Burnley 1, Luton Town 1: Chris Boden's verdict on a tricky test at the Turf
Having, for years, been one of those obdurate sides teams don’t enjoy playing against, Burnley got a taste of their own medicine against Luton Town.
Vincent Kompany said in his pre-match press conference: “Luton are a team with a lot of athleticism who manage to play to their strengths really well. There’s clarity in what they do, and they’re really good at what they do.”
You instantly thought he could be talking about Sean Dyche’s Clarets.
And like Dyche’s side, Luton stayed narrow, compact and looked to make the most of set plays, taking their time and playing right to the edge of the rules.
The Clarets fell behind after just five minutes, making a mess of defending Amari’i Bell’s centre, as Dan Potts profited and slotted home for the visitors.
You sensed then it would be a difficult afternoon against a solid, organised unit.
Kompany had outlined that as “as the season progresses, you have to earn the right for teams to come and sit deep”, but Burnley had to learn on the job how to break down a defensively disciplined side.
In the first half, with upwards of 70% possession, Burnley played in front of Luton, struggling to move the ball with the zip we saw, especially in the first half, at Huddersfield.
Against a side allowing no space centrally, the gaps were out wide, with Dara Costelloe putting a couple of balls over after a good battle with Bell, while there simply wasn’t the grass in behind the Hatters for Josh Cullen and Josh Brownhill to pick the lock.
So credit to Kompany, he made the change at half-time, bringing on new signing Manuel Benson for Samuel Bastien, who struggled against the physicality of Luton.
And the little Belgian changed the game. His electric pace, cheeky dummies and trickery had the Hatters backpedaling all second half.
The instruction to the side was clear - get it to Benson.
And he tied Bell in knots as he provided a stream of centres and switches of play, forcing one fine stop from Ethan Horvath with a glorious ball in which almost crept in the far corner.
It took Burnley five minutes after the restart to level matters, with Ashley Barnes teeing up Brownhill to beat the unsighted Horvath with a superb curling finish.
The Clarets continued on the front foot, but in the end it finished honours even, against a side Kompany expects to again be top six, while Nathan Jones admitted Burnley would expect to be top two.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, albeit a small sample size, you would be surprised if the Clarets aren’t at least in and around the play-off places, given the potential for improvement.
It was a pleasant surprise to see Burnley perform as fluently as they did at Huddersfield, and dig in when they had to.
Saturday was a different test altogether, showing a strong mentality to recover from conceding a sloppy goal and try and stick to their footballing ethos, against a side considerably bigger, whose physical was a problem.
Aro Muric, the goal aside, which he had no chance with, didn’t have a save to make for a second game, and while his distribution and laid back nature will give some Clarets fans kittens, some midfielders would kill for the same range of pass.
Taylor Harwood-Bellis, battle hardened to the Championship after loan spells with Blackburn and Stoke, wasn’t fazed by the need to roll up his sleeves and up and scrap for the right to play, while last week’s match winner Ian Maatsen stuck to the task and enjoyed another promising display.
Cullen and Jack Cork didn’t have things all their own way, but emerged on the front foot, with Brownhill again looking like he will be one of the standout players back at this level.
Barnes put in a typical shift, but Burnley need more options up front - new faces, as well as the return of the injured Jay Rodriguez and Scott Twine - as they failed to really make the most of their dominance of the ball in terms of clear-cut openings.
Benson and Vitinho - who we have only seen in a wide role in two cameos - look to have the X-factor that will be required on certain occasions to break down defences, and from his initial showing, it’s clear the former could very quickly ensure cult hero Maxwel Cornet is resigned to a distant memory.
But if Luton, more so than Huddersfield, who looked a poor side last week, are standard bearers for the Championship, as far as Burnley are concerned, they should have nothing to fear as they look to bounce back to the Premier League.
Luton showed the value, as Dyche’s Burnley did, of knowing their jobs and being well-organised.
There remains a lot to be said for old-fashioned hard work and togetherness.
If the Clarets can continue to build on that, and allow their extra quality to shine, they should be one of the sides to beat this term.
Four points from six, from what looked a tough start, is not to be sniffed at.
And although that solid start will certainly be put to the test at also-relegated Watford on Friday night, Kompany’s side have had answers to the questions they have been posed so far, and signs are more than positive.