High-flying Burnley welcomed Stoke to Turf Moor for another exciting round of midweek Premier League football. The Clarets had climbed to the dizzy heights of seventh in the table heading into this game, having once again leaned on their stringy defence in order to grind out impressive results. The Potters meanwhile were hoveringly dangerously close to the relegation zone before this crucial clash, and needed a positive result to give them some breathing room heading into a busy Christmas fixture schedule.
A cagey start to a physical encounter
The Stoke players clearly knew just how important this game was, especially after the incredibly negative reaction they received from their fans following the 5-1 defeat to Tottenham at the weekend. Mark Hughes’s men looked to be the brighter side in the early exchanges, and early efforts from Xherdan Shaqiri and Kurt Zouma displayed their intent. Despite their excellent home form, Burnley looked sluggish in the first 15 minutes and struggled to string together any real passing moves. The Clarets’ defence did look its usual self however and they dealt well with Stoke’s pressure.
Both sides struggled to create any clear-cut opportunities, but the visitors’ lively start continued past the 20-minute mark. Veteran Premier League striker Peter Crouch provided a constant threat from set pieces and crosses, and Sean Dyche’s side did well to limit the big man’s aerial advantage. This was always destined to be a physical, route one affair, and that was exactly how it played out for both teams. It became a tale of two defences, and which one would crack first.
Both sides struggle to create clear-cut chances
The visitors displayed an impressive work rate, pressing Burnley relentlessly and fighting for every second ball. The intensity of their play threatened to overwhelm the home side on various occasions, but they lacked a killer pass or clinical finish in the final third. Joe Allen and Shaqiri were the bright sparks, pulling the strings in the Stoke midfield and constantly looking to either slip Diouf in behind the defence, or find Crouch with an early cross. Burnley meanwhile started to look slightly more dangerous on the counterattack, but Chris Wood often cut a lonely figure up top.
Burnley’s best opportunities came down the left flank, and often as a result of lax defensive work from Shaqiri. Stephen Ward got behind the Potters defensive line on a few occasions, but his subsequent crosses all seemed to fall to Stoke defenders. The Clarets’ best chance of the first half fell to Johann Gudmundsson, who picked the ball up on the edge of the box after a poor corner. The Icelandic international curled his shot towards the far corner, but it flew a tad high and wide of the post. That was to be the last decent opportunity of a tight first period, and the two teams went in level at the break.
Burnley look the more promising side
This time it was Burnley’s turn to start brightly, and they came out looking more like their usual zealous selves for the second half. The Clarets looked for Wood with long balls almost every time they found themselves in possession, and it was Stoke who began to attack on the break. Shaqiri has another chance early on, almost a carbon copy of his shot at the beginning of the first half, which was hit straight at goalkeeper Nick Pope. Burnley’s rigid defensive system again made it difficult for the Potters to achieve any real penetration, and much of the game centred around the middle of the pitch and the midfield battles.
The game started to drag around the hour mark as neither side seemed capable of creating a clear-cut chance, and the attacks lacked any real sense of urgency or quality. Neither Wood nor Crouch were winning any of their headers, but the two sides were intent of relentlessly crossing the ball. To their credit Burnley looked the side more likely to score, and only some intelligent, no nonsense defending by the visitors prevented Dyche’s men from taking the lead.
Barnes bags a crucial late winner
As the clock ticked down towards the final whistle it looked increasingly likely that one goal would win the game, and both sides seemed to sense this fact as the tempo increased slightly. The home side appeared to have a slight edge as the Turf Moor crowd got behind their team, but they still struggled to find much space in Stoke’s final third as they had done for much of the game.
However on the stroke of full time Burnley finally broke the deadlock. A long ball up to substitute Sam Vokes was expertly headed down, something that Wood had been unable to achieve all game, right into the path of Ashley Barnes. The forward controlled the ball well before burying an incredibly clinical finish, especially considering he had not long entered the fray from the bench. His slammed shot into the right hand corner was the only moment of real quality in the game, and it gave the Clarets the goal that ultimately proved to be the winner. Turf Moor erupted upon the referee’s final whistle as Sean Dyche’s side sat, temporarily at least, inside the top four of the Premier League table.
Nobody really expected this to be a hugely entertaining game, and it looked destined to finish as a bore draw as the clock wound down. However it took just a single moment of quality for Burnley to clinch victory from the jaws of a mediocre draw, and they now sit fourth in the league after 17 games. It has been a phenomenal season for the Clarets, and their good form looks to be continuing, along with their ability to grind out results.
Stoke meanwhile suffered yet another away defeat, and they never looked like scoring in this game. While Mark Hughes has clearly got his side playing with more belief, determination, and defensive solidity, more work will be needed to turn their fortunes around. Potters fans will be praying that the teams below them also trip up this week, otherwise they may find themselves getting dragged even closer to the drop zone.
Burnley: Pope, Cork, Tarkowski, Wood (Vokes, 82’), Hendrick (Barnes, 71’), Defour, Gudmundsson, Ward (Taylor, 41’), Bardsley, Long, Arfield
Stoke: Butland, Pieters, Allen, Zouma (Wimmer, 66’), Shawcross, Diouf, Cameron, Shaqiri (Choupo-Moting, 84’), Fletcher, Crouch, Sobhi
Goals: Barnes (1-0, 89’)
Referee: Mike Jones
Yellow Cards: None
Red Cards: None
Burnley: Pope 6, Cork 6, Tarkowski 7, Wood 5 (Vokes 6), Hendrick 6 (Barnes 8), Defour 6, Gudmundsson 6, Ward 6 (Taylor 6), Bardsley 6, Long 6, Arfield 6
Stoke: Butland 6, Pieters 6, Allen 6, Zouma 6 (Wimmer 6), Shawcross 6, Diouf 6, Cameron 6, Shaqiri 6 (Choupo-Moting n/a), Fletcher 6, Crouch 5, Sobhi 6
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