By Dave Thomas
January 8 2017
MANCHESTER CITY 2 BURNLEY 1 2017 and the New Year began; the last year, 2016, was one of the best at Turf Moor.
Outside of football the year had its downsides and tragedies but for us footie fans that follow a club, whatever club it might be, football is the glue that holds things together and matchday is the marker in our week. Win and the next day is a treat of a day to enjoy. Lose and there is flatness, who wants to read the papers when your team has lost?
A treat for Master Joe and his third away game; he’s always nagged us about wanting to go to Manchester City. We were there the first time we were in the Prem and saw the 3-3 draw. In the last visit it was 2-2. In theory this should have been 1-1. You can’t begin to find any similarities between the two clubs now in terms of finance. But it wasn’t always so; City went down to the Third Division some years ago and were once comedy gold for any comedian. How things have changed.
Burnley has been a success story based on painstaking hard work, progress inch by inch, shrewd management, cautious spending and careful planning. At City, money is no object, wages astronomical, and facilities second to none. A state of the art, new stadium, leased by the club, was as good as gift wrapped by the city council, its success and conversion as a football stadium in direct contrast to the problems at West Ham. If you are Man City you can summon allegedly the best manager in the world. But Guardiola hasn’t found it all plain sailing, in fact far from it. The Premier League is a different beast to what he has known in Spain and Germany; the Premier League is where a bottom club on its day can beat the top.
Burnley didn’t manage it and lost 2-1 but most if not everyone after this game must have been thinking the same; that Burnley blew it. They more than held their own in the first half and then when Fernandino was sent off for an atrocious tackle on Gudmondsson that could have broken both his ankles the game was set for a shock result. At half time along with everyone else in our little corner the general opinion was that this was the best opportunity so far to win an away game.
City in so many ways were a disgrace; petulant, argumentative, frequently surrounding and berating the referee, and at every opportunity doing what Dyche and the rest of us abhor, falling, rolling and theatrically feigning serious injury. Silva in the second half provided the perfect example dropping in agony over the goal line after a perfectly fair tackle and lying on the ground holding his leg as if it was seriously damaged.
Then it must have occurred to him that he would need to roll back onto the pitch in order for the ref to stop the game for him to get treatment. And so he did. It was one of many sad examples of Oscar winning performances in the ‘I’m really injured’ performances.
What is it with these divas and prima donnas we wondered? Do they expect the ‘little’ teams to arrive and surrender? Do their huge wages and inflated egos make them think they are above the rules of football? The tackle on Gudmondsson was horrendous; the red was more than merited, but City players surrounded the referee and argued and bullied him and behaved appallingly.
It was the same when Burnley scored. It took nearly two minutes to re-start the game because of the melee, the jostling of the referee and linesman, the bickering and total lack of any professional restraint and sportsmanship. Dyche was adamant that in the aftermath of the goal that another City player should have been sent off, Sagna for kicking at Boyd. There it was in the post-match highlights, as sly a kick at Boyd’s ankle as you could wish to see.
The goal spurred and fired Burnley but as much as it has to be said that City were dislikeable and repugnant in their behaviour; Burnley were simply not good enough to beat their ten men.
Probably all of us were astonished that Defour was on the bench. Hendrick was back but Marney was out so it seemed odds on that Defour would slot in with his silky, cultured play. He stands out in a Burnley shirt because of the time he creates for himself, the space he finds, the intelligence of his passes and above all else his beautiful first-touch. When he did come on for most of the second half and displayed his vision and touch it made us wonder all the more why he hadn’t started.
Dyche later explained that he had been left on the bench having picked up a minor injury in the previous game. ‘For him it’s a big shift from playing bits of football over the Christmas period to two games in three days. I asked him and he said he’d never done that and he still has a couple of niggles. He came off Saturday with a tight hamstring and it’s one of them. We’re still trying to inch him along to full fitness.’
You couldn’t fault any Burnley player for effort and determination but the difference in skill level was abundantly apparent when Guardiola brought on Aguero and Silva for the second half. Once they came on, City never really looked like losing and with Sterling, de Bruyne (when not falling, rolling and acting), Silva and Aguero able to break so quickly, twist and turn with such speed, and above all else think so quickly and instinctively to make a pass; the Burnley defence was all too often sliced open on the break.
And that was exactly how the City second goal was scored with a break at lightning speed and Aguero evading Mee’s stumbling tackle. Four City players broke forward at a speed of which we can only dream at Turf Moor. Heaton made the diving interception at Sterling’s feet, but how oh how did Aguero then manage to score with a shot from the goal-line that flashed across and hit a mesmerised defender, Lowton, on the line and ricocheted into the net. It was a simply ridiculous goal to concede and this against a ten-man team. Heaton had taken the ball cleanly from Sterling but the latter went to ground as he stubbed his foot on the Turf. But was it genuine or was it a dive? No matter, if it was a dive it went unpunished allowing Aguero to strike the bullet shot that kissed the post before it hit Lowton. It was rotten luck on the outstanding Heaton who had done his job at Sterling’s feet. It was ironic; in the first half he made some superb stops. In the second he had little to do other than pick the ball out of the net twice.
Burnley had chances enough in the second half; Arfield blasted high and wide, Vokes headed wide, Gray sliced a shot from a great opening, Bravo tipped another effort over the bar when it seemed certain to loop in. All in all it’s easy to say we gave them a run for their money, made them work, made them ‘win ugly’ and certainly there was the full range of the ugly side of football in this game. Toure was by a long way the man of the match, but what a sullen, grumbling temperament he displayed throughout the game, resulting in a deserved yellow for his continual mouthing at referee Mason.
Nor did it end with the final whistle. Guardiola took up the role of being chief misery-guts during the post-match interview that according to many showed the full range of tetchy petulance, rudeness and lack of respect. Reactions to it in the media were maybe a bit over the top and reports of his disrespect were hugely exaggerated. But clearly he had been knocked for six by the unrelenting physical nature of Premier football. Tika taka football was in short supply at the Etihad in this game and it was obvious that coming to terms with new demands had taken its toll. In fact things were more tacky tacky than tika taka. The effect on him was clear and already he was saying his coaching days may be nearing their end. In that interview we were looking at a man who was relieved to have won but clearly disillusioned by what he had seen and I’ll hazard a guess disheartened at his players’ behaviour; their shirts may be blue but red is their favourite colour with 7 red cards this season so far.
Any lingering sense of affection for this one homely, family oriented club drained away. We once had good friends there and when Burnley played there we’d join them back in the good old days. It was once a club that you really felt belonged to its supporters, had a human side to it, was never pretentious in any kind of way. It was Manchester’s back-street club set in a world of grimy terraces in a run-down area. Now it is re-located and re-invented. Back then you felt it was Manchester’s ‘proper’ club. Now there is none of that; it belongs to the prawn sandwich brigade just as its rival across the city does; the by-word now is corporate. It is the world of the nouveau riche, the tradesman now a millionaire, with pretensions to grandeur, all gloss and gold-framed mirrors. Their new supporters joining on to the bandwagon think it is all normal, the older ‘real’ supporters still blink and rub their eyes and wonder how it has all happened as the old identity has been replaced by the new.
Despite the defeat and the disappointment it brought; a dose of reality and sense came in a mail from a chum. He needed a picture of young Joe on mascot day and along with the request put things in perspective. Here we were, having come away from one of the richest clubs in the world with possibly three or four of the world’s best players and we were feeling a tad down because we hadn’t got a point, in fact at half time it seemed reasonable to think we might actually have won. But Phil wrote:
I was just thinking about how kids roughly Joe’s age are growing up as Burnley fans watching all this success. I didn’t see a winning side from my first game in 1976 until the 1981/82 season when Miller improbably found a system that worked. And the football in those days was rubbish. Watching Trevor Steven was like marvelling at an alien that had suddenly alighted on earth wearing a Burnley kit.
And Phil was right. Here we were having endured the dross of the 80s and then the struggles of the 90s and all the financial lurches and splutters of the next decade, but since Joe got his first season ticket for the first Dyche promotion season it has been highs and climaxes all the way. Even the relegation season was a joy to watch as Ings and Trippier came so close to keeping Burnley up and the football was a treat to watch. But for City, it was Aguero who looked like an alien alighting on earth to bring class to this ugly, snarling City side.
For Master Joe, despite the defeat, this was a magical day; the coach trip, the picnic on board, the first sight of this awesome stadium, a huge shop on two floors. We looked at prices and quickly moved on. He couldn’t wait to get inside to our seats. Our seats were right next to a City section and alas he learned a few new words as abuse and bile were hurled back and forth as the game went on in the second half. What is it that makes grown men curse and swear and stand and gesture towards others just a few yards away?
Meanwhile the news came through that Barton had been signed for the rest of the season in time for the City game to count as his one-game suspension for betting in Scotland. The conversations and debates were instant – would he play at Sunderland in the cup game or be on the bench – and where of course would this leave Defour. And surely there would be things in the contract to safeguard the club if the FA slapped a longer ban on him.
In the criticism of City there were no sour grapes; even with ten they outskilled Burnley with players who are the crème de la crème. But one thing was for sure; their antics and complaints left a distinct sour taste.