Defender plays a long ball in to the channel. The 6ft 3 target man gathers the ball, bullies a helpless defender and lays it off.
Rushing on to it is the 6ft 1 target man. 20 yards out. The type of moment every kid has practised thousands of times. The type of chance we’ve all wondered if we could stick away when watching from the stands.
There was no way Ashley Barnes was passing this one up. Power with just a touch of curl, arrowed in to the top right corner. An old fashioned goal. A great goal. A goal everyone can relate to. Perfectly Burnley.
Provider Chris Wood quickly followed with two poacher’s strikes of his own to put the gloss on a perfectly executed performance. The imposing front two were only paired for the final half hour in East London but managed more goals in that time than Southampton and Stoke’s entire strike forces combined have managed in all of 2018.Embed from Getty Images
Sean Dyche spoke of a ‘diligence to the basics’ as the reason for their success and that effectively sums up the club. They know what needs to be done and carry it out as best they can. Currently that ‘best’ sees them five points behind Arsenal with only eight games left. The highest compliment that can be paid to Dyche and his men is that Burnley sitting in seventh place doesn’t seem particularly surprising anymore.
It was somewhat fitting that an outstanding away performance and result was immediately overshadowed by images of stolen corner flags and opposition supporter protests. The chaos made the headlines whilst the Clarets left quietly with the points. The calm amongst the storm.
Even amongst the madness at the London Stadium, Burnley as a club managed to excel themselves. Jeff Hendrick, having just been replaced by Wood, helped a young Hammers fan out of the firing line and gave up his seat on the substitutes bench. He even offered the boy his boots as a keepsake. By acting with care and compassion Hendrick, as well as fellow subs and coaching staff, potentially spared a young supporter from a defining violent memory of live football. Kudos all round.Embed from Getty Images
It’s easy to paint Burnley as the plucky underdog but in truth there is far more to them than that. They have been successful because they are a good football team with a manager who fully understands the club.
11 clean sheets in 30 games is a fine base from which to begin. Michael Keane’s move to Everton left a hole in the backline. They filled it from within with the outstanding James Tarkowski. Tom Heaton’s injury was meant to signify the start of a decline. Instead Nick Pope has forced is way in to World Cup reckoning. Dyche allowed them opportunity and they have repaid him handsomely.
That isn’t to say that Burnley are passive in the transfer market. They identified a lack of midfield depth on Premier League arrival so signed the mercurial Steven Defour and the aforementioned Hendrick for a combined £20million. This season they felt more goals were needed and in came Chris Wood. Saturday proved once again that the logical scouting and recruitment at Turf Moor is driving the club to new heights.Embed from Getty Images
Whether they can possibly climb higher is to be seen. They now sit one place shy of the ‘Big Six’ and the entirely different footballing universe in which they exist. All Burnley fans can do is enjoy the present. In decades to come they may well look back fondly the days when Ashley Barnes set the Premier League alight.
In the short term, Pope, Tarkowski, and Barnes may want to hold off on booking their summer holidays. If even one English Claret (providing Austria don’t snare Barnes first) was to make it to Russia, it would be rich reward for the understated revolution currently taking place at Turf Moor.
Written by Dan Fox.