By Dave Thomas
April 3 2017
BURNLEY 0 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2 - It was an astonishing seven weeks since the last home league game. There was a decided absence of Burnley April Fool’s day jokes.
Perhaps it was because the day was too serious with the visit of Spurs and Premier League safety so tantalisingly close. The run of four away games over and two points gleaned. It could so easily have been four. The winner for Swansea in the final moments should have been chalked off by the referee for the blatant push on Mee. How Burnley lost at Liverpool remains one of those just how-did-we-lose-that games?
And as for Sunderland, the point was welcome, but if you ever wanted a fixture to make you squirm then you’d choose Sunderland versus Burnley at the Stadium of Light. It is for good reason that this place has been re-named by observant fans the Stadium of Sh**e. MOTD cameras clearly showed owner’s wife Mrs Ellis Short gently nodding off, eyes closed during the game. Was she embarrassed? Probably not, just miffed she’d actually woken up, I’d imagine.
Jamie Smith in his column was scathing overall: ending with ‘people have spent a fortune travelling to watch the Clarets, they deserve better.’
But Matt Griffin tweeted: ‘Scary to think how much I’ve spent watching Burnley away – but absolutely no regrets.’
Immediately after a game and in the next few hours emotions rule and the mood on the Supporters Club coach was mixed. Some were disappointed saying if we can’t beat a club as poor as Sunderland we won’t win away all season. Others were happy with the point. Underlying it all was frustration that with Sunderland under the cosh in the first half Burnley couldn’t capitalise. One or two were incandescent. Most were just numb and quiet.
Overall: travelling to away games is fine, but the moral is ‘just avoid Sunderland.’
In the cold light of day, anyone with a degree of realism was thankful if not pleased though. At the break there was an 8-point gap. Before the away run it had been 10 but to retain such a healthy distance was a relief. If criticisms after the game had been plentiful then it was still sensible to remember that it was a sort of minor miracle that Burnley weren’t in fact actually rooted in the bottom three. But here they were defying the odds, pundits eating their gloomy, pre-season words, and if we’re honest, surprising us as well. If the game at Sunderland was a stinker (Shearer’s words) then every now and again it’s just a reminder that this is not a team of geniuses. If they were they wouldn’t be at Burnley. Players at Burnley are a mix of the good, the bit better than good, plus Michael Keane and Tom Heaton. To be mid-table, albeit not quite comfortable, at this stage was some achievement.
This is a collection of parts that Dyche has gelled, got them working, gets the maximum out of them, makes them work for each other and gets them grinding out results. Every now and then they put on an away show that has been better than average, one example being at Liverpool, so that then we are disappointed if in the next game they have not got the win. But we shouldn’t be; because the reality is they are not world beaters and never will be. Staying in the Premier League if they pull it off will have been a triumph of over-achievement and just as surprising as Leicester winning the title. It will have defied all the laws of finance and resources.
The measure for me and Mrs T was did we sit down, tuck in, celebrate the point, and enjoy the M&S Chinese banquet dinner we had. And yes we did. We munched and chomped away contentedly, but the abiding image remained, Mrs Short slowly nodding off in front of 40,000 spectators at Sunderland.
Scott Arfield had a particularly good game there and an in-depth, full-page article about him in the Times by Henry Winter was revealing. Burnley fans knew some while ago about the death of his close friend Craig Gowans in the youth team at Falkirk, the result of a training ground tragic accident. ARTICLE He still can’t get the images out of his mind and as a tribute wears the 37 shirt. But less well known, wrote Winter, is the suicide of his best friend Chris Mitchell, the result of depression just two hours before the triumphant 3-0 win at Charlton that sealed the title. Arfield’s wife knew but kept it from him until the day after so that he would play the Charlton game unaffected. Somehow he then forced himself to do the open top bus parade and awards night but he was in bits, he says. It took him a long time to get his head into some semblance of normality.
We, the fans, watch the players on a Saturday and never know why they might be having a bad game. They’re just like us. If we’ve had bad news, been up all night with the bairn, had a raging toothache, got worries; we can all have a bad day at the office. Footballers are no different.
There couldn’t have been a Burnley supporter anywhere who wasn’t delighted to see Michael Keane get his first England cap against Germany. He looked as though he’d been a regular for years rather than a rookie making his debut. Critics were agreed this was an assured and polished performance with some of the pundits making him England’s best player on the night. With Chelsea, Everton and then Liverpool linked with a summer offer of £20million, his time at Burnley looked even more limited after the England game.
But £20million: derisive we said, especially bearing in mind that John Stones went for £50million from Everton to Man City. Added to that is the mystery of is there a sell-on clause or not, payable to Man United in the event of a sale? One day it’s yes and the next day it’s no. Somebody somewhere knows, the ones who made the deal in the first place, but nobody is saying owt.
The Stones price was ridiculous and the result of a cash-happy City going mad with such an inflated price. But if that was the yardstick then all of us hoped that the negotiators at Burnley would demand something similar, not because any player is worth that artificial amount, but because rightly or wrongly this was the ‘value’.
‘Best ever Burnley centre-half’ was one proclamation on a website. That’s arguable and his partnership with Ben Mee is one reason why Keane has looked so good at Burnley. They complement each other and fit like two gloves, or like a pair of comfy slippers in the way they just match and dovetail. Ben Mee is the unlucky one of the partnership, gets less of the plaudits, less of the publicity and fanfare. Keane came from Man United which gives him an immediate leg up in the commodity market. There have been constant reminders that this is where he came from and Rio Ferdinand has been his mentor. It gives him the aura of a bit of glamour.
Tottenham next, second in the table, silky smooth football, Dele Alli, only three defeats; we looked for omens and portents to help decide would this be a good day or bad. One Spurs game was the last game in Burnley’s first Prem season when Spurs took a 2-0 lead, and then Burnley won 4-2 after a second-half performance that made us ask why the hell they hadn’t played like that in other home games they’d lost after Coyle left. It left feelings of ‘what might have been’ if they’d just won one more of those games when they just didn’t turn up.
Long before that in the days of Stan Ternent, a pal and me had sponsored the matchball in the game against Gillingham and the dog, Scamper the Scottie, we thought had ruined the day. There we were, all dressed up to the nines, about to set off, when what did the dog do but hoik a large dead, smelly fish out of the pond and carry it triumphantly to the back lawn. On the lawn he patted it around, played football with it, lobbed and tossed it in the air, juggled with it, jumped on it and then rolled all over it wallowing in the pong. For good measure he then ate most of it. The entrails when we examined them would have given any witch doctor hallucinations for a fortnight, as well as what we thought was a Burnley defeat prediction. In fact they won, so that since then I’ve always looked for remains of dead chewed up animals on the lawn on a matchday morning hoping for a repeat omen, but since the demise of the Scottie that fish was the last one. We’ve had foxes chewing up pigeons and cats disembowelling mice, but none on a matchday.
Without entrails them, on the Tottenham day, there was therefore only guesswork to go by. It seemed best to predict a draw with the realisation that it was perfectly feasible for Burnley to survive in the Premier League without actually winning another game. All they possibly needed was just five more draws, maybe six, from the remaining nine games. This would lead to a regular quiz question: which was the team that never won a game after the end of January, and still weren’t relegated.
40 or so Dutch clarets picked the wrong game to come and see Burnley. John Gibault over from Seattle picked the wrong game to see Burnley. One could only hope he’d see a better result when Stoke turned up for the next game.
At half-time a draw in front of a packed house seemed a reasonable prediction. Tottenham had been neat, tidy, smooth and classy but other than Alli missing an absolute sitter had created little. Heaton had been a spectator whilst Lloris at the other end saw a fair bit of action although to be fair nothing too threatening. With Spurs playing well within themselves and Burnley players lacking real threat, nobody could have called it a humdinger of a half, but nevertheless it was absorbing and well balanced.
Sean D played safe and chose the reliable but pedestrian Arfield and Boyd, willing workers we know, happy to run and track back, but as well we know creating goal chances with wing play, getting to the by-line and pinging crosses over, and flair is not in their locker. Meanwhile the skilled and creative pair of Brady and Defour were sat on the bench. With the score still 0-0 after 45 minutes it all seemed justified, sensible and safe. Just keep it up lads, we thought, a point will do against a side like this and second in the table.
And then it all went wrong. Barnes had been well held, he had posed little threat, and Tottenham feathers remained unruffled. But it was Andre Gray that was hooked. Frankly, many of us were puzzled. Rough and raw that he might be, nevertheless he had stretched the Spurs back four; he had visibly worried them and kept them playing deep. We shook our heads when he went off and allegedly neither was he best pleased according to Bob Lorders.
Maybe this means we’ll go 4 – 5 – 1 we wondered and Defour will come on, with Barton and Hendrick. This was a game that seemed made for him and his clever passes and subtle intelligence. But no: on came Vokes, something more robust to affect the game, said Dyche afterwards, To make a twin battering ram double spearhead seemed logical. But spearhead implies something sharp. Sadly he and Barnes were mostly blunt.
With neither Arfield nor Boyd able to get crosses over that might have been nodded home by the twin centre-forwards, the word lumbering sprang to mind. And then, with little to occupy them at the back, Spurs pushed up more and more, applied more pressure, and took a 1-0 lead. From that point on, the game was over; in truth it was a poor first goal to concede with Hendrick getting into a bit of a mickle and muckling the clearance in schoolboy fashion. Thank you very much, said Eric Dier and slammed it home.
It changed the whole feel of the game, said Dyche. In fact the airwaves and websites in the evening crackled and hummed with the general view that the game was changed the minute Gray was hooked. SD was articulate as ever after the game with his interpretation of events but the bottom line was simple enough; that Spurs were at a different level and so were their silky-smooth players. What the Sunday Telegraph called ‘brave resistance’ was simply not enough.
Far too late, on came Brady and Defour. To yet more puzzlement, Brady was on the right and Defour was on the left. China must look more and more tempting to the Belgian. And by now, Spurs were simply making merry in the wide open spaces, old-boy Trippier more and more influential, with Barton and Hendrick were almost invisible. When Spurs went 2-0, Barton losing the ball in midfield, it was as if Burnley had given up as Spurs began to provide a football lesson, could have scored at least two more, and the away end sang louder and louder. The Turf Moor fortress myth was well and truly shattered.
What had once been a ten point gap; then had been whittled to eight, was down to five. The last win was the end of January. The media was almost joyful in its ‘I told you so’ voice that Burnley were now back in the relegation scrap.
John Gibault joined us for Steak Baguettes (recommended) at the Kettledrum and described how over there they don’t do Christmas Pud or pie shops. It put things in perspective. I couldn’t decide what was worse - the Burnley defeat or a land without pie shops.