England thumped again in India… a 5-day Post Office workers strike… rail chaos in the south… the world pie-eating championships return to Wigan… Len leaves Strictly… Christmas jumpers spreading uncontrollably…

It was way back in October when the Guardian first mentioned that homely a place as Burnley might be; nobody saw it as their favourite destination on a matchday if you were the away team. Surrounded by terraced streets and chip shops, ugly and intimidating, with a boisterous crowd that unsettles visitors and an uncompromising Burnley side, “It’s a difficult place to come to,” said Dyche, “there are no secrets what you are going to get at Turf Moor.”

It’s an old-school ground said someone who came up from Bournemouth with a great atmosphere. Like grounds used to be before they became identikit, sterile and sanitised, a ground that shook to the foundations when that first goal of Hendrick’s went in, a ground that doesn’t charge an extra pound for extra onions on your hot dog, a ground where fans prefer their football with pie and peas not a prawn sandwich. And how many other grounds serve bene?

When Burnley won that first promotion in 2009 Fletch said straight away that visiting teams would hate the tiny dressing rooms where all they would get was a peg, a towel and a bar of soap. The away dressing room is still not much bigger than a broom cupboard although a narrow extension has added a few benches. Teams that bring three huge skips of kit and equipment struggle to get them down the corridor never mind into the dressing room.

There are tales of dodgy heating in the away room and the lights actually went out at half-time when Chelsea arrived one year. Sabotage was the cry but in fact it was a simple electrical fault – too many hair dryers maybe?

Teams hate coming here now said both Boyd and Hendrick; the crowd are right on them up close and personal. But the pitch was brilliant added Hendrick and that’s where we play, not the dressing room.

‘The away teams come into our changing rooms and they’re like nothing they’ve ever seen,’ said George Boyd.

‘They’ve only had a lick of paint and a new lightbulb in 40 years,’ said another paper; a slight exaggeration there maybe; the old, shared, communal baths have been replaced, the ones where Jimmy Holland only added extra bath salts if he was in a good mood, where groundsman Roy Oldfield was thrown in one day, and where you feared to think what might be floating in the water.

Roy, incidentally, got his own back at Gawthorpe when the players were out training; he mixed up all the clothes on all the pegs and then sat back as they came in and swore and cursed as they tried to find their own clothes. Not even Roy ever found out who it was that nailed Keith Newton’s shoes to the floor one day.

‘A lot of people say it’s a fortress,’ said Hendrick. ‘Away teams look at the fixtures and see us away, and probably don’t want to come. But the pitch is brilliant.’ Take a bow Head Groundsman Paul Bradshaw.

The talk next was of how good was THAT goal, a goal that flew past Artur Boruc as a blur. Was it up there with the all-time greats that we’ve seen over the years at Turf Moor? How did it compare with that volley of Blake’s in 2008 against Man United, the goal that set the bar for great goals, or Elliott’s at Wembley? Sean D was adamant; that the Hendrick goal had it been scored at Chelsea by Costa or at Old Trafford by Ibrahimovic it would have been replayed 20 times over the weekend.

The media had re-named Turf Moor; it was now Tough Moor. The Times had done a new table of just home games. Chelsea were top with 21 points. Burnley were fifth with 16 points after 5 wins, 1 draw and 3 defeats. That was some record.

West Ham were now in their new home, The London Stadium aka the Taxpayers Stadium; by all accounts a stadium acquired on the cheap but with a whole host of teething problems not the least of which was just two wins there since moving in and a dearth of pie and mash shops. A team that struggled to win at home, versus a team that found it impossible to win away; it was reasonable to assume that one of them would improve their record. The odds were with West Ham with Burnley having scored just one solitary goal away from home and never having won a previous Premier League game in London.

‘The furthest away I’ve ever sat from the pitch,’ said Burnley commentator Phil Bird.

‘Bloody freezing,’ said Sarah Renton in fancy Christmas dress for the game.

‘We’ve got to give a performance,’ said Sean Dyche.

‘We need to beat Burnley and we need the points,’ said Slaven Bilic.

‘Possibly the worst stadium ever,’ said Jeremy Dyer, ‘so far back it’s unreal, almost in Stratford.’

‘West Ham are hammering away relentlessly,’ says Jeff Stelling on SKY.

And with half-time within touching distance West Ham scored from a penalty, yet another in added time. ‘What is it about added time?’ says John Gibault from far away Seattle. In hindsight it was the only way this game was ever going to be settled. Heaton in fact saved the pen but Noble was first to the rebound and scored. Dyche was adamant that the whole thing was a poor refereeing decision with Heaton initially impeded before Mee committed the foul. It was a poor way to lose.

By all accounts this was not the best first-half showing from Burnley, unable to string three passes together, the guile of Defour sitting on the bench, running power preferred to craft, the 4-4-2 with Gray and Vokes up front ineffective, all the usual away gripes and weaknesses, ‘almost every player below par ,’ ‘just looking to feed off scraps,’ ‘just not good enough away from home,’ ‘total lack of confidence away from home,’ ‘we could have played until next Wednesday and not scored.’ Burnley could have been 2-0 down before the penalty without any complaints, but for the woodwork.

Michael Keane revealed that Sean D had some harsh words for them all at half-time so that the second half wasn’t quite the same level of averageness as the first with Burney remembering that they actually had a front foot; so that by the end of the game West Ham and certainly Bilic were relieved to have seen the game out with Burnley described as dominant. But after this game questions were being asked about Defour. Just why was he bought? Could he not play more than half a game? Does he have inherent, permanent fitness problems? Is he totally unsuited to the Premier League or is it that he just doesn’t fit into the ‘Dyche framework?’

The only consolations were the score kept down to just 1-0 and below us, Swansea, Sunderland, Hull, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace all lost although the manner of the defeat to an average nervous West Ham made it all the more galling.

How close they were though to getting a point in that better second half, Vokes missed a sitter of a header from just yards out with the net gaping. In his defence one might argue that a defender’s boot just inches from his face might just have distracted him a tad. Anywhere else on the field and a competent referee might well have blown for dangerous play. Arfield drew a wonder save from the goalkeeper with his 25-yard free kick. There were other chances from balls that were headed or flashed across the box. Jonathan Liew, however, in the Telegraph put his finger on it succinctly:

‘Their fightback in the second half merely underlined the paucity of their ambition in the first. This side can really play; if only they tried it once in a while. Too often they are being forced to chase games that with a little enterprise would require no chasing.’

     Mike Walters in the Mirror came up with a couple of nice little one-liners that ‘in the land of Payet and mash West Ham were so nervy you would not let them plug the fairy lights on your Christmas tree into a socket,’ and Burnley’s Boyd ‘covers an awful lot of ground but so does my Vauxhall Astra.’

Funny how people see games in different ways, Paul MacInnes at the Guardian made it sound like a humdinger of a game with Burnley bullish. But however you viewed it; this was a hugely disappointing defeat.

I used to love a comedian called Freddie ‘Parrot Face’ Davies, astonishingly still performing at the age of 79. At his peak he belonged to an era of comedians like Charlie Williams, Bernard Manning (not everyone’s cup of tea), Ken Goodwin, Frank Carson and Duggie Brown. The Comedians was a half hour TV show of rapid quick fire gags as a gaggle of comics came on and off and did their stuff. For a while it was compulsory viewing. Charlie Williams was the first black stand-up comic, ex-miner and ex-Doncaster Rovers footballer. He could crack jokes like “ey me owld flower don’t upset me or I’ll come and live next door.” Ken Goodwin used to play the village simpleton. Irishman Frank Carson’s catchphrase was “it’s the way I tell ‘em’. Freddy Parrot Face Davies wearing a silly hat was forever saying what we might well be thinking today after yet another away defeat, “I’m jutht about thik up to here.”

After another Blackburn Rovers 3-2 defeat and back into the bottom three you could well imagine Owen Coyle muttering it: ‘I’m jutht about thick up to here.’

Bury supporters after a twelfth consecutive defeat, were all ‘jutht about thick up to here.’

And we, on Sunday afternoon, either at White Hart Lane, or on our sofas, were none too confident of anything other than a bit of a tubbing. The messageboards were gloomy to say the least with a huge majority predicting a 4-0 defeat or a rather more respectable 3-0 defeat. Others called for a re-run of the spirit (and a bit of the good fortune) that saw Burnley win 4-1 years ago in a Milk Cup game in the 80s when Billy Hamilton scored two. Burnley were now hovering over the bottom three following Sunderland’s win the previous day, no away win, just one away goal.     Defour was yet again on the bench. How do you say in Belgian ‘jutht about thick up to here?’ Macbeth’s three witches might have struggled to put on a gloomier act.

It was yet another away defeat but this one was only by 2-1 and again there were contentious decisions. Dyche was adamant that Sissoko should have had a straight red for a high, studs-up tackle on Ward, instead of merely a yellow. Pochinetto disagreed – funny that. Sissoko then went on to set up the winner when Rose lashed the ball home. It’s a shame that SD sounded like an old broken record with his criticisms of referee decisions but what else could Dyche do.

He could put on a funny hat and smile and say he’s ‘jutht about thick up to here,’ but that would detract from the situation where yet again a contentious decision has affected a result. Maybe if my player had gone down and rolled over a dozen times he might have got the red, said Dyche, but I don’t like that.

‘If he does 14 rolls on the floor the ref is under pressure, I don’t want my players to do that, but equally I don’t know how we are going to get those decisions.’   Ward accordingly just got up and got on with the game. It’s clear that honesty can backfire. It might win you admirers, but it doesn’t win points.

Burnley had taken the lead through Barnes and even before that Gray should have put them ahead but for an instinctive save with his foot by Lloris. Ali made the scores level within 5 minutes and from a distance of 230 miles we willed them to hang on to the point. It was not to be. It was hard to find any report that didn’t say Sissoko was lucky to stay on.

Words like plucky and spirited were sprinkled on the news pages; there was an away goal to celebrate and even a lead in an away game, short-lived though it was.     Being plucky is all very well, but we’d settle for luck over pluck any day. There was general agreement; this was a proper performance, another referee might well have given the decision against Dier when Gray was bursting past him; you wondered if this had been Mee bringing down Kane at the other end what he would have done then. When Sissoko passed to Rose to set up the goal he had Wink on his right as well. Sissoko was probably winking for the rest of the day after he escaped the red.

‘Burnley did what Burnley do,’ said the Telegraph,’ fought hard and defended deep. There was no disgrace for them here.’

‘Burnley fought admirably,’ said the Mirror,’ digging in despite a furious onslaught.’

‘Déjà vu for Sean Dyche,’ said the Times.

In the aftermath of the game Dyche pointed to six game-changing decisions so far. Here was another one and this ref, our Kev, was no Friend of Burnley.


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