In the cold light of the morning after the evening before a point at Turf Moor against the runaway league leaders who had won 10 on the bounce is a very good result. There are very few of us who genuinely thought we would get anything other than a humping up there but this still doesn’t make conceding a last gasp equaliser any more galling.
Burnley, like all good sides when they really need it, find a way and that is something that, to be honest, we lack. Even looking back at three of the last four matches before this (we were abject at Boro) I have walked away thinking “Burnley, Sheffield United and even that lot up the road win these games” because we just lack a knockout punch to use a boxing analogy.
We are all jabs, and nice footwork, keeping ourselves off the ropes but we seem to succumb to the haymaker, the punch from nowhere and once on the canvass we seem to take an age to clear our heads & get up from it. We have a glass jaw of sorts and we just can’t see it over the line.
We had battled so hard at Turf Moor against clearly a very organised, well drilled side but we had largely protected Bachmann very well but we got deeper and deeper and offered very little going the other way allowing Burnley to throw everything bar the kitchen sink at us. Bilic’s choice of subs killed us for sure but the last one to take Joao off for Kabasele was the one that really didn’t help. We already had no outlet once Keinan Davis was withdrawn and Araujo had replaced him, Ismaila Sarr had another one of THOSE nights where he just was not at it & even when he had the ball at his feet and thirty yards of grass to run into he seemed unwilling to get us up the pitch to relieve the pressure. I am absolutely unconvinced by Matteus Martins in fact I don’t think he is as good a player as Asprilla. The Brazilian came on for the hussle-bussel workrate of Ken Sema and apart from fall over a few times didn’t really make much of an impact. Both he and Araujo are clearly struggling to get to grips of the physicality of the Championship so to throw them on in a “backs to the wall” effort was a tough ask. The team was already carrying Sarr but now it had more passengers and despite the best efforts of the excellent back four (and yes Kamara was better last night) plus Choudhury in front of them the ball just kept coming back at us.
I have seem some frankly laughable suggestions that had he still been at the club that Bayo would have been a better option to Araujo in such a circumstance as last night. This is the same Bayo who we all said couldn’t trap a bag of sand by the way, if this is the case then by the same definition you would think bringing Assombolonga with all his current extra timber would have been just as good shout. Perhaps this is one of the downsides of the agreement we have in place with Benfica for Araujo in that he has to play a certain amount of time/minutes in that he gets thrown on in situations like this and its just not his type of battle.
A point is a good result, three is clearly better but for all the hard work and endeavour would still paper over the cracks of all our problems which is we just don’t attack enough. Even when we nicked the ball in high area through some good pressing it never ended with an attempt on goal, in fact the majority of times the move would end with us giving the ball away ourselves by trying one pass to many. Even the goal when it came was almost overworked, Joao had touched the ball passed the keeper in no-mans land, managed to lay it off to Davis who seemed to take an eternity to bring in Sema who (and fair play to him) didn’t shoot and squared it for Joao to slide the ball in. We were in front albeit totally against the run of play but we had something to hold onto.
Its in games like this that Hamza Choudhury comes into his own, for all his nonsense on the ball he is brilliant at spotting danger and breaking up play. He had a great game last night and just cements my belief that when we are at home and the emphasis is on us to dictate play and tempo we don’t need him however away from home when we often come under pressure he is probably one of the first names on the team-sheet for me. His partner in midfield last night was the young Canadian Kone who put in a shift for the shirt and that is all you can ask. Yes he can give the ball away but the lad tries and tries hard, he is clearly still learning the game but I see something in him but just like Asprilla, Martins, Araujo he is having to do his learning in the full glare of the first team rather than sub appearance minutes.
This is all down to our injuries which yet again struck just before kick off with Tom Cleverley pulling up lame again. You do wonder how many more times Tom can keep getting injured before his body says no more. This injury clearly unsettled us in the beginning but Ken Sema was an able deputy and he is another one for all his faults does seem to put a shift in for the team.
I have to talk about the two excellent centre halves we seem to have got ourselves in Porteous & Hoedt. Last night was trial by Ashley Barnes and they got through it so well despite all the antics of the despisable Burnley forward. I like what the pair of them give up on the ball, but I do like their own brand of no nonsense defending. In my opinion with any other defensive partnership, we have used in the team this season rolls over and we get beaten heavily last night. These two were the backbone of the performance and deserve all the praise and plaudits they are getting from the fans. The best of it is of course is they are actually our signings, not loans from Udinese or any where else but our actual players meaning we have something build around.
Behind these two is Dan Bachmann who is one of the best shot stoppers we have had for a long time along with some of the worst distribution from a keeper we’ve ever had. Its so odd that in the last Championship campaign his kicking was so good, pinging the ball out to Kiko and Masina and yet this season his kicks can go literally anywhere! Personally, and not like trying to sound like Aidy Boothroyd here but he doesn’t kick the ball far enough let alone accurately. Going back to last night there were times we could have just with him kicking the ball deep into Burnley territory and yet he barely makes the halfway line. I like Dan but in modern football just being to keep the ball out of the net is not enough and his distribution and decision making is probably one of the reasons he lost his place in the Austria squad where he had managed to get to their number 1 for a time. That said he is still very much our number 1 until at least the summer.
Now we have all had time to digest last night’s result there is no problem in still feeling gutted but there is also room to feel happy even proud on how well we battled. The next two games are going to be just as tough but this should act as a template for attitude and application for those matches. It is still not very pretty and by no means are we a coherent unit but it feels like its coming together. If it doesn’t and we get beaten in both the next two matches then the question marks will still hang over Bilic whose in game management is, for me, a big problem but last night felt like a tiny step forward. If only we could have defended that last minute corner properly it would have been a giant step but it wasn’t to be and we must clear our heads and get ready for the Baggies at the Vic on Monday.
Take care and stay safe