Simon Evans column – Ashley Barnes is more than a nuisance

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Ever since he joined the club from Brighton in 2014, Ashley Barnes has earned the respect of the Burnley fans for his work-rate, aggression and ability to make defenders uncomfortable.

The standard refrain from pundits is that ‘you would hate to have to mark him’ and there is now even a grime rap dedicated to that side of Barnes. But right from his first goal at Turf Moor, a promotion-sealing strike against Wigan on Easter Monday in 2014, it has been clear that Barnes also has a poachers instinct in the box and both his goals against Southampton on Saturday showed he has the technique to match his attitude. The opening goal was technically extremely difficult – bringing a bouncing ball under control with his left thigh before a first-time finish with his right foot. His second goal looked simpler – a volley from an Erik Pieters cross from the deep but lesser players could easily have blasted that high or wide – Barnes side-footed his volley with precision, as well as power, after watching the ball on to his foot.

There was some amusement, back in January 2018, when some reports suggested Chelsea were reported to be interested in signing Barnes, but the 29-year-old has continued to improve and while he may no longer have the chance of international football with Austria, he is finally gaining the respect he deserves – as a quality all-round striker, not just a nuisance for defenders.

Pieters takes his chance

With Sean Dyche finally having competition for places across the entire squad, summer signing Erik Pieters was given the nod at left back ahead of Charlie Taylor, who Dyche suggested is not yet up to full match fitness. It was a big chance for the 31-year-old Dutchman and he took it in style – his ‘up and under’ clearance for the first goal may have been rudimentary but his precision cross from deep for Barnes’ second was a quality delivery. Ironically, the reason he had fallen out of favour at Stoke City under manager Nathan Jones, was reported to be his alleged weakness in the attacking phase. Throughout the game there was no shortage of work-rate and aggression from the former PSV man, but he will need to deliver such levels consistently if he is to keep Taylor out of the side.

Drinkwater boost

There were so many positives from the opening day win that Dyche’s comments about Danny Drinkwater almost went unnoticed. There had been an assumption that the midfielder, on loan from Chelsea until January, would need time to get up to the fitness levels expected. But Dyche revealed after the game that the former Leicester City title winner and England international, has arrived fit.

That is credit to Drinkwater who despite not fitting in at Stamford Bridge, clearly took pre-season seriously and made sure he is ready to hit the ground running.