Wanderers 0 Burnley 1: Match verdict
HAD Wanderers shown that much passion for the majority of this season the league table would not make such woeful reading but there was still something depressingly familiar about this tale.
Dougie Freedman will have few complaints with what he was given by a side that looked spent at the weekend. And it is hard to think of a better first-half performance than we saw last night from the Whites.
They will be the positive aspects the embattled boss takes into this weekend’s daunting trip to Millwall.
But how often now have we been left reflecting on a failure to chalk up a goal when dominating, and how often has that cost Wanderers a share of the game?
In the end, it was Sam Vokes’ solitary strike that gave Burnley three points in a game they spent almost exclusively in third gear.
Wanderers huffed and puffed but could not find a way through for all their bluster, and that has been said on too many occasions now since we kicked off against the Clarets in August.
Freedman brought David Wheater back into the side for the first time since September – and despite living on his nerves after an early yellow card, he picked up the pace of the game well.
All the pre-match talk had been about the home atmosphere souring towards Dougie Freedman during the 2-2 draw against Bournemouth.
But if there was any ill-feeling still lingering around the Reebok, fans had little chance to dwell on it as Wanderers set about the game at a furious tempo.
Chung-Yong Lee was everywhere in the opening 20 minutes, seeing one effort saved by Tom Heaton after cutting in from the left, then ghosting in from the right to get on the end of Chris Eagles’ low cross and having his shot deflect off Ben Mee and on to the cross bar.
New boys Liam Trotter and Lukas Jutkiewicz also caused issues for a nervous-looking Burnley back line, the former heading one cross from Alex Baptiste wide after finding himself virtually unmarked.
Any signs of complacency, however, and the Clarets looked more than willing to strike. And Sean Dyche’s men should have taken the lead when Danny Ings hooked a pass back over his own shoulder on the edge of the box, the ball sitting up nicely for Scott Arfield – who blasted inexplicably wide with the goal to aim at.
Eagles also had his dander up against his former club. Back in August, it was a heavy touchline challenge by Keiran Trippier that damaged his ankle and effectively ruined his season to date – but this was much more like the player who carried the Whites at times last year.
With 10 minutes left in the half, he dug a cross out from the left that was won at the far post by Jutkiewicz but Trotter, racing in to meet the ball, could only direct his header straight at the grateful keeper Heaton.
Moments later the winger was clattered on the halfway line by Jason Shackell – and nearly got the perfect payback when he got up to send a dipping shot in on goal, again too close to Heaton. Credit too to referee Graham Salisbury for waiting what seemed an age for the ball to go out of play before admonishing the Burnley defender.
The edict had definitely gone out for Eagles, Chung-Yong and Co to get their crosses in early, with more physical presence now available in the penalty box.
Jutkiewicz and Trotter have both lent a new dimension to the Whites, and provided the support players are buzzing around them – as they were – you will hear few complaints from the stands for going that little bit more direct than we have become accustomed to under Freedman.
Far from the jeers and boos that greeted their last exit down the tunnel, it was to loud applause that the players went back in at the half time break. For all Wanderers’ endeavour, however, the scoreline remained blank and when David Jones went perilously close to opening the scoring 20 seconds after the restart, you got a sense of just how delicately poised this game still was.
For 12 minutes after the restart the Whites continued to give as good as they got, if not better.
But as so often this season, the sting in the tail was just waiting to happen.
Arfield was given space to slide a dangerous cross in from the right which carried all the way to the far post, where it was tucked in by the waiting Sam Vokes for his 16th of the season and his sixth in seven games.
Freedman’s substitutions have been criticised of late but he reacted in a positive fashion by sending on Mark Davies and Andre Moritz for Trotter and Medo immediately after the Burnley goal.
It summed up the manager’s luck that barely 10 minutes later, Moritz was signalling to the bench to be replaced after being caught dwelling on a pass by a Burnley defender.
All of a sudden the jitters had started all over again. A long punt out of play from the back from Matt Mills triggered those old familiar grumbles from the terraces.
They intensified in injury time when, having forced a late corner, with Adam Bogdan even charging up field to join in the attack, Ream produced a terrible effort cleared at the near post.