Burnley’s run in the Capital One Cup came crashing to an end at the first hurdle as Championship side Sheffield Wednesday were the victors at Turf Moor.
While the tie gave boss Sean Dyche the opportunity to experiment, the fixture on home soil also provided the opportunity for the Clarets to get off the mark for the campaign.
Winning breeds confidence, it becomes habitual regardless of the competition, but the Premier League newcomers failed to grasp the chance ahead of Manchester United’s arrival at the weekend. Louis Van Gaal’s side, however, go in to the game on the back of a 4-0 trouncing against League One’s MK Dons in the second round.
Dyche made seven changes to the starting XI that pushed Swansea City to the wire at the Liberty Stadium. Matthew Gilks, new boy Stephen Ward, Marvin Sordell, Michael Kightly, Ross Wallace, Kevin Long and Ashley Barnes deputising for Tom Heaton, Ben Mee, Danny Ings, Matt Taylor, Dean Marney, Michael Duff and Lukas Jutkiewicz.
Dyche, though, has bigger fish to fry. United come armed with £59.7m British record signing Angel di Maria at the weekend while Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie and Juan Mata were all rested from the 18-man squad midweek. It’s clear where the importance lies for both clubs in search of a first league win of the term.
In an end-to-end encounter Kightly had a clear sight of goal early on but swung at fresh air, ultimately failing to punish Chris Kirkland’s indecision from Wallace’s centre.
At the opposite end, Kamil Zayatte poked wide from Chris Maguire’s corner before a similar set-piece saw Gary Madine climb above Jason Shackell and Ward to power a header over the bar.
For some it was a case of getting through the 90 minutes unscathed, and that was the objective for Kieran Trippier who assisted Wallace in firing in to the arms of Kirkland from distance.
Scott Arfield, moved in to the centre of the park to accommodate both Wallace and Kightly, also breezed through the tie in preparation for the Red Devils and the Scot almost engineered the opener in similar fashion to his Chelsea strike, but full back Joe Mattock blocked the stinging drive once Wallace’s corner dropped.
The visitors went close to an opener midway through the half when Maguire’s teasing cross behind Burnley’s rearguard was turned on to the bar by the out-stretched foot of Long with Gilks rooted to the spot.
After Wallace curled a free-kick around the upright - with Helan catching Kightly on the edge of the box - the winger turned provider for Barnes who cranked his neck from the centre but his header glided just wide of the post.
Both keepers remained unexposed in the opening half, neither having to make a save of note, and even when Jeremy Helan nipped goal side of Long the French midfielder timidly found the gloves of Gliks.
Incredibly, the closest the hosts came to a first half breakthrough followed an injury to Madine. Arfield’s gesture in returning the ball to Kirkland was sporting, but the execution was over-exuberant and the goalkeeper scrambled back to his line to prevent the ball from crossing.
After the break the home side upped the pressure, implementing a higher line. But they were frustrated by a resilient opposition who are yet to taste defeat this season.
Barnes forced a save from Kirkland when trading passes with Kightly on the edge of the box before the striker latched on to Trippier’s lofted pass down the right, infiltrating the space left by Liam Palmer, pulled a pass back to Arfield, the midfielder fed Sordell who swivelled past Tom Lees before scooping over the bar.
Composure in front of goal was at a minimum throughout. Sordell failed to test Kirkland when trying his luck from outside the penalty area, Giles Cokes flicked a half-volley wide of the upright, Maguire rifled erratically in to the hoardings, and neither Kightly, Arfield or Taylor could take advantage when Wednesday failed to clear the danger.
The Clarets returned to the flanks in hope of finding greater fortune, but Barnes hammered a header over the top from an exquisite Ward centre while Long hooked wide when Barnes cushioned the ball towards the defender from Wallace’s deep cross from the opposite flank.
Former Clarets caretaker boss Stuart Gray introduced towering striker Atdhe Nuhiu in the 73rd minute, and within five minutes the Austrian provided the necessary moment of composure. Helan broke in to the box and skipper Shackell scythed him down with a late challenge. Nuhiu stepped up and fired down the middle to make it 1-0.
Dyche introduced Ings and Jutkiewicz in the aftermath, with both forcing genuine appeals for penalties, but referee Geoff Eltringham refused to entertain the appeals much to the dismay of the Burnley boss and 4,000 Clarets housed inside the stadium.
However, Burnley’s bread and butter returns at the weekend. And a United in significant transition provide the filling. Kick-off at Turf Moor is 12-45 p.m.