Dan Black's verdict as Aston Villa striker Danny Ings returns to blow a hole in Burnley's once unsinkable ship

Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard credited Burnley for building Danny Ings up during his time at Turf Moor.

By Dan Black
Sunday, 8th May 2022, 10:35 am
Updated Sunday, 8th May 2022, 10:37 am

The ex-England international, signed from AFC Bournemouth by Eddie Howe in 2011 for a bargain seven-figure sum, developed into a deadly finisher over his four seasons with the Clarets.

After a slow start — having taken his time to adjust to the Championship with six goals in 47 appearances — he would become one of the division's most accomplished goalscorers.

His tally rolled onto 21 goals during the 2013/14 campaign as the Football League Championship Player of the Year recipient and PFA Team of the Year entrant combined with Sam Vokes [20 goals] to fire Burnley back to the Premier League.

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Aston Villa's English striker Danny Ings scores the opening goal during the English Premier League football match between Burnley and Aston Villa at Turf Moor in Burnley, north west England on May 7, 2022.

Ironic, then, after a period of reciprocated and mutually-beneficial growth, that Ings's fourth goal on the bounce against his former employers may have punctured a fresh hole in the Clarets' previously unsinkable ship in their second coming under Sean Dyche.

"Burnley were good for Danny," said Gerrard, when speaking about the striker, who also scored 11 goals for Burnley in the top flight, with his final one against the Villans. "I know he learnt a lot and grew here and I am sure he wants Burnley to stay up. But it has to be about Aston Villa now!"

It is about Villa now; there is no doubting that. The forward's only thought when collecting Emiliano Buendia's pass, which separated Nathan Collins and Connor Roberts, was to beat Nick Pope and put the visitors 1-0 up.

That he did, with a trademark finish we had become accustomed to, confidently tucking the ball alongside the outstretched leg of the Three Lions goalkeeper, with just seven minutes on the clock.

Burnley's Ivorian defender Maxwel Cornet goes around Aston Villa's Argentinian goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez (L) as he scores a late consolation goal during the English Premier League football match between Burnley and Aston Villa at Turf Moor in Burnley, north west England on May 7, 2022. - Villa won the game 3-1.

Celebrations, though, were respectfully muted. When meandering through the mixed zone, as one of the last Villa players to depart the stadium for his team's coach, he shared with the then modest gathering, including myself, that the reasoning was down to Burnley's "current situation".

"Our front three were ruthless," Gerrard continued. "I thought we were better and stronger in every department. It was a very good away performance."

It's hard to argue with anything that the SPL title-winning Rangers boss had declared in his post-match assessment.

While it would be unfair and unjust to knock the injury-plagued hosts — who had taken 10 points from their previous four games under interim manager Mike Jackson — any neutral watching on would be forgiven for thinking that it was Burnley who were on the beach, and Villa who were scrapping for their lives.

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - MAY 07: Wout Weghorst of Burnley controls the ball under pressure from Douglas Luiz of Aston Villa during the Premier League match between Burnley and Aston Villa at Turf Moor on May 07, 2022 in Burnley, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

The contrast in style, shape, flexibility and freedom was tangible. Yes, Villa's side is an expensively-assembled one, with £33m forked out for star man Buendia, £28m on Ollie Watkins and £25m apiece for Ings and Lucas Digne, but those price tags were justified on Saturday afternoon.

Following on from Ings' opener, three of the aforementioned quartet were involved in the visitors' second goal just after the half-hour mark.

Digne supplied the overlap and the pull back, when Dwight McNeil failed to track the Frenchman's movement, and Buendia had all the time and space in the world to get a shot away, with the ball striking the heel of James Tarkowski as it crept past Pope.

The Argentinian was the difference and his display underpinned his side's excellence while exploiting Burnley's limitations.

The home side's rigidity was their undoing. It was a 4-4-2 in every sense of the word, with very little room for manoeuvre or adaptation.

With Tyrone Mings, Ezri Konsa and Calum Chambers accounting for Ashley Barnes and Wout Weghorst, ex-Manchester City midfielder Douglas Luiz alive to the second balls, Buendia occupying the space in-between the opposition defence and midfield, and the front three able to isolate the centre-backs, it forced the hosts to recoil and revert to type.

Villa threatened on the break in the first half, and controlled the ball in the second, meaning both Charlie Taylor and Connor Roberts were more hesitant in getting forward, as Gerrard's side continually played through the midfield press.

"The first half I thought was quite even, I didn’t think there was much in it but we got punished for a couple of errors that we made," said Jackson.

"On the flip side, we had some really good moments but didn’t punish them like they did us.

"We said at half time about getting that next goal, they got it and from then it is managing the game and thinking about the bigger picture.

"In the first half I thought there were some good bits of play but were punished on those moments, which happens at this level.

"We have just spoken as a group, and I said it before the Watford game, if I was going to take anybody into this (relegation battle) it would be them. My thoughts haven’t changed on that."

McNeil's adventure was the home side's only hope, as he explored new territories and attempted to make use of the inside channels, but Barnes and Weghorst wasted half-decent openings.

The former Young Lions winger also squandered a significant opportunity to lift the mood just before the break, nicking possession on the right hand side, driving into the box, before letting the visitors off the hook with an effort that lacked conviction. Barnes, who was unmarked and square to McNeil's left, stood aghast as the pass never materialised.

The second half started just as disappointingly as the first. Injury to Tarkowski, who suffered a tightened hamstring, is a huge concern at this defining stage of the season and he'll join club captain Ben Mee, Matej Vydra, Ashley Westwood, Jay Rodriguez and Johann Berg Gudmundsson on the sidelines. Only time will tell with regards the severity of the stand-in skipper's affliction.

Then came the third; it was only the second time this season that the Clarets had trailed by such a margin, adding to the home defeat at the hands of Chelsea back in March.

And the routine was familiar. Brownhill and Cork were drawn to the ball, Luiz was a more than willing aggressor, once again escaping with the goods, Buendia collected possession in an open-field of space. The man of the match spread the play to Digne, and John McGinn supplied the cross, allowing Watkins to convert from close range with the Clarets' defence in disarray.

With Jimmy Anderson in the stands — alongside England boss Gareth Southgate — Pope then prevented Villa from turning their return into a cricket score when palming Matty Cash's drive wide of the upright, having sent Taylor into a different postcode with his movement inside the box.

"You will look back at that game and it won’t be as bad as what you think," said Jackson. "When you lose a game the disappointment sits with you, no matter what anyone says to you it is there for a few hours or it can take until Sunday or Monday to get it out of your system.

"It is the way it is as a player and it’s the same as a coach and a manager and you have to find a way of moving forward and you usually do that by focussing on what you can do next and where you can improve."

Should goal difference come into play — as it did for Joey Barton's Bristol Rovers on a quite remarkable final day of the season in League Two — then substitute Maxwel Cornet's consolation might prove vital.

The Ivorian added a different dimension to the hosts in the final third and, suddenly, Villa had something to think about. The ex-Lyon forward took advantage of the gaping holes that had started to appear at the back and, from Erik Pieters' perfectly weighted pass, he took the ball around Martinez before rifling into the roof of the net.

Jackson concluded: "Erik has come back in really good nick and looks really fit and up for it.

"Getting Max back and him getting a goal, he gives you that dynamism that you need at the top end of the pitch. They are two positives from today."

So it's Spurs away next, then the return leg against Villa. It all looks certain to go down to a tense and nail-biting final day of term. Let's be thankful, however, having appeared down and out following defeat against Norwich City at Carrow Road, that the Clarets are still in a position to fight for their lives!

"You need it [spirit] all the time in football, you can’t win every game and how can we react, respond and come together," said Jackson. "This group has done that before and we have a bit of time now to look where we could be better and how we can improve and we focus everything now on the three games we have to go. The league didn’t finish today."