Historic derby win for solid Burnley

dycheThe East Lancashire derby. Pride, passion, emotion, history and prestige are all themes one might associate with that rivalry, which has not seen Burnley triumph at Turf Moor since 1971.

Not that Sean Dyche was getting over-excited by proceedings: “it’s just about three points for us”. The former Watford boss played down the extrinsic importance of the rivalry prior to kick-off, suggesting that it was for the fans to enjoy the occasion but that the points were the sole focus for him and his team.

To allow for a cliche, Burnley played the game and not the occasion. Once Andre Gray‘s penalty gave them a first half lead, they stuck to the game plan and retained a tight shape, without losing their discipline. Blackburn showed the kind of endeavour and spirit their vocal fans would want to see in a derby game, but lacked width and struggled in the face of their opponents’ eight man barrier.

Burnley could have opened the scoring in the first minute when Andre Gray’s goal was disallowed, but it was Blackburn who started brightest. The visitors put a few dangerous balls into the box and Matt Grimes‘ effort was blocked, before Jordi Gomez was denied a chance to shoot by Joey Barton‘s challenge.

Burnley scored their goal somewhat against the run of play. Shane Duffy accidentally kicked George Boyd and Andre Gray converted the spot kick down the middle, sending Turf Moor into raptures.

Burnley showed a brief moment of quality in a fine move via Matthew Lowton, the right-back’s cross allowing Scott Arfield to drill wide from close range. But Blackburn’s own right-back, Ben Marshall, was starting to make his own mark on the game. The former Leicester man made some threatening runs down the right and when his free-kick into the box was nodded down by Shane Duffy, Bennett knocked the ball towards Tom Heaton, who tipped the deflected ball over. Heaton had another deflected shot to handle shortly after, when Akpan’s left-footed attempt from the edge of the box took a nic off a defender, but the keeper was alert.

Burnley offered little in attack, forward Sam Vokes suffering from a lack of support. Due to their defensive mentality, however, they were able to stop Blackburn making tracks in the final third. The visitors relied heavily on set pieces and crosses from deep, but it was often difficult for players attacking the ball in the box to get any clean contact with the ball, due to the restricted space.

Elliott Bennett, Jordi Gomez and Matt Grimes are attack-minded, but they all naturally operate centrally and therefore wanted to cut inside. That was a problem for Blackburn, because the central areas tended to be the most congested. They might have had more joy with ball carriers in the wide areas, perhaps someone like Craig Conway might have been willing to attack the flanks and cross from the byline. As it was, all of the away side’s crosses were from deep, meaning centre-backs Michael Keane and Ben Mee had a clear view of the ball when it came in.

That was the issue for Blackburn for much of the second half. Paul Lambert tried to inject some pace into his side’s play by introducing Tony Watt for the ineffective Matt Grimes. Watt made a reasonable impact when he came on and helped the team keep hold of the ball in forward areas, but Blackburn still could not get in behind the Clarets rearguard.

Burnley did not create much, but Andre Gray still caused problems for Shane Duffy and Grant Hanley. Every time there was a long, aimless ball cleared forward, Gray would see that the centre-backs were isolated and try to get into some one-on-one situations by surging forward. While Gray’s runs were not always fruitful, they would sometimes force panicked clearances, a decent return given the lack of support for Burnley’s forwards.

In many ways, the striker’s work rate epitomized the commitment from this Burnley side. It was not the prettiest performance from the hosts, but they were very hard to break down and stopped Blackburn from getting in between the lines. Their best moments late on came when Bennett’s shot was deflected past the near post and Marshall’s shot was crowded out.

While the novelty of a derby victory was of little additional value to Sean Dyche, it would have been priceless for Paul Lambert, who is still in the process of getting the support of the Rovers faithful. For him to do so, Blackburn need to play a bit more expansively, in a way that allows them more width to open teams up.

Burnley, on the other hand, go top of the Championship and have their sights set firmly on promotion. Sean Dyche’s side are capable of outscoring teams but, when they need to, they are capable of winning games when they are not playing their best football. That was certainly the case against Blackburn on Saturday and the team’s defensive strength will serve them well in the promotion race. Blackburn, on the other hand, have plenty of work to do if they want to match the achievements of their rivals next season.