TALKING POINTS: Burnley 1, Sheffield United 0
Burnley again came out on the right side of the margins on Tuesday evening, with a first Turf Moor goal in almost six years from skipper Ben Mee enough to see off rock-bottom Sheffield United.
Mee held off the challenge of three Blades defenders to head in a superb Robbie Brady corner just after the half hour, after Aaron Ramsdale had made big saves to deny Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood.
Sheffield United pushed for an equaliser after the break, without really testing Nick Pope, who collected a sixth clean sheet of the season.
Here are the talking points.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
Ben Mee’s return to the side after injury has coincided with Burnley’s reversal of fortunes.
After failing to win any of their first six games without the skipper, they have since won four and drawn three of the nine games since Mee came back in for the goal-less draw at Brighton.
Five of the side’s six clean sheets have been earned in that time.
Mee may not have been at his best in Sunday’s 1-0 defeat at Leeds, looking off-colour particularly in the first half, but it was business as usual against the Blades.
And while he may not be prolific, with eight goals in 295 appearances for the club, he showed the forwards the way with the way he shrugged off three Sheffield United players to head in a terrific winner, from Robbie Brady’s whipped in corner.
Remarkably, it was Mee’s first goal at Turf Moor since he netted against Crystal Palace in January 2015, putting the Clarets 2-0 up, in a game they went on to lose 3-2.
Of course, Burnley were relegated that season, but nowadays, once they take the lead, you expect them to see games out more often than not.
While Sean Dyche joked about landing Lionel Messi and Diego Costa after the game, his hand looks like it is about to be significantly boosted in the January transfer window.
And while ALK Capital are unlikely to trigger the sort of spending power that has seen Aston Villa challenge the top four this season, Alan Pace is determined to give the manager the help he needs.
And while Dyche feels his squad isn’t far short when his players are all fully fit, getting them fully fit is another thing altogether, especially in a condensed season where injuries are up across the board.
Already without two of his three wingers, and Erik Pieters again filling in manfully on the left of midfield, the loss of Charlie Taylor to a hamstring injury underlined how stretched the squad is.
Pieters went back to left back, with Josh Benson coming on on the right of midfield, and while the youngster competed well, the Clarets are crying out for another wide player to give them another option.
Dyche could also need a back up centre back, dependent on the future of James Tarkowski, as well as a potential upgrade at right back, a creative midfielder, and maybe another striker.
Some of that business may be for another day, but Dyche could do with a couple of bodies this month to make sure, at the very least, Burnley maintain their Premier League status.
At the time of writing, Sunday’s opponents Fulham’s game at Spurs on Wednesday night was in doubt after the Cottagers returned a number of positive COVID-19 tests.
That came on the back of the Premier League announcing its highest number of positive COVID-19 tests so far this season, with Sheffield United also having an outbreak before the game at Turf Moor, with “a couple” of players and “four or five backroom staff” testing positive.
Everton’s home game with Manchester City on Monday was postponed four hours before kick-off after an outbreak at City, and new West Brom boss Sam Allardyce, speaking after his side’s 5-0 defeat at home to Leeds on Tuesday night, said: “Everyone’s safety is more important than anything else.
“When I listen to the news the variant virus transmits quicker than the original virus [so] we can only do the right thing which is have a circuit break.
“I am 66 years old and the last thing I want to do is catch Covid. I’m very concerned for myself and football in general. If that’s what needs to be done we need to do it.
“We had one positive this week and it seems to be creeping around no matter how hard we try.”
However, Sean Dyche, as he was throughout the first national lockdown, is happy to listen to the government and football authorities: “The rules and guidelines within our camp are very strict, outside of that...the players are human beings, and still have families, living their lives, and we are told it is everywhere.
“We can’t do anything other than follow the guidelines the best we can outside of football, and try and control it the best we can inside football.
“I don’t think it’s easy, if the numbers are rising – and we hope they don’t – but if they do, that’s something we’ll all have to deal with accordingly.”
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, whose Manchester United have a game in hand, at Turf Moor, is not in favour of putting the season on hold: I” think our players have been really good in following protocols and rules.
“That’s part of the job here, that we as clubs follow the protocols given. I can’t see the benefit in having a circuit break, whatever it’s going to be called.
“Because when are we going to play the games? We all know this year is so difficult, but I don’t think stopping the games is going to make a big, big change.”
At Leeds on Sunday, Erik Pieters made his 200th Premier League appearance.
It came on the left side of midfield, in the absence of Dwight McNeil and Robbie Brady, and he was again asked to play further forward than normal against Sheffield United, before dropping back to his more recognised left back slot after the injury to Charlie Taylor.
You see Pieters come in for some criticism on social media from time to time, but players like him are worth their weight in gold for managers.
Sunday was his first start since October, but in his time out of the side, he just kept his head down, kept working hard and making sure he was ready for his next opportunity.
And when he comes in, he puts a real shift in, whereever he is asked to play.
After Project Restart, his performances were a big factor in a strong end to the season, and already this term he has shown his worth to a squad stretched to breaking point.
Burnley’s home record in the Premier League against sides outside the established “big six” since promotion in 2016 makes for superb reading: P57 W33 D11 L13 F 80 A49 – 110 points out of a possible 171, with 25 clean sheets. Indeed, they have only failed to score six times in that time!