

THE PENALTY: Mark Noble is generally a dab hand from the spot and has been an integral figure for the Hammers for many seasons now. His coolness from the spot – slotting to the right as Tom Heaton leaped the other way – epitomises his overall game.

– Stewart Downing stormed past Ben Mee and his low delivery across the box picked out Valencia who had his point blank range effort superbly parried by Heaton

– Heaton wasn’t allowed much of a breather from his fantastic reaction stop with Morgan Amalfitano finding himself in an inviting position though his powerful volley was pushed out by the Clarets stopper at his near post

– Kieran Trippier’s excellent corner caught West Ham napping and an unmarked Ashley Barnes was on hand to power a header from ten yards only for Adrian to pull of a fine instinctive save with his legs

2nd half highlights

– Carl Jenkinson took Matt Taylor on almost immediately into the second half and his low cross was diverted into the side netting by Kevin Nolan’s outstretched foot

– Ings was having a greater influence on proceedings and looking to take the game by the scruff of the neck, this time with an excellent first touch to take Cresswell out of the equation, but the angle was too narrow as he bore down on goal and he could only find the side netting

– Nolan – having just missed an earlier opportunity – turned provider with an intelligent flick that took out both Burnley centre halves and set up Amalfitano for what should have been a certain goal with only Heaton to beat but the Frenchman went for the spectacular and curled wide

– Taylor looked to be the catalyst for an equaliser against his old team with a turn and shot from Scott Arfield’s grounded pass which once more was blocked by Adrian’s leg and it was enough to see the ball spin agonisingly away from the goal

– From Taylor’s unfortunate effort, West Ham broke down the pitch and eventually the ball was worked to Cresswell. The left back had the vision to pick out an unmarked Nolan from 12 yards but the midfielder, famous for his goals in the box, fired poorly, straight at Heaton and after he blocked the ball was scrambled wide

– Carlton Cole – a man who seems to find the net regularly against the Clarets – anchored a header back across goal and just over the bar with his first touch following a Downing cross

– Cole was out to add to his personal tally against Burnley though from another Downing assist – this time a reverse pass in the box – his side foot finish lacked the necessary power to trouble Heaton

Penalty antics cost Clarets but referee to blame

First and foremost, Duff did not cover himself in glory for the penalty incident. The 37-year-old has been vital to the solidity of Burnley’s back line though he momentarily showed his age with his slow reading of the ball and the way in which he allowed Kouyate to step inside him. At this point the Senegalese international had Duff where he wanted him as he lazily dangled out his leg. A clear penalty. What is disappointing is what followed.

As Noble prepared to get the ball and put it on the spot, referee Moss showed Duff a straight red card, much to the centre half’s amazement. The challenge was clumsy and as he brought down Kouyate, he was preparing a shot from eight yards. So yes you could give the red however with so many bodies back on the line and a lack of a target as a result, it could also be argued that the opportunity was not a clear goalscoring one. Inevitably, it was a very harsh decision and it made the doable task of beating the out-of-form Hammers on their own turf an incredibly challenging one.

It was such a massive decision from Moss and so frustrating from a Burnley perspective. Because if you take away the penalty, West Ham couldn’t break down Burnley’s ten men and were given a decent game by the visitors. It does beg the question what Burnley could have done with 11  players because certainly you could envisage a potential three points. You would have said that for Burnley not to win this game is a massive opportunity wasted but that dismissal tarnishes that opportunity.

What must be commended however is the Clarets’ ability to fight and graft. At the end of the day, fighting and grafting doesn’t keep you in the division if you don’t have the required quality to go alongside it but you cannot fault triers and if every player is giving their all for the supporters then you have to stand and applaud them anyway.

It’s in stark contrast with the scenes at Newcastle United, where they have just been severely battered by fellow relegation rivals Leicester in a performance that epitomised an incredibly sorry sight. No fight. No desire. No sign of hope. For those fans on Tyneside, many are watching nervously over their shoulders but also angrily as they watch teams fighting at the bottom showing determination and grit. Yet their team are massively on the slide and don’t look in the slightest bit interested. It’s disgusting and the incredible support that fill St James Park and travel week in week out deserve far, far better.

Ings cares but team can’t meet his needs

It has been highly documented that Danny Ings looks frustrated and sluggish in his game play. Though you have to feel for the 22-year-old because every time he misses a chance and doesn’t have a desired impact on a match he is castrated by the fans who claim he is waiting for his move in the summer to a bigger club and has lost the desire this season. Is it any wonder if he is frustrated?

Quite frankly, people are asking too much of him. He cannot beat two defenders and find the top corner from 25 yards every time Burnley need a goal yet that is what some people seem to think he should be doing. Against Everton, Ings made a run from inside the opponents half into his own 18-yard box to make a brilliant last-ditch tackle on Seamus Coleman. Yet people will point out the time he failed to chase down a defender in possession or the time he threw his arms up in the air having not been picked out with a pass. If anything, the voices that have questioned his commitment and his inability to find the net have been the catalyst for his ‘dip’ in form.

Comparisons between him and Sadio Berahino have been rife this campaign. Berahino is not far from the 20 goal mark for Albion which is a mightily impressive feat for him personally though he wouldn’t have scored half the number of goals in the Burnley team. He relies on the service of his team mates and that he’ll get a number of chances a game because he doesn’t score every time. Ings, in fairness, should probably have hit the net with his first half header on Saturdat though his critics will now question his inability to score goals.

Ings isn’t Diego Costa for goodness sake and people need to realise he’s trying his damnedest to keep Burnley in the division but it must be hard for him when some of his own fans have made unhelpful comments.

A mid-table Championship squad…

I made the statement earlier in one of my articles that this current Burnley squad is a squad befitting of a mid-table Championship position and although it caused a few disagreements, I’d like to reiterate that statement, barring two, three, maybe four players in the squad that could push for spots in stable Premier League clubs. Ings of course is a top flight player with his quality – though I wouldn’t say he should be in the view of your Manchester Uniteds and Liverpools in my opinion – while Trippier, Shackell and Heaton I believe could play for your Newcastles and your West Hams.

Then you analyse the rest of the players. Ben Mee has been heavily found out at times this season defensively and although he has improved, there are many better options out there. Michael Duff is 37 years old and on the brink of retirement. David Jones and Scott Arfield? Stable heads in the centre of midfield and rejected by their former clubs who deemed them not good enough. George Boyd? He has a cracking shot on him and is an ever willing runner but he severely lacks pace, passing and dribbling. I’m picking out some of the regular starters at the moment and for me you’re looking at players in that range of mid to upper championship teams. So my statement is valid when you weigh out some of the other names. Lukas Jutkiewicz is a failed striker in the first and second tier of English football, Marvin Sordell the same.

You have to remember that season Burnley went to the Premier League. The odds of relegation were significantly higher than the odds for promotion – which were distant at best. What’s changed? Nothing. It’s practically the same personnel (minus Ings next season) that – under a miracle-working manager – performed out of their skins to battle their way to automatic promotion against teams with significantly better players. Hence why Sean Dyche was labelled the ‘Ginger Mourinho’, as his achievements were nothing short of remarkable. Put Stuart Pearce, for example, in charge of the Burnley team and you wouldn’t be looking past a 12th placed finish in that promotion season. Hell, the record lowest points total in the Premier League would have been up for competition this year.

In response to some calls for calm if the manager leaves, in the hope that a younger model comes in to the role, I say you have to think of the bigger picture. Dyche plays very direct often because it’s the best he can do with the players that he has. He plays 4-4-2 because the quality of the final pass into the box often isn’t good enough to pick out just one body. Two bodies in there means that average crosses can trouble defenders more. Trust me, he’s made his fair share of mistakes this season, that I’ll address later on in the season in an article but he shouldn’t be having the opportunity to make these mistakes as Burnley shouldn’t be in the Premier League. It’s down to his miracles that they are where they are and who can pick up the mantle to perform a second miracle and get Burnley promoted, minus talisman Ings? Let’s just say he’d have to be one in a trillion!

…but there are three games to go

It’s imperative that the standards aren’t allowed to slide until May 24th. Dyche has referred to “myths, legends and folklore” as the final three games approach and even though the drop is all but confirmed, Burnley must take the positive attitude radiated my the manager into the matches with Hull, Stoke and Aston Villa. As Dyche has stated many times earlier in the season, “we wanted this,” and what a shame it would be to go down with a whimper.

Next Saturday’s clash at the KC Stadium offers the chance of upsetting the hosts bid to survive the drop. If your own fate looks doomed, the incentive should then be to ruin other teams’ ambitions and that should provide enough for the Clarets to want to overturn the Tigers.

Burnley MOTM

Jason Shackell 8/10: Has really developed his game throughout his tenure with the Clarets. Originally a signing from Eddie Howe, Shackell has really come on leaps and bounds under current manager Sean Dyche and the original fee paid of £1 million to Derby now seems a snip. Even in the desperate circumstances such as Saturday, when his team were down to ten men, his calmness and reading of the game was first class. If other clubs do begin circling, the one positive is that in today’s market the Clarets could command a hefty fee for their captain.

Tom Heaton 7/10: One fabulous one handed stop to deny Valencia and a number of decent saves to go alongside that

Kieran Trippier 7/10: Some improved corner deliveries that caused the Hammers problems and did well defensively, putting his body on the line on occasions

Michael Duff N/A: Sluggish to allow Valencia into the box for the penalty and a poor challenge but rather unlucky to be dismissed

Ben Mee 6/10: Decent game defensively but still flatters to deceive going forward

George Boyd 5/10: Lots of running but this he really has been living on this ‘marathon man’ tag and his wonder strike against Manchester City

Scott Arfield 6/10: Lots of running, endeavour and always looking for a killer pass but quality was lacking

David Jones 7/10: Improvement on his recent performances and really battling performance for the Clarets

Matt Taylor 7/10: Hardly a revolutionary player but his final ball is perhaps something that Burnley have missed for large quantities this season. Some lovely final passes that almost lead to goals

Danny Ings 7/10: Looked up for this encounter and really tried his best to make things happen. Missed a golden chance but his effort and quality cannot be faulted

Ashley Barnes 6/10: Always wanted to get involved but little breaks such as his first half header and second half miss-header didn’t go for him

West Ham MOTM

Aaron Cresswell 8/10: How well has he devloped this season? The most assists in the Championship last season for Ipswich Town and I suggested Burnley may consider a move for the youngster. As it is, he moved to London and has not looked back. A real force of nature, especially when going forward where he is in the same vein as the likes of Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines in my eyes. It’s no wonder Manchester City are keeping a close eye on him and from the outset, he looked to cause the Burnley defence countless problems.

Adrian 7, Jenkinson 8, Collins 6, Burke 6, Noble 6, Kouyate 7, Nolan 6, Downing 7, Amalfitano 6, Valencia 5

Where next?

Hull (A): While it’s still mathematically possible (and even when it’s not), the Clarets must make the best of their remaining fixtures and give their all for the travelling supporters.

Had it been eleven a-side at the Boleyn Ground, the affair may have ended differently and the fact the hosts only broke through with a penalty speaks volumes about the solidity of Burnley’s defending. Hull have it all to play for but Burnley will be professional and resilient, even if they may not find a way through at the other end. Prediction: Hull 0-0 Burnley

 Do you agree with Jonny’s assessment? Comment below.

Analysis: Burnley 0-1 Leicester

It was dubbed a relegation decider before kick-off and it was the team in form that built on their momentum with a fourth win in a row courtesy of a poacher’s finish from Jamie Vardy, only moments after Matthew Taylor squandered Burnley’s best chance from the spot.

1st half highlights

– Vardy’s turn and strike in the box was easily gathered by Tom Heaton as the Foxes forward registered the first shot on target on 22 minutes after an scrappy opening period

– Kieran Trippier’s outswinging corner found Michael Duff and his header was turned towards goal by Matt Taylor in the six yard box, only for Kasper Schmeichel to make a fabulous reaction save and flick the ball clear

2nd half highlights

– Trippier found Duff once again with a corner – this time more of a floated delivery – and the latter connected well, powering a header towards goal, only for Leo Ulloa to block the goal-bound attempt

58-60 Minutes

– Danny Ings turned Robert Huth and Wes Morgan with a fake inside and broke into the box but his left footed strike was well parried by Schmeichel

– Leicester failed to clear their lines following Ings’ shot and the Clarets recycled the ball into another chance as Matt Taylor stormed into the box, only to be brought down by Paul Konchesky for a spot kick

– Taylor himself surprised many in Turf Moor when he stood up to take responsibility for the penalty, rather than usual taker Ings, though despite all of his top flight experience, the 32-year-old lacked the composure required, seeing his effort crash off the foot of the post

– Burnley 0-1 LEICESTER (Vardy, 60): Almost immediatly after the missed penalty, Leicester looked to get the ball and attack the crushed Clarets. Having got the ball to Marc Albrighton, the ex-Aston Villa man wasn’t dealt with by Ben Mee down his side and he sent a dangerous cross into the mix. Though it wasn’t reaching a Leicester body, in attempt to shepherd the ball clear, Duff turned the ball towards his own goal and Heaton had to make a fabulous improvised reaction save to claw the ball off the line. Unfortunately, with Duff on the floor and Shackell – one would forgive for not foreseeing the aforementioned events – not tracking Vardy, the former non-league goal machine prodded home into an empty goal to truly punish the home team.

– After being picked out by an excellent diagonal by Ross Wallace, Ben Mee got in behind and his fizzing cross took a nick off Robert Huth, forcing Schmeichel into a fine reflex stop

Fine margins to the maximum

The parallels between this and what happened to Leicester themselves a few years ago are striking.

In the 96th minute of a play-off semi-final second leg, Anthony Knockeart had the chance to put Leicester 3-2 ahead on aggregate, preventing extra-time and sending his team to Wembley. The Frenchman stepped up and saw his penalty, and then his rebound saved superbly by Manuel Almunia. As buoyed Watford supporters prepared to roar their fans on in extra-time, amazingly, their team broke and following a scramble in Leicester’s own box, Troy Deeney smashed home from 12 yards to send the Hornets faithful into elation.

That sense of hyperbolic misery was no doubt present for both respective teams. The jubilation and euphoria around Turf Moor when Matt Taylor won and stepped up for the penalty was such, it was almost as if Burnley had retained their top flight status. When he struck the outside of the post, the despair was written all over Taylor’s face and was evident all around the ground as the elation died down. It was almost as if Burnley had lost everything at that point. The structure of the team and the crowd fell apart for a few minutes and it was costly. Leicester were galvanised and grew in belief and took advantage of Burnley’s shell shock in perfect fashion. Prior to the penalty, Burnley were controlling possession without ever really looking like scoring but it was a slow building up of momentum. As it is, the culmination of events that stopped Burnley snatching all the points to them then blowing what looked like being a 0-0 stalemate until the very end. Confidence will not be high.

Don’t press the suicide button just yet

It has been built up as the second biggest game of the weekend by some pundits (behind the Arsenal v Chelsea clash on Sunday), such were the stakes that they said lay on this. Though despite the visitors snatching all three points, it hardly came as a surprise for me. Initially, I had predicted a share of the spoils between the teams but you must remember that recently, Leicester have won three on the bounce and beaten good teams in Swansea and West Brom in the process. So even though people will say that Burnley have blown it, I beg to differ for they’re only a point down on my expected points total.

So what does that mean then? Well it means that rather than picking up a further point against West Ham in London, Burnley must beat them. If they do, whether it be down to a 40-yard wonder strike or off the backside of a defender, it will not matter a jot and all this talk of relegation will temporarily be put to bed.

The Premier League is a very strange division. Only last season Sunderland were the so called “dead and buried” but they orchestrated wins over Manchester United and Chelsea and earned a point away at the Etihad to propel them from the foot of the table and to an incredible great escape. A win against West Ham setting up a potential six-pointer with the match at the KC Stadium the following week should be the aim for Sean Dyche.

Having said that, it does put immense pressure on the trip to the capital. Sam Allardyce’s men at the moment really do look lethargic and disinterested. They’re safely in mid table with no danger of going down but miles from any push for a Europa League spot. Newcastle and West Ham are the teams you want to play in the situations where you desperately want to get some points (with the utmost respect). Lose and I can legislate for talk of the drop becoming a frustrating reality.

…however change is now a necessity

Sean Dyche discussed how he felt post-match that Burnley created six or seven good opportunities to beat Leicester. Well the truth is he’s wrong.

Leicester contained Burnley well and really the game was destined to end goalless following that missed penalty. And Leicester contained Burnley well because Burnley were so predictable and slow in their play. The amount of times I counted passes between back to or across the back four was scandalous. Then if that wasn’t utilised, it was a long punt to the out-of-his depth Lukas Jutkiewicz or struggling Danny Ings. Now not for one second would I lay the blame with the manager. He is managing a team of mid-table Championship players and many of them’s best attribute is their work ethic, which says a lot about the teams craft and quality. But changes must be made.

David Jones is struggling in the middle. He has played in every game for Burnley this season and looks like it. He has been nothing short of magnificent since his free transfer from Wigan Athletic, an integral figure in the promotion campaign and managed to up his game for much of this season. But I’d opt for dropping Scott Arfield. Why? Because Jones’ better performances this season have come next to Dean Marney and I feel that moving Matt Taylor into the middle – a position he played regularly in for West Ham – will help him more than Arfield does. Let’s be fair. Manchester City’s Yaya Toure and Fernandinho couldn’t hack a two-man midfield so it just shows the challenges that Jones and Arfield face every match but it is sadly a challenge they are failing and therefore change is a necessity.

Ross Wallace is another I feel should get a run out. His threat when it comes to set pieces is well known and a crossfield pass late on to pick out Ben Mee in a dangerous position on the edge of the opposition box was a sublime pass that no other Burnley player could have picked out. Michael Kightly’s injection of pace is also a tool so massively under-utilised by Dyche. He may be frustrating with his end product at times but at least he’s adventurous and different to the norm out-wide.

Next week I’d like to see this team:

Heaton; Trippier, Duff, Shackell, Ward; Wallace, Jones, Taylor, Kightly; Ings, Vokes

Burnley MOTM

Michael Duff 7/10: A decent display for the veteran at the back. Highly unfortunate with his role in the goal with his attempted clearance forcing Heaton into an excellent clawed save, only for Vardy to tuck home, though he held his own well against the menacing Vardy and Ulloa

Tom Heaton 6/10: Unfortunate with the goal after making a fine initial reflex save and made one or two more decent stops

Kieran Trippier 7/10: Some good surges forward and solid defensively but set pieces were poor

Jason Shackell 7/10: Good in his distribution and marshaling of his back four

Ben Mee 5/10: Some good touches though his passing was erratic and the goal came down his side

George Boyd 5/10: Lots of running and endeavour as ever off the ball but when dribbling and trying to beat his man looks very amateurish

Scott Arfield 5/10: Lots of running but lacks pace and creativity. He started off well in the middle but those initial performances are now well and truly a thing of the past. Dean Marney he is not

David Jones 5/10: His performances have tailored off as the season has elapsed. Looks tired and his passing is continues to be too safe

Matt Taylor 5/10: You have to feel for the ex-Hammers midfielder. He was having a pretty decent return to the starting line-up until his abysmal penalty turned the tables

Lukas Jutkiewicz 5/10: Battled hard up the top of the field and won numerous free kicks but looks severely like a fish out of water

Danny Ings 5/10: Why was he not on the decisive penalty? Regardless of this game changing moment, once again struggled and looked frustrated at the service his team were giving him

Leicester MOTM

Wes Morgan 7/10: Didn’t give much change to any of Burnley’s attacking options as the Clarets huffed and puffed but never really looked like bridging a strong defensive unit. A strong presence both physically and mentally at the back.

Schmeichel 7, Wasilewski 6, Huth 7, Albrighton 7, King 6, Cambiasso 6, Drinkwater 6, Konchesky 6, Vardy 7, Ulloa 6

Where next?

West Ham (A): All the previewing has been aforementioned.Prediction: West Ham 0-1 Burnley (it needs to be). But if Burnley do not turn up it could be very different and a good opportunity for West Ham to get themselves a win for their frustrated fans.

Analysis: Everton 1-0 Burnley

A first half strike from Kevin Mirallas condemned Burnley to another defeat as Roberto Martinez’s Everton continue their rise up the table following a brief relegation scare a month or so ago.

The Toffees started much more dominantly and when Mirallas scored, you’d be forgiven for thinking the scoreline may get more emphatic. Burnley wormed their away back into the affair for the remainder of the half, only for Ashley Barnes to get dismissed in first half stoppage time. Inevitably, the ten men from Lancashire couldn’t find a way through and were thankful to keeper Tom Heaton for an inspired display between the sticks.

1st half highlights

– Ross Barkley ran at the Clarets defence and with the defenders back-tracking, he dragged wide from distance

– Kieran Trippier’s galloping run down the flank and delivery to Sam Vokes was just behind the Welsh hitman and he could only direct his header over the bar


– Sloppy play in the middle by David Jones who lost the ball and in an attempt to make up for his error, he clumsily brought down Aaron Lennon on the edge of the box. The initial challenge was outside the box though penalties can be given from challenges initially starting outside so arguments could me made both ways. Ross Barkley stole responsibility of the spot-kick from regular and reliable Leighton Baines and like Mirallas before him, his selfishness was not repaid as Heaton excellently blocked down low to his right

– Heaton was set for a busy afternoon and had to react quickly to parry Baines’ rasping half volley after he flapped at Seamus Coleman’s inviting delivery

– Lennon was a nuisance in the first half and Burnley couldn’t live with his pace as he single-handedly instigated a counter-attack though having played the ball through Scott Arfield’s legs, but his arrowed finish fizzed narrowly wide as the final finish he deserved to complement his lung-bursting run eluded him

EVERTON 1-0 Burnley (Mirallas, 26)

It was the epitome of the 25 minutes prior for the home side. They brushed past the threadbare midfield and attacked down Ben Mee’s wing. Lennon found Arouna Kone, who in turn found Coleman, and his delivery across the box was left by Kone for Mirallas, who inadvertently touched the ball in front of him and lashed past a helpless Heaton. You can nitpick about the positioning of the defenders though if your midfield cannot once prevent a constant attacking brigade then sooner or later you’ll be picked apart at the back.

– Immediately the Clarets looked to respond with Danny Ings’ cute little chip playing David Jones in but the midfielder lacked composure and skied his shot off-balance


– Ashley Barnes was dismissed for his second yellow card for a quite frankly foolish attempt to tackle Coleman. His first yellow was harsh as there was no contact on the man but the intent was there. Inevitably both challenges with a very lenient referee may have gone unpunished though there should be no excuses for a Barnes’ lack of professionalism.

2nd half highlights

– Baines instantly looked to push further forward after the interval and his teasing low cross was prodded by Kone but Heaton managed to claw the ball away at his near post

– George Boyd’s lazy touch was seized upon by Baines who threaded Lennon in behind and he cut the ball back for James McCarthy, the Irishman somehow steering the ball wide from point blank range with the goal gaping

– Since the interval, Baines was becoming integral as far as Everton’s offensive play was going and having had the ball recycled to him from a corner, his fierce effort stung Heaton’s palms

– Pinball in the Burnley box almost again worked in the hosts’ favour as Kone’s miscued first touch fell kindly for Lennon, whose shot took a deflection but Heaton was on hand to claim

– A trademark deadly set-piece delivery from Baines found Gareth Barry at the far post though when it looked like he had to score his volley wasn’t clean and once again Heaton managed to get his gloves to the ball and make the save

– McCarthy rectified his earlier lack of composure with an almost nonchalant strike of a loose ball on the edge of the box which dropped inches wide

– Danny Ings – provider of the best first half opportunity – was guilty of squandering the best chance of the second period for the Clarets, getting too much on an unmarked header from Trippier’s cross and sending his ball over from ten yards

Barnes the buffoon

He really was quite foolish. Question the decisions of the referee all you like but quite why he felt the need to try and slide tackle against the lightning Coleman when on a yellow is unknown when it was always going to be risky. Yes it wasn’t malicious but it was plain daft to even try it in the first place. I don’t think he’s cost Burnley a share of the spoils because Everton had plenty of chances before his dismissal but it won’t do his manager any favours when Leicester come calling next week.

Taylor-made swap

David Jones has been an integral figure in the Burnley midfield throughout the promotion season and this season though could it be time for some fresh legs.

In the now finally fit Matt Taylor Burnley have an experienced professional who started his trade as a winger and has drifted into the middle having slowed down with age, though his eye for a pass and knowledge of the top division is perhaps something Jones lacks. At Goodison, Jones looked out of his depth in a two-man central midfield and his passing is so pedestrian and negative it at times derails Burnley’s attacking play. Taylor meanwhile is both known for his passing and long range shooting and certainly whether it be fatigue or whatever, Jones needs a break.

Nightmare run over

In their previous eight matches, Burnley played all eight of the top eight Premier League teams before an Everton team whom, in years gone by, would have been pushing for the Europa League spots and been dark horses for the top four. It really has been a nightmare run which threatened to kill Burnley off and while five points from 27 doesn’t make for good reading, it gives us just enough breathing space for a chance at survival.

The problem is the lack of goals. It’s why you can’t categorically say Burnley will win the games they have remaining, because they have been getting one or two chances per game and haven’t been able to convert. Similarly, after Arfield’s opener against Chelsea on the first round of fixtures, the run of six matches without a goal then followed and some people (although a tad farcical) suggested Burnley may not score another goal this campaign. Indeed it was a stupid statement but it spoke volumes about the lack of both a killer instinct and creator of chances. There are certainly parallels with then and now.

It is uplifting for the Clarets that upcoming opponents Leicester were the team they broke their long drought against before in a 2-2 draw at the King Power Stadium. Another pointer for fans of fate is that the Foxes were on an excellent run of form that day also, on the back of victories against Manchester United at home and at Stoke, along with draws against Everton and Arsenal. Burnley can ill afford to lose the game and while three points would be massive, you get the feeling a share of the spoils wouldn’t be too disastrous for either team.

As I’ve said beforehand, the games where Burnley need to get wins are against West Ham and Stoke. Two teams with nothing to play for and comfortably in mid-table will probably lack that desire and hunger to win matches that they had two or three months ago. Sam Allardyce it seems, even when winning, is fighting a losing battle at keeping his job and he no doubt doesn’t have the drive to win every match with the unfair treatment he receives from the supporters.

Burnley MOTM

Tom Heaton 8/10: One of Burnley’s dependable figures who manager Sean Dyche can count on no matter the circumstances. When Barnes was dismissed, you’d be forgiven for expecting the Merseysiders to rack up three or four goals but Heaton kept the Clarets in the game until the last minute. No absolute stand-out world class saves but made a lot of very good and important stops

Kieran Trippier 7/10: Becoming the man Burnley look to to make that defence-splitting pass. Ddefended respectfully down his side and a threat whenever he managed to get forward

Michael Duff 7/10: His return to the team has really shored up the defence on the whole and means even when Burnley are struggling to score, you have an assured centre-back partnership. Solid

Jason Shackell 7/10: Like Duff, consistently good at doing his job when he doesn’t try and play elaborate passes. A tough day but didn’t allow the Toffees to attack narrowly, even though they got in dangerous positions out wide

Ben Mee 4/10: Absolutely ripped apart by Seamus Coleman and looked completely out of his depth for the 90 minutes

George Boyd 5/10: Another performance with lots of running but looked lost of ideas and lethargic when on the ball

Scott Arfield 5/10: Been in decent form but these matches against Arsenal and now Everton have brought his feet firmly back on the ground. Got stuck in and took a caution in the second half though

David Jones 4/10: When you play with two central midfielders there will be some games where you are overrun and the Burnley midfield certainly were with both ten and 11 men. Awful and predictable in his passing and looked a nervous wreck. Conceded penalty in the first half also having initially lost the ball

Ashley Barnes 4/10: His bookings can be argued long into the night but the naivety of his second challenge really did kill the game

Danny Ings 7/10: Improved display despite another match goalless. Superb hunger and desire to track back into his own half and slide into Coleman to prevent a dangerous move from elapsing. Missed a glorious chance in the grand scheme of things but once again at the heart of Burnley’s threats

Sam Vokes 6/10: Isolated for the most part but made himself a handful. Battled hard to keep the ball up the pitch but a difficult headed chance early on was as good as it got for him

Everton MOTM

Aaron Lennon 8/10: With Tottenham in the predicament they are in, no doubt Mauricio Pochettino wishes he could call upon a player of Aaron Lennon’s experience when he’s in this kind of confidence. With his pace, his energy and his willingness to utilise these traits for the good of the team from an offensive perspective. Often came into the middle of the pitch to take advantage of Burnley’s fragile midfield.

Howard 6, Coleman 8, Stones 6, Jagielka 6, Baines 8, Barry 7, McCarthy 6, Mirallas 6, Barkley 6, Kone 7

Where next?

Leicester (H): It’s a season defining match which Burnley simply cannot afford to lose. It’s the first game in what feels like an eternity that Sean Dyche’s men will be welcoming a team where the pressure is on after playing eight matches against the current top ten and an Everton team usually well up there in seasons gone by. The result of this is massive and there are a number of ways this one could go and I feel it may end all-square. Prediction: Burnley 1-1 Leicester

Analysis: Burnley 0-0 Tottenham

Burnley dented Tottenham’s hopes of a Champions League place in a dreary 0-0 stalemate at Turf Moor.

Danny Ings managed to get in behind early on but fired straight at the keeper when he should have done better though it took until the 90th minute for the next decent opportunity when George Boyd’s guided header sailed just past the far post though in truth, neither team really did enough to break the deadlock.

1st half highlights

– George Boyd’s endeavour to win the ball high up the pitch was almost key as he threaded Danny Ings in behind and when the pathway opened for him seemingly to smash home, the striker panicked under pressure from Nabil Bentaleb and struck straight at Michel Vorm

– Nacer Chadli worked an opening from outside the box but his drive lacked the power necessary to beat Tom Heaton

– Chadli  worked a similar opening from 20 yards but once again, his effort lacked power and Heaton claimed

– Christian Eriksen looked to make the most of a quickly taken free-kick, finding himself in a good area of space on the edge of the box and despite orchestrating an effort through a rack of bodies, Heaton was on hand again

– George Boyd sliced an effort wide from 25 yards

– Danny Ings’ swerving effort from just outside the box forced Vorm into a decent diving save, tipping the ball over the top

2nd half highlights

– The lively Eriksen looked to take the game by the scruff of the neck, finding a way into the box, but his finish sailed high and wide

– Kieran Trippier’s long throw-in provoked a game of head tennis in the box before the ball dropped to Boyd eight yards out, though in stretching, the Clarets winger could only nod agonisingly wide

Worst game of the season a priceless one

Make no mistake, it was a dire match. A match which was satirised by the likes of Jamie Carragher, Thierry Henry and Jermaine Jenas on their respective networks. But it could be a priceless point gained by the Clarets come May 24th.

It was certainly a game where the points were probably deservedly shared. For me, Burnley dominated Tottenham without ever really looking like scoring. They were better in defence, in midfield and in attack but as has been the case on numerous occasions this season, that lack of invention when in the final third has been a problem. The structure and shape of the team is excellent and that is because everyone works so hard to keep in that position even when pressing against the opposition.

It means Tottenham struggled to get going as they attempted to play out from the back. Their attacks were so laboured and slow that it made Burnley’s job of containing them a whole lot easier.

What the Clarets may need


v Crystal Palace (H) 1-1 (Draw)

v Stoke (A) 2-0 (Loss)

v Southampton (H) 0-0 (D)

v Everton (A) 0-0 (D)

v Leicester (H) 1-0 (Win)

v Arsenal (A) 3-0 (L)

v Chelsea (A) 2-0 (L)

35 points: The Tyne-Wear derby victory against Newcastle couldn’t have come at a better time for Dick Advocaat’s men when confidence was rock bottom. Jermain Defoe’s sensational volley also seemed to raise the ex-England international’s confidence massively and it should give them fresh impetus in this survival battle.

Aston Villa 

v QPR (H) 1-1 (Draw)

v Tottenham (A) 2-1 (Loss)

v Man City (A) 2-1 (L)

v Everton (H) 1-0 (Win)

v West Ham (H) 1-0 (W)

v Southampton (A) 1-0 (L)

v Burnley (H) 1-1 (D)

36 points: People have been waxing lyrical about the job Tim Sherwood has done since taking over the reigns at Villa but it has been less spouted about that they are once again beginning to flirt with the idea of relegation. Following a difficult double against Spurs and Man City, I’d expect them to bounce back with a much more presentable pair of games against inconsistent Everton and a free-falling West Ham.


v Southampton (A) 1-0 (Loss)

v Liverpool (H) 1-1 (Draw)

v Crystal Palace (A) 1-1 (D)

v Arsenal (H) 1-3 (L)

v Burnley (H) 1-0 (W)

v Tottenham (A) 1-0 (L)

v Man United (H) 2-2 (D)

34 points: Steve Bruce’s men may not have been the obvious relegation candidates but having not got the better of the likes of Sunderland and Swansea in recent weeks, they now face a daunting set of fixtures which could feasibly send them back down to the Championship. I see some points being gained against a Liverpool team with their confidence low and a United team likely to have nothing to play for on the final day.


v Aston Villa (A) 1-1 (Draw)

v Chelsea (H) 1-2 (Loss)

v West Ham (H) 3-2 (W)

v Liverpool (A) 2-0 (L)

v Man City (A) 2-0 (L)

v Newcastle (H) 3-1 (Win)

v Leicester (A) 2-1 (L)

32 points: I was as shocked as anyone following their demolition of West Brom at the Hawthorns though it seemed as if everything they hit had the Midas touch. And I doubt many teams they face in coming up will be as bad as the Baggies. Villa in particular who will prove a tough nut to crack on their own patch even if QPR are brimming with belief.


v West Brom (A) 1-1 (Draw)

v Swansea (H) 1-1 (D)

v Burnley (A) 1-1 (D)

v Newcastle (H) 3-1 (Win)

v Southampton (H) 1-2 (Loss)

v Sunderland (A) 1-0 (Loss)

v QPR (H) 2-1 (W)

31 points: That victory against West Ham has been a long time coming for Nigel Pearson’s men. They’ve really been unfortunate this season with their luck and shouldn’t be rock bottom of the table. I see them picking up a share of the spoils in their next three games because that belief will now be channeling through their veins but when push comes to shove I feel they will just fall short when it truly matters.

How can Burnley do it?

As you can see from my predictions, when Burnley play their relegation rivals I don’t see the best results. In the end, these clashes are fought hard by both teams and the reason why the Clarets haven’t been too successful in them over the course of the season has been due to that lack of quality and cutting edge.

It means the key matches are the three against teams with little but pride to play for in Everton, West Ham and Stoke. I think two wins against these three should be enough to compensate for not winning the games against those fighting for their lives. So the best realistic possibility would be:

v Arsenal (H) 0-2 (Loss)

v Everton (A) 0-0 (Draw)

v Leicester (H) 1-1 (D)

v West Ham (A) 0-1 (Win)

v Hull (A) 1-0 (L)

v Stoke (H) 1-0 (W)

v Aston Villa (A) 1-1 (D)

35 points: Of course a victory against Leicester at home or Hull away would take the pressure off these fixtures against good opponents with little incentive but I feel they will be the catalyst to survival.

A tough ask but definitely not impossible, particularly if Leicester are beaten at home, the best chance for that third win.

Burnley MOTM

Scott Arfield 7/10: Really blossoming in that central position now which is allowing people to forgetting about the sidelined Dean Marney. Never shirked a tackle and always looks to be positive with his distribution of the ball and push Burnley forward.

Tom Heaton 6/10: Relatively untroubled barring some strikes from outside the box

Kieran Trippier 7/10: Impressive as ever down his side at stopping the Tottenham supply and causing havoc when bombing on

Michael Duff 7/10: Clattering into Harry Kane by the touch-line epitomised the no-nonsense approach to his defensing no matter who he faces

Jason Shackell 6/10: Another decent game alongside his trustworthy partner Duff though needs to be wary of wayward passes

Ben Mee 7/10: Now adds a real assurance to the left side of the defence having been often a weak link earlier in the season

George Boyd 7/10: Burnley’s ‘marathon man’ ran Spurs ragged at times although lacked the killer pass or finish when on those lung-bursting runs

David Jones 7/10: Typically safe in his passing and all-round play and his stable head is an important cog in the wheel

Ashley Barnes 6/10: He can’t be dropped as he is one of Burnley’s key figures but he is not a winger. Nonetheless the effort and hunger is still there which will trouble opposing full-backs

Danny Ings 6/10: Lots of invention and craft without the end product. A little low on confidence perhaps

Sam Vokes 6/10: Ran his socks off and held the ball up successfully for the most part

Tottenham MOTM

Christian Eriksen 7/10: The main threat for an underwhelming top four chasing Tottenham. Eriksen is an excellent talent, very much in the mould of David Silva, but he can use both feet. It was hardly the Dane’s greatest game in white but his runs from deep and close control while making those runs made him a threat whenever Spurs went on the counter-attack.

Vorm 6, Walker 6, Chirices 7, Dier 7, Rose 7, Bentaleb 6, Mason 6, Chadli 6, Paulinho 3, Kane 6

What’s your assessment of the game? Comment below.

Analysis: Burnley 1-0 Man City

Burnley defied the pundits once again at Turf Moor after a fine George Boyd effort proved to be enough to see off the defending Premier League champions.

Manuel Pellegrini’s team were sluggish from the off and looked over-reliant on the talent of Sergio Aguero to make things happen. Inevitably, Burnley made the moneybags pay through Boyd’s strike just after the hour mark.

1st half highlights

-After a ball was only half cleared, Fernandinho released Edin Dzeko though his shot was well blocked by Tom Heaton with the Bosnian under pressure from Michael Duff

– Joe Hart was forced into action at the other end but got down early to claim Scott Arfield’s weak drive

– Following a fine flowing move, David Silva’s cute flick for Dzeko was superbly cut out by Jason Shackell with a crucial sliding interception

2nd half highlights

– Aguero showed brilliant quick feet to turn Kieran Trippier and storm at an open Clarets back line before slipping Silva in. Amazingly, with just Heaton to beat, the Spaniard’s first touch was very poor, taking the ball far too wide and Heaton once again managed to get his body in the way of his subsequent strike

– Aguero turned from provider to attempted finisher but arrowed his snapshot from Pablo Zabaleta’s delivery wide from eight yards

– George Boyd did his best to raise the spirits of the home faithful but his volley from just outside the area had power but just lacked in conviction, sailing wide of Hart’s right hand post

BURNLEY 1-0 Man City (Boyd, 61′)

A tremendous finish.

The initial free kick ironically was a bad one with Trippier delivering poorly but Vincent Kompany’s clearing header was weak. The Belgian was actually playing rather well but some may point the finger at the lack of height and power he got in his clearance. Regardless, the strike was of the highest order from Boyd. The joint-record signing connected with the ball immediately after it hit the turf and as a result the ball fizzed away across Hart from the edge of the box into the bottom corner.

– Silva was given space to find Dzeko in the box however his effort ballooned towards the throw-in line, an effort which summed up his game, and his team’s game in all fairness

– Yaya Toure’s dink to the back post was followed up by Aguero’s lunging header landed narrowly over the net

The General Consensus

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that Burnley have beaten City. Yes if you were a betting man you would certainly be more inclined to sway for the visitors – you only have to look at some of the names on their bench! Though a draw at the Etihad, a draw at Stamford Bridge, a point against United and a win against a Southampton side then occupying a Champions League spot proves this is not a fluke. These big teams are often only giving 70% effort because they expect to steamroll teams due to the egotistic and complacent nature of their players. Burnley have no egos in their team and are never allowed to be complacent due to their level-headed manager.

By no means am I saying that Burnley will win every game against the big boys but you can never rule them out. Out of the next four matches, if Burnley really want to have themselves in good stead before the Leicester game (signalling the start of a run of fixtures against the “smaller” teams), they should target six points out of the next 12. Personally, I believe Southampton away will be a little too difficult and welcoming an in-form Arsenal team will be even tougher. Though sandwiched between those two is a game against top four chasing Tottenham and for some reason, I think they have vulnerabilities that can be exploited while Everton’s league form is dreadful. Their play is slow and pedantic and their defence is shambolic. If ever there was a time to play the Toffees this could be the perfect one (provided they don’t have an upturn in fortunes in the coming weeks).

The real challenge is winning the games against the teams near the foot of the table. These teams will not start games in third gear. These teams will not give up. And it’s actually when Burnley need to raise their game in terms of dictating matches on their own turf. When there isn’t the pressure of needing to press opponents, Burnley can thrive, but it’s much harder for them to take the game to the teams that find themselves around the foot of the table.

Experience over youth

They say if it isn’t broken don’t fix it. But at the time of Michael Duff’s injury, many Clarets fans were more than happy with Michael Keane standing in. When Duff returned, Keane was now the favoured centre half. At the time, Keane represented someone far superior to the ageing legs of the veteran Duff. He had pace and was a decent distributor of the ball.

Looking back over the past two months or so, you realise that the ex-Manchester United centre half has much to learn. He may have speed that Duff lacks but it can’t hide his lack of awareness and reading of the game. The amount of headers conceded recently have reinforced these faults in his game but also highlight his slender body frame which opponents have bullied when tussling for aerial balls.

Next season, Premier League or Championship, Keane will be the partner of Jason Shackell as Duff will no doubt retire. Keane remains a snip at £2 million as with a bit of bulking up and more first team experience, he will be a excellent centre back. Presently however, he should spend the remainder of the season on the sidelines getting physically stronger and tweaking his game. It truly is the business end of the season now and that calls for experienced pros, not youngsters hoping to develop their game.

Dyche goes “dwarfist”

It has been often cited that Burnley are generally a team of “small” players. In contrast against City, Dyche fielded a relatively “big” set of players. Only Kieran Trippier, Danny Ings and Scott Arfield were under six feet for Burnley and that certainly looked to be beneficial on set-pieces where everything looked much less of a panic.

The return of “VINGS” added to this height advantage with Vokes offering a refreshed feel to an attack that has looked pretty stale of late, though I’m not quite sure moving Ashley Barnes wide is the solution. He is at his best when hassling centre halves, forcing them into errors and then doing his best with the scraps in the box. He isn’t blessed with pace or trickery or quality so I fear that playing him in that position in future isn’t the best idea. He may have worked hard to press for the ball but he struggled to get into the game, even when Zabaleta bombed forward.

Burnley MOTM

Jason Shackell 8/10: An excellent display from the skipper, no doubt helped by the return of his trusty deputy Michael Duff. Always assured and safe on the ball at the back and his superb last-ditch interception in the first half denied City an end product to a lovely passing move.

Tom Heaton 6/10: Surprisingly very little to do for the Burnley number one but managed to get his body behind strikes no matter how unconventional it may have seemed

Kieran Trippier 7/10: Great defensive performance

Michael Duff 8/10: His height, strength and reading of the game is more vital at this stage of the season than the pace and youthful presence of Keane. Very solid

Ben Mee 7/10: His upturn in performances have come at the right time for him as Stephen Ward is now back to challenge his position. Could still improve his offensive threat but did well against Jesus Navas

George Boyd 8/10: A wonderful strike capped off a fine performance built on grit and endeavour

Scott Arfield 6/10: Passing was a tad careless but decent performance nonetheless

David Jones 6/10: Fought well in the midfield but passing was occasionally pedestrian and he still for me takes too long to make a pass

Ashley Barnes 6/10: Felt like a spare part out wide as he couldn’t implement his high octane pressing on the centre halves. Worked hard but not a man who should be on the flank in my eyes

Sam Vokes 7/10: The fans’ favourite made a strong return to the first team, making himself a handful for Kompany and Martin Demichelis with his physical presence

Danny Ings 5/10: Lost the ball needlessly too many times by trying to either do too much himself or play a ball that was never on the cards

Man City MOTM

Sergio Aguero 8/10: He is a top, top player. Certainly the Argentine was at the heart of anything good City mustered and whenever on the ball, it was incredibly difficult to get him off it. Unlucky not to get on the scoresheet himself in the second half and really should have claimed an assist to Silva. Certainly there are shades of Lionel Messi to his game in the way he moves with the ball. So fast. So skilful.

Hart 6, Zabaleta 6, Kompany 6, Demichelis 6, Clichy 5, Navas 6, Toure 6, Fernandinho 5, Silva 5, Dzeko 4

Where next?

The Clarets make the trip to St. Mary’s to take on a Southampton team who, despite a general dip in form since their blistering start to the campaign, still find themselves in with a shout of Champions League football. Ronald Koeman has built a very strong defensive spine in his side and they do have goals in them despite their lack of them in recent weeks. Two wins out of two against the big teams? I think that may be pushing it a tad. Prediction: Southampton 1-0 Burnley

Barnes’ aggression is key to his play

Having seen an article based on the issue, I thought I’d pose an argument for Barnes to continue in his aggressive style of play.

The following may sound harsh but it is undeniably true – in terms of quality and ability, Ashley Barnes is a player who would struggle to get in many, if any, top half Championship teams.

He doesn’t have a rapid burst of pace, he’s not renowned for his killer passing or finishing ability and doesn’t have a great deal of skill, with the utmost respect. Put it this way, how many Burnley supporters would have placed them in their starting line-up after his half a season stint with the Clarets in the promotion campaign? I doubt it would be very many, simply because he was a run-of-the-mill footballer who only breached the starting positions because of Sam Vokes’ serious knee injury.

The reason why Barnes has been a revelation this season is largely down to his physical attributes. He frequently shows aggression when scavenging for the ball in the final third and he riles defenders. Inevitably, they take their frustrations out on him and a free kick is won, relieving the pressure. One could argue this is taking the “dark arts” of football and utilising them to their advantages.

To take away the controversy of Barnes’ game would be to take away the player’s most important attribute. It’s comparable to playing David Silva but asking him not to pass, playing Harry Kane and asking him not to shoot.

Similarly to Diego Costa, if you take away the aggression from the player, you are taking the soul out of his game and the fearsome forward will be tamed. Costa angers defenders which makes them more reckless in their game and in truth Jose Mourinho is right, he should win more fouls for his team. Barnes works in a comparable manner but obviously without the £32 million worth of talent.

While Barnes is far from a top quality player, he is integral to the Burnley team. He leaves one behind on defenders, wins cheap free kicks for his team and is overall just a complete and utter nuisance to defend against.

However, I must stress that he can’t be making too many more tackles like the one at the weekend or he’ll be facing lengthy suspensions. So I would say he should apply the same mentality to his game without asking the referee to reach for his back pocket.

Analysis: Chelsea 1-1 Burnley

Manchester City’s title aspirations were given a boost on Saturday as Sean Dyche’s Burnley pegged back current leaders Chelsea, giving themselves an equally important boost as they bid to beat the drop.

When Branislav Ivanovic slotted home the opener in the first half many would have predicted a whitewash but Burnley didn’t have to weather much of a storm and kept themselves competitive right until the last, with Ben Mee rising highest to head home a Kieran Trippier corner late on to divide the points.

It was, however, a game defined by the sending off of Nemanja Matic and the controversial dirty antics of Ashley Barnes (though I have tried to ignore the latter in my analysis as it is a topic which will no doubt be crossed over various pieces in the media).

1st half highlights

– Chelsea’s recent £27 million buy Juan Cuadrado came close to opening his account for the Blues with a well directed header from Filipe Luis’ cross, forcing Tom Heaton to tip over

– Michael Kightly got the better of Ivanovic down the left flank and his deflected cross teed up Barnes, whose volley from the edge of the box was powerful and accurate, but straight into the gloves of Thibaut Courtois

– CHELSEA 1-0 Burnley (Ivanovic, 14)

A mixture of pure class and poor defending summed up this opening goal.

Initailly, when Kightly has the chance he has to hoof the ball downfield or out of play to relieve the pressure from his defence. However, the hard-working Cuadrado beat the Clarets winger to the ball near the byline and in turn found Eden Hazard. The Belgian genius then weaved out of numerous Burnley challenges in the box before cutting the ball back to Ivanovic who continued his impressive goal-scoring streak by turning the ball in away from Heaton.

Hazard’s trickery is top, top class and I don’t lay blame to Burnley defence for not dealing with him. You would have to be a top drawer centre half or defensive minded player to stifle him. However, I would expect when he’s cutting the ball back that one of the four Burnley players in and around the six-yard box could take note of Ivanovic for they were doing nothing other than admiring Hazard’s talent and marking thin air.

– Immediately after the goal, Hazard stormed forward against a terrified Trippier before squaring the ball to Oscar, whose shot was fumbled by Heaton

– Jose Mourinho’s theory that there is a ‘campaign’ against his team were no doubt strengthened when referee Martin Atkinson ignored legitimate claims for a handball after Ivanovic’s shot hit the outstretched arm of Kightly, before the referee waved away further appeals for Jason Shackell’s shove on Diego Costa in the box

2nd half highlights

– The lively Barnes reacted quickest to a half-cleared free kick and his improvised hooked effort took a deflection and forced Courtois into an awkward one-handed save at his near post

– Ivanovic looked to turn provider with a glancing header from Cesc Fabregas’ outswinging corner but Scott Arfield’s presence at the far post denied Matic a simple tap-in

– Costa’s excellent first touch took him clear of Michael Keane though the forward’s finish was scuffed and easily blocked by Heaton

– Costa was again proving difficult to handle, weaving in and out of challenges before teeing up Matic for a skidding shot across the floor which Heaton easily collected

– Courtois was justifying his selection over Petr Cech for the second game in a week, denying Barnes’ awkward effort from the edge of the box with a smart turn around the post

Chelsea 1-1 BURNLEY (Mee, 81)

It was a goal with a large irony attached to it.

Arguably the worst team at scoring from corners scored against the team arguably best at defending them in the division. Trippier’s lofted cross was hardly his best – he’s hit better ones no doubt – but the sheer determination and physicality of Ben Mee over his marker Ramires allowed him to reach the ball first and get his head on it. From there, Courtois has little chance and for once, can ask questions of his defenders in front of him who are usually so reliable.

– Having been given a yard of space by the Clarets, Fabregas summed up his below par display at the Bridge by lashing a bouncing ball wildly over the bar. Though not an easy opportunity, a man of his quality you would expect to make more of these half opportunities

– On the counter-attack, Danny Ings nearly won the match for Burnley in added time, striding away from substitute Ramires before checking inside. With George Boyd in support, Ings opted to go for the spectacular from 20 yards but sliced it wide of the far post with his left foot

Corners prove decisive

Well, they have been a topic of conversation for a number of weeks now but on this evidence, it seems Burnley may finally have addressed surrounding corner kicks.

The one incident that highlighted this was midway through the second half when Ivanovic nodded a Fabregas corner across to the far post. Matic positioned himself a few yards from that far post in a routine obviously constructed to see the Serb turn the ball home from point blank range. In previous set-ups, Burnley have neglected the traditional ‘defending corner composition’ in which you have your keeper in the middle of the goal and two men on the posts to protect those particular corners. As it was, with Arfield already occupying the far post, he could shepherd the ball away, preventing a goal that would have surely seen Chelsea seal all three points.

The irony was that Burnley snatched a share of the spoils from a corner themselves. Though it wasn’t that the delivery was absolutely amazing, more that the departure of Matic was being exploited.

Matic is Chelsea’s most vital player with only one loss this season when the man-mountain has started in midfield. His presence was filled by Ramires though it was inevitably him who lost out to Ben Mee for the equaliser. Ramires himself is an athletic, rapid midfielder but he looks distinctly average when compared to Matic’s shielding of the defence. He lacks the height and the bulk of his counterpart and both these qualities were evidently missing as Mee overpowered the Brazilian to win his header.

City now Chelsea? Coincidental or not?

Not particularly. The statistic that Burnley have outrun their opponents in every top flight match this season says all you need to know about their work ethic and desire. It means that opponents must be giving close to their maximum in order to beat the Clarets. Quite simply, neither Chelsea nor City in December were anywhere near their peak in terms of performance.

As I have said in my awarding for Chelsea’s man of the match, Hazard at times was carrying the Blues up the pitch and making things happen in the final third all by himself. He single-handedly carved out the opener. Costa also looked menacing with his movement and showed why he is being touted as one of the division’s best strikers. Other than that, the attacking talent on show looked like they were in an exhibition match with slow passing and an apparent lack of effort. Yes, the dismissal of Matic was the key but you’d expect with the talent available for Chelsea to be two or three up by the time he was dismissed.

Narrow focus

Although it may have cost them at numerous times throughout the season, Burnley’s narrowness was effective in stifling Chelsea on Saturday afternoon. In Hazard and Cuadrado, Chelsea have two wingers who like to advance into the box rather than take the ball to the corner and cross the ball. Generally, opposition full-backs also overlap into the spaces which are left if Kightly and Arfield aren’t backtracking efficiently though Felipe Luis and Ivanovic (apart from the goal) were not busting a gut to get in behind and contribute to the hosts’ offensive play, as one would expect them to do.

So in turn, Chelsea’s narrow attacking style coupled with their lethargic attitude on the back of their Champions League tie meant that they found Burnley difficult to break down.

Burnley MOTM

Ashley Barnes 8/10: Very fortunate in my opinion to be on the field for that reckless challenge on Matic though the Serbian’s ridiculous antics will no doubt overshadow Barnes’ late challenge. As it was, Barnes was an absolute nuisance and never looked like the occasion would dwarf him, Always looked to be positive and physical.

Tom Heaton 6/10: Next-to-no difficult saves to make but did well on crosses

Kieran Trippier 7/10: Decent deliveries from corners and held his own down his side against the Chelsea rearguard

Michael Keane 7/10: Lost Costa a few times as you would expect but on the whole a very impressive display

Jason Shackell 7/10: Fortunate not to concede a penalty for a naive push on Costa but excellent otherwise

Ben Mee 7/10: A much better display from the left-back, who focused on the defensive side of his game rather than the offensive side

George Boyd 6/10: Lots of endeavour and graft as ever

Scott Arfield 6/10: Quiet game but still held his own in the middle

David Jones 7/10: A struggle in the midfield but a struggle which he relished

Michael Kightly 6/10: Quiet afternoon for the attacking-minded winger and passing wasn’t always great

Danny Ings 6/10: Outshone in terms of quality and controversy by Barnes but always lively and lung-busting run at the end just lacked that decisive finish

Chelsea MOTM

Eden Hazard 8/10: Mesmeric for large period of the match. A wonderful dribble created the opening goal and often looked like he was carrying a lethargic Chelsea team through the motions with some brilliant footwork and ideas in the final third.

Courtois 7, Ivanovic 7, Terry 6, Zouma 6, Luis 7, Matic 4, Fabregas 5, Cuadrado 6, Oscar 6, Costa 7

Where next?

Buoyed by the point against Jose Mourinho’s men, Sean Dyche’s players will welcome a team equaly buoyany following this week’s set of results in Gary Monk’s Swansea.

This will be a difficult game for Burnley because, unlike the match with Chelsea, the onus is now well and truly on them to take maximum points if they are serious about surviving the drop.

These are the games that Burnley really need to up their game with and I think they have enough to edge an incredibly tight and tense affair. Prediction: Burnley 1-0 Swansea