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.
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