Mee magnificent as Burnley fall wrong side of the margins against Manchester City - Chris Boden's verdict
Sean Dyche often talks about the fine margins.
And Burnley fell just the wrong side on Sunday – 29.5mm to be exact.
That proved the difference between the Clarets taking points off a ‘Big Six’ side for the second time in a week – and making a potentially fatal dent in Manchester City’s Premier League title hopes.
After wriggling away from James Tarkowski, Tom Heaton got a hand to Sergio Aguero’s 64th-minute effort, and Matt Lowton got back to clear, but goalline technology showed the Argentina international’s effort had literally inched home.
But no-one of a Liverpool persuasion could fault Burnley’s integrity, as they made City sweat for the win which took them back to the top of the table, two wins from retaining the trophy.
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Just after the hour mark, the Clarets had raised hopes of denying City – indeed, come the hour mark, it was the first time in 12 games the Blues hadn’t been in front at that stage.
And at the end, Pep Guardiola was suitably concerned to finish with a flat back five, with a centre back in John Stones screening, while imploring his players to get the ball in the corner.
Aguero also took an age to leave the pitch after being replaced by Stones five minutes from time, with Ilkay Gundogan killing the game whenever City had a set piece.
When Burnley looked to take the sting out of the game at Chelsea on Monday night, they were accused of time-wasting and “anti-football”.
Dyche, quite rightly, pointed out that City were merely doing what they had to do.
He sometimes comes in for some stick from supporters for the timing, or lack of, his substitutions, but how often can you remember Dyche making not one, but two, backward steps, introducing two centre backs for two forwards?
Guardiola, somewhat sarcastically, when asked whether he was nervous at the end, said: “I was trembling. We didn’t have another one (centre back). If not I would bring on!”
More so than many elite managers, Guardiola appreciates Burnley are very good at what they do, and was combating it.
And Burnley were very good at what they do on Sunday.
They might have only had two shots all game – the fewest they have had in a Premier League match – and none on target, but the relief in City’s celebrations when Aguero scored told you everything.
The game showed how markedly Burnley have improved over the second half of the season, or returned to the ways which earned them seventh place last season.
The Clarets’ defensive shape was excellent throughout, blocking passing lanes, diligently tracking runners, while using the ball when they could.
There was no room for City’s magicians to weave their spell – “El Mago”, David Silva, was peripheral, Raheem Sterling anonymous.
But in Aguero, City have one of the most clinical marksmen in Premier League history.
His ninth goal in eight games against the Clarets saw him hit 20 league goals for a fifth-consecutive season, equalling Thierry Henry’s record.
However, it was a former Boy Blue, Ben Mee, who almost denied his former club with a stunning show of defiance.
Mee captained City to the FA Youth Cup in 2008, alongside another future Claret in Kieran Trippier, but never got the opportunity to play for his boyhood club, as, that very year, Sheikh Mansour took over and revolutionised the club.
But he was magnificent against City, continuing the form he has shown, in particular, over the second half of the season.
As at Chelsea, he was a magnet for the ball, first to everything, with one goalline clearance from substitute Gabriel Jesus, in particular, standing out, showing remarkable anticipation and athleticism.
As it was, Burnley’s proud record of having beaten the reigning champions in each of their Premier League seasons fell down at the fifth attempt.
But they will be back looking to beat the defending champions – which looks increasingly like being City again – next season, after confirming their survival.