PHOTOS: Preston 1, Burnley FC 2
But while the Clarets’ home form is as good as anybody’s in the Championship – having taken eight points fewer than league leaders QPR from two fewer games – their points return on their travels has been transformed under his stewardship.
Six of Howe’s first seven league games in charge have been away from Turf Moor, but, incredibly, a team that had taken only nine points from 30 on the road under Brian Laws, has 11 from 18 since his arrival.
From being the only side in the Football League without an away win before the Boxing Day trip to Barnsley – Laws’ last away game – Howe seems to have cured their travel sickness just in time to pose a real threat to the play-off places.
They are now 10th overall in terms of away points – a vast improvement – and in Howe’s time at the club so far, only Hull have won more points on their travels with 14.
Burnley’s next away game is, of course, at Hull City.
Take the facts and figures out of it though, and the sheer feel-good factor gleaned from this win at Deepdale is immeasurable.
On a day where Leeds slipped up at second place Swansea, the Clarets went into the game seven points adrift of the play-off places, with three games in hand.
And as Howe accepted during the game: “We came to the conclusion that a point wasn’t good for us, so we chased three.”
Jack Cork’s late header won the points in a derby that appeared to be ambling towards a draw that suited neither side – and what a goal to win it.
Cork supplied the finishing touch to substitute Wade Elliott’s sumptuous cross, diving to nod home in front of a Bill Shankly Kop, full to the brim with joyous Burnley fans.
That didn’t tell half the story though, as Cork basically completed a 40-yard one-two, having initially switched play to Elliott on the right with a raking pass, before showing the desire and determination to break into the box and get on the end of the cross.
It was real goal of the season material – though it barely merited a mention on the Football League show that night.
And it capped another win coming from behind for the Clarets, who have won 22 points from losing positions –winning six games, a record unrivalled in the Championship this season.
They are now slap-bang in the play-off race, beating right down Leeds’ necks with eight of the last 14 games at the Turf.
It was fitting Cork and Jay Rodriguez netted the crucial goals for Burnley, with the pair hoping to return to Deepdale in a month’s time with the England Under 21s.
They were the standout performers in a typically scrappy derby, inter- spersing the blood and thunder with real moments of composure and quality.
Rodriguez’s leveller was a real case in point. Chris Iwelumo flicked on Lee Grant’s goal kick, and Chris Eagles lofted a pass in behind a square North End defence for Rodriguez, who gave Iain Turner the eyes, shaping to shoot across him, before slotting inside the near post.
It was a third goal in three games against Preston for the Burnley-born marksman, who, aside from heading the winner at Turf Moor in September, scored with his first touch while on loan at Barnsley last season.
It was a goal that deservedly brought Burnley back on level terms just after the half hour, nine minutes after falling behind to Barry Nicholson’s strike, breaking from midfield to fire past Grant.
And while it is a worry that the Clarets are needing to score twice a game to win in the league at present, having conceded a goal a game for the last six league matches, otherwise, the defence were rock solid.
Aside from that aberration, the back four that had shipped five at West Ham on Monday stood up to be counted, barely giving Preston a sight of goal, despite all their huff and puff.
As Howe said: “The two centre halves were outstanding for us”, with Leyland lad Clarke Carlisle and Michael Duff magnets to the ball.
Rarely can Burnley have so little possession in a Championship game, with the statistics recording 68.4% to Preston and 31.6% to the Clarets, but possession is only nine-tenths of the law, and Burnley always looked to have the greater craft, against a North End side happy to get the ball forward quickly and look to use the pace of the ineffective Leon Clarke and Nathan Ellington, a shadow of the player who was at Wigan.
Phil Brown lamented a lack of fight, but that seemed to be all Preston had in their favour, with World Cup Final referee Howard Webb seemingly leaving his cards at home, unwilling to make the big decisions.
There was some argy-bargy in the tunnel after the game, sparked by a spat between Eagles and former Claret David Unsworth, after Eagles should have won an indirect free kick inside the area for obstruction after being flattened by Ian Ashbee.
Preston felt Eagles had dived – rich from a side that was a serial offender on the day, with both Keith Treacy and Ellington guilty during the game – and the animosity continued afterwards.
Brown bizarrely felt it was a badge of honour: “I’ve got my staff getting involved with opposition staff on a weekly basis. Maybe if the players showed enough fight where that was concerned, we might win a game.”
Ultimately, it was about quality. Burnley possess it, and Preston don’t have anywhere near enough to survive at this level.
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