TALKING POINTS: Burnley 3, Aston Villa 2
The Clarets could have been dead and buried at the break against a dominant Villa side, inspired by the mesmeric Jack Grealish.
However, Villa were made to pay for their failure to kill Burnley off, as Ollie Watkins’ early opener was cancelled out by Ben Mee.
And though Grealish restored the visitors’ lead, the Clarets roared back as Dwight McNeil’s cross-shot found the far corner, before he crossed for Chris Wood to head the winner.
Here are the talking points.
A couple of years ago, Jurgen Klopp called his side ‘mentality monsters’.
And while Burnley aren’t about to take Liverpool’s title from them, they are very much cut from the same cloth in terms of spirit and belief.
Teams may outperform Sean Dyche’s side, but you had better make sure you kill them off, because, much like The Terminator, they keep coming back.
The Clarets, after starting brightly enough, pressing well and playing at a good tempo, they were soon under the spell of the quite brilliant Grealish, and Villa could and should have been three or four goals to the good at the break.
But the Clarets did what they do so well, and stayed in the game.
At 1-0, they were always in with a chance, and, as Dyche expected, Villa couldn’t control the game for 90 minutes.
Burnley were a different beast in the second half, with Mee heading the equaliser – who else would you want with you in the trenches than the skipper?
And though Grealish started and finished the move that led to Villa’s second, another bright English talent, McNeil, instigated the comeback, threading through a glorious cross-shot which beat everyone and found the far corner, before he stood up a supern cross for Wood, who did brilliantly to head down and inside the far post.
Write a Dyche side off at your peril – how many times have we seen them outplayed, show that strong jaw, and come out counter punching?
While Wednesday was very much a game of two halves, Burnley’s season has been a case of two very different quarters so far.
At the halfway stage of the season, Burnley sit pretty on 22 points, nine clear of trouble, and looking up, rather than over their shoulders.
But it was a different story eight games in, when Burnley had just two points to their name, and looked like they were in for a long old season.
Dyche knew, however, that when his players were fit and firing, that normal service would be resumed.
A third top-10 finish in four seasons looks a tall order, especially given the form of some sides this season, in addition to the established big six, but there is no reason why the Clarets can’t push up the table further from 15th to lower mid-table.
Dyche often talks of a season’s work, and doesn’t get enveloped in the hysteria that surrounds every Premier League matchday, whether you’re hot or not.
The experience gleaned from six seasons in seven at this level has served the manager and his players well, and he said of how the first half of the season has played out: “Really good form, we’ve acted on many different situations to correct things, mainly with the players – we can only correct so much, it’s the players taking ownership, and they have done again.
“We have to continue doing that.
“We’ve been in the Premier League a while but it’s still difficult when you get off to a tough start, injuries etc, no one really cares about that, they just say you weren’t winning games.
“We’re used to that noise so there is a calmness and belief about what we do, and now they’re getting their rewards.”
WOOD IS BACK
Chris Wood has a number of opponents he enjoyed playing against, and Aston Villa are one.
The former Birmingham City striker now has four goals in five appearances against his old City rivals, and the manner of the way he took his goal, added to his second half performance, showed signs of the New Zealand international returning to his best.
Dyche has persevered with Wood despite a challenging season which had seen him score three from 22 appearances before Wednesday night.
Invariably, Wood has been Burnley’s most reliable source of goals at this level sincce his record £15m move from Leeds in the summer of 2017, but he has looked short on confidence at times, missing chances you would expect him to normally gobble up.
Against Villa, as with his teammates, he was second best to the visitors, but in the second half we saw the ball stick for the frontman, using his powerful frame to protect the ball and get Burnley up the pitch, despite the attention of Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings, doing brilliantly to win the corner which led to Mee’s equaliser.
And the way he took the winning goal was classic Wood, straining his neck muscles to get the power and placement to find the far corner.
The delight and relief on his face was clear. More of the same please!
But now we have a pleasing situation where, having struggled for goals, Burnley have seven in three games, with three strikers netting four of them, while finding goals from other areas of the team.
There are “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”.
And football is an area where only one statistic matters, the final score.
xG, or expected goals, is a relatively new statistic, measuring the quality of goalscoring chances and the likelihood of them being scored.
All manner of factors go into forming the xG figures, such as angle and distance of shots, chances in open play or a from a set-piece, and so on.
Burnley’s xG from Wednesday night’s game was 0.77, while Villa’s was 2.94.
But Burnley were back to their more clinical selves, while Villa were profligate, and you finish with a final score which had Dean Smith in a state of “disbelief”.
ENGLAND'S NUMBER ONE?
One factor for Villa not taking advantage of their xG was the imposing figure of Nick Pope in the Burnley goal.
On a night where England’s number one Jordan Pickford was again at fault for Leicester’s goal, Pope was a beacon of calm and composure.
He made big saves from Watkins and Mings in the first half, and Dyche said: “He continues to improve in my opinion.
“I’m completely biased but he’s in very good form, that’s for sure.”