PHOTOS: Burnley FC 0, Millwall 3
IN football it is often said that you can learn far more in defeat than in victory.
A setback every now and then can sharpen the focus and serve as a kick up the backside when an element of complacency creeps in.
The hope is that you can look back on such games positively in hindsight, that they prove to be key turning points.
Burnley’s history is littered with examples – losing 3-0 at the Turf to Gillingham sparked a run of four straight wins to snatch promotion in 2000, pipping the Gills on the final day, while a 4-2 loss to Sheffield Wednesday two years ago inspired a superb sequence of one defeat in the last 11 games to seal a play-off place.
Saturday could be a case in question – a timely reminder that every team at Championship level poses a threat to your ambitions if you are below par, which the Clarets certainly were.
But it is how you react to defeat, and this side have yet to suffer successive losses so far this season.
The last league defeat at Doncaster kick-started a six-game unbeaten run which put Burnley firmly back in promotion contention, and the gnashing of teeth among the staff and players after this game suggests a similar response is on the cards, starting tonight at home to Coventry City.
Eddie Howe’s side have, of late, had a happy habit of winning games when not at their best, with a new-found defensive solidity and an ability to conjure up quality at the other end at the right times.
They have put an end to a number of niggling statistics along the way, concerning away form and back to back wins, but another strange quirk was at the back of fans’ minds going into two home games. Burnley have not won successive Saturday/Tuesday home games since beating Stockport and Sheffield Wednesday in October 2000, and that jinx struck again against the Lions. The Clarets were looking for a fourth successive league win for the first time in more than five years, having taken 16 points from the last 18.
But Millwall were buoyed by a 2-0 win over leaders Queens Park Rangers 2-0 at The Den on Tuesday.
On that occasion, they got in the faces of the Rs’ talisman Adel Taarabt early on, and got the upper hand.
And they did a number on Burnley as well.
The Clarets had 15 shots to Millwall’s eight, and nine corners to five, but goals change games, and the Lions’ opener on 51 minutes altered the course of the match.
Burnley bossed the first half in terms of pressure, possession and territory, with the deep-lying Lions happy to sit tight and play direct football when they had the ball.
They doubled up on Chris Eagles, who again, for all his positively, saw little come off on the day before being withdrawn on the hour.
Home debutant Nathan Delfouneso saw his header hit the bar after Jay Rodriguez flicked on a Tyrone Mears free kick, and Rodriguez was then denied what looked a certain goal after delightful football carved Millwall open, only for Alan Dunne to make a critical block.
The Clarets penned Millwall back, but huffed and puffed somewhat and were unable to work David Forde sufficiently, with efforts from Dean Marney and Eagles flying over.
Millwall’s only attacking move of note saw the impressive James Henry cut in from a throw on the right and curl a shot just wide of the far post.
Howe demanded more of his players after the break, and they started purposefully, but when Lee Grant was caught under Andros Townsend’s corner, skipper Paul Robinson headed the visitors ahead completely against the run of play.
Grant, excellent at Hull in midweek, has to take his share of the blame for failing to command his area, though Robinson had a free header.
The goal gave Millwall a visible lift, and if they had previously been hard to break down, they were doubly so, while appearing to have the shackles lifted in terms of their passing football.
More hesitancy from Grant from a Henry-free-kick led to Steve Morison volleying wide, before Ross Wallace, Burnley’s bright spark on the day, had a shot tipped round the post.
Morison then forced a save from Grant at his near post after skipping past Clarke Carlisle, before Danny Fox had to be alert to block Townsend’s drive.
From the resulting corner, however, Robinson again had the freedom of the area to head home his second, and the game looked up.
You never know with Burnley though, having won a Championship-best 23 points from losing positions – and had they had a penalty for a blatant foul on substitute Chris Iwelumo from Robinson 10 minutes from time, things may have been different.
I must have missed the directive allowing defenders to stop forwards jumping for the ball by holding them down.
As it was, Millwall sealed the win with a typically Millwall goal, Morison heading on a goal kick for Townsend to finish well across Grant.
There were echoes of Reading’s 4-0 win at Turf Moor earlier in the season – a victory for discipline and sheer hard work, rather than any real quality.
Burnley have both in their locker, but unfortunately left the defensive discipline at home.
It was a painful lesson, but hopefully one that precipitates a renewed determination.