PHOTOS: Burnley 5, Peterborough United 2
AHEAD of the game, Chris McCann admitted it was “like a weight has been lifted” after seeing the captaincy pass to Jason Shackell.
And he played a key role in taking a weight off boss Eddie Howe’s shoulders against the Posh with a goal and two assists.
While Charlie Austin commanded the headlines for his hat-trick, claiming the sponsors’ man of the match award, arguably McCann was robbed after a stand-out display as the Clarets ended a run of three league defeats to climb out of the bottom three towards mid-table.
The responsibility of the armband affected his performances last term, but, with – pardon the pun – the shackles now off, we are seeing more and more of the old McCann.
A second goal of the season was a terrific start, for a player who could and should score more.
But it was his all-round performance, playing off the front in a 4-1-3-2 formation, that caught the eye, driving forward in possession, breaking play up, popping up on either flank, and generally covering every blade of grass in a box to box showing.
In the absence of the injured Danny Ings, Howe has been searching for that link player, and McCann, given that freedom in front of the disciplined Dean Marney, is more than capable of threading things together in the final third, as he showed when crafting Austin’s first two goals.
Last time out at home to Brighton, Austin cut an isolated figure, but create the openings, and Burnley have a natural born goalscorer.
Austin, a penalty box predator, was lethal against the Posh, scoring the first Clarets treble at the Turf since Chris Iwelumo’s two years ago against Preston – managed by Darren Ferguson.
Indeed, the last time Burnley beat Peterborough in 1996/7, they hit five, and the centre forward – Paul Barnes – netted a hat-trick.
You could argue his first was an own goal, with his shot turned in by centre back Michael Bostwick, but in the absence of a dubious goals panel in the Football League, the clubs decide, and Austin proudly carried the matchball into the press room afterwards, presented to him by referee Mike Dean.
There was no doubt about his second, rifled in to put the Clarets back in front with 16 minutes remaining, and he then won and converted a penalty to seal victory.
Junior Stanislas, turning in one of his most impressive performances in a Burnley shirt, added to Peterborough’s woes as they went away without a point in the league after the worst start in their history.
The Clarets themselves were looking at their worst start in a decade had they lost, and things looked grim when, in the space of three minutes midway through the first half, Posh turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 advantage.
Credit to the home supporters for sticking with the players after the somewhat anxious atmosphere against Brighton.
Burnley gave them something to cheer from the off, setting the tone at a brisk tempo.
They could have been in front as early as the third minute as Stanislas fed a ball into Martin Paterson, whose lay-off teed up Austin, and his effort rattled the bar.
At the other end, on his 300th league appearance, Lee Grant was forced to make a terrific stop to his left from Tyrone Barnett after George Boyd managed to squeeze the ball into space on the left of the area.
From Grant McCann’s corner, Shaun Brisley’s header was cleared off the line.
Bar those scares, the Clarets otherwise dominated the opening
20 minutes, and had gone ahead after seven minutes when Joseph Mills delivered a superb cross for McCann, arriving late to guide home a header.
Austin then headed at keeper Robert Olejnik from a deep Kieran Trippier cross, and in a flurry of chances, Paterson saw a shot turned round the post, before, from Ross Wallace’s corner, both Austin and the recalled Michael Duff had sights of goal.
The marauding McCann then released Paterson with a back-heel, and he cut inside and out, before forcing a save from a tight angle. From the rebound, Marney had a rasping drive touched over.
However, with a second goal looking on the cards, Nathan Mendez-Laing – who caused Mills problems all game – beat the Clarets full-back and was brought down by the covering Duff. Lee Tomlin equalised from the spot.
Three minutes later, Paterson headed the ball back into traffic, the ball played over top and, with Shackell committed, Mendez-Laing shrugged off Trippier to slot in.
It was a big test for the home team and the crowd, and thankfully they came through.
An equaliser was key before the break, and Paterson had a looping header turned over, before Grant McCann sent Boyd away, and after Grant struggled to smother the cross, Mills did well to block from Barnett on the line.
Five minutes from the whistle, Chris McCann again drove forward and picked out Austin, who created a yard of space and pulled a shot towards the far post, which turned in by Bostwick.
It was just what was required to set the Clarets up to win the game in the second half, and Austin looked like he had put them back in front shortly after the interval, when Mills whipped in another delicious centre, but he headed wide at the far post.
Burnley kept the work-rate high, forcing mistakes, and when Austin charged down a clearance, Paterson broke clear, but saw his shot saved by the keeper’s legs.
Paterson and Wallace were withdrawn shortly after, with Sam Vokes and Cameron Stewart coming on, and Stewart had a hand in the breakthrough goal.
He bravely won a header to allow McCann to bomb on, while making a great decoy run. He played the ball in to Austin, who controlled instantly before lashing it into the top corner.
Five minutes later, as the ball broke in the area and Austin poked it goalwards, only to be caught by Olejnik, and Austin himself confidently drove home the spot kick.
There was time for a fifth, as Stewart was denied by a fine save, with Stanislas capping his day with an emphatic finish.