PHOTOS: Burnley 2, Norwich 1
Rodriguez could pull on the Three Lions at Empoli, in a region famed for being the home of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.
But his winning goal here against Norwich, before he links up with Stuart Pearce’s squad, could make him Burnley’s own renaissance man.
His predatory strike nine minutes from time handed the Clarets a much-needed three points, and breathed new life into a play-off chase that has threatened to spark time and again, only to frustratingly fizzle out.
The win over the second place Canaries saw Burnley climb to 10th in the table, five points adrift of Cardiff in sixth, who are the Clarets’ next-but-one opponents, following a trip to Watford on Saturday. Those two games could tell us a lot about any promotion ambitions, but if Eddie Howe’s new charges show half of the sheer bloody-mindedness they displayed against Norwich, they could give their hopes a real shot in the arm.
This was a victory for persistence and guts, and no little managerial nous from Howe against Lambert, whose tactical brain had denied the Clarets two precious points in November. Back then, Burnley completely bossed the first half, taking a two-goal lead as they expertly exploited Lambert’s diamond midfield, taking advantage of the space down the flanks.
Lambert remedied this at the break, employing an out and out wide man, while his narrow three-man midfield won any second ball from balls in to Grant Holt, earning a 2-2 draw.
Here, Lambert went in 3-4-1-2 against Burnley, but again the force was with the Clarets in the first period, dragging the three centre-backs out wide by getting in behind the wing-backs.
They had Dean Marney’s delicious strike to show for it, a daisy-cutter that was in the second it left his right boot, as Ross Wallace and Chris Eagles used the ball well on the break.
Lambert changed things at the break, and Norwich were suddenly in the ascendancy.
One of the criticisms aimed at Brian Laws was that he was not pro-active enough.
Howe, however, acted by thickening up the midfield with the introduction of Wade Elliott, and while Norwich equalised moments later through Holt, the goal came on the break.
There may have been chances, for Canaries substitute Chris Martin in particular, but the waves of pressure and possession from the visitors were stemmed, and, ultimately, led to the winner from Rodriguez.
It was a big three points, and an impressive response on the back of the defeat at Doncaster.
Howe only made one change from the side beaten at the Keepmoat Stadium, with Wallace coming in for Elliott in a 4-4-2, and the tempo was improved from the off, although, again, as Howe later accepted, there were not a lot of clear-cut chances, for all Burnley’s probing.
They pushed Norwich back for the opening quarter of an hour, with Elliott Ward forced into a brave block on home debutant Charlie Austin after a glorious cross-field pass from Rodriguez allowed Eagles and Tyrone Mears to combine down the right.
Rodriguez then looped a header wide from Mears’ cross, before Norwich, in the crudest way possible, looked to restrict Mears’ breaks forward with a horrendous challenge from wing-back Adam Drury.
Late and over the top, with studs showing, it was as clear a red card as you will see all season. However, Phil Gibbs, in his first game in charge of the Clarets, incredibly felt a yellow was sufficient. Even the replays of the incident made you wince, and Mears did well to not only play on, but continue to bomb on.
Norwich came more into the game after that, without playing through midield, hitting Holt and using the pace of Jackson – although he spent more time on the floor looking for free kicks.
One such piece of play acting led to Burnley’s opener just after the half hour, when the referee allowed play to continue, and Wallace found Eagles, who invited Marney to shoot first time, with a perfectly-weighted pass.
The midfielder then found the far corner with laser-guided precision – a quite brilliant strike. But chances were few and far between after that, and at half-time, having been second best, Lambert took off one of his three centre-backs, Zak Whitbread.
The change had an instant impact, as Wes Hoolahan picked up a stray Danny Fox pass and sent Holt clear, but his sidefoot effort was well saved by Lee Grant with his feet.
The pressure continued to build, with Burnley unable to get out – the ball not sticking up top.
Henri Lansbury fired over with a free kick, before half-time substitute Simon Lappin’s dead ball looked to be creeping inside the post, before another fine intervention from Grant.
Then came Elliott’s introduction, and Burnley looked to have weathered the storm, even creating their first sight of goal in the half, as Rodriguez tried to play Wallace in, but, with the ball on his right foot, he elected to pick out Marney, who dragged a shot wide.
On the break, however, Hoolahan skipped down the left, and his pull back was superbly guided inside the corner by Holt, adjusting his body to half-volley in.
Burnley’s reaction was positive, and Rodriguez was close to getting a toe to Wallace’s pass and winning a penalty, before substitute Chris Iwelumo headed wide from Eagles’ cross. Chris Martin hit a fierce drive at Grant, and then beat the off-side and rounded the keeper, who drove him wide and turned his shot round for a corner.
Burnley broke from the corner, and Eagles missed the chance to send Rodriguez and Marney clear, his pass failing to beat last man Leon Barnett.
It mattered little, as when Mears’ run was halted by the arm of Holt, Fox’s free-kick was whipped to the far post, and Rodriguez got ahead of Aaron Wilbraham to slid home through Ruddy’s legs.
It was a nice way to send a club packing, whose chief executive had accused Burnley of being “unprofessional” over their official approach for Lambert four weeks’ previously, labelling them “a much smaller club.”
Well, I know who has been champions of England – and Norwich’s paltry support, backing a side second in the league with the best away record in the division – settled that argument.