GRAY IS SPOT ON TO END 38 YEARS OF CLARET HURT
But Lambert fumes over big calls
ANDRE GRAY ended Burnley’s 38-year wait for a home victory over bitter rivals Blackburn – but angry Rovers boss Paul Lambert felt his side were robbed.
Striker Gray netted his 21st goal of a spectacular season from the spot after George Boyd was felled by a clumsy challenge from Shane Duffy.
Rovers’ Hope Akpan then tumbled in the box under a shove from Stephen Ward, only for referee Mike Jones to wave the visitors’ protests aside.
An off-colour Burnley then exhibited their renowned resilience, repelling waves of Blackburn raids and relying on the reactions of keeper Tom Heaton to grind out a victory that secured long-awaited bragging rights and sent them back to the top of the Championship.
For the home side, it was further evidence that their title bid is bang on track. Lambert, too, can take great confidence from a display full of guts and guile, though his delight was tempered by frustration at an opportunity missed.
“We should have won it,” said Lambert, whose side beat Middlesbrough 2-0 in midweek. “We were brilliant against Boro and we were outstanding here.
“They’ve kept a lot of Premier League players. They’ve got more money than us, all the usual advantages you have when you come down
from the top flight. But you couldn’t see the difference.
“Unfortunately the referee missed two big calls. Jordi Gomez was fouled in the box at the end. It was no different to Shane Duffy’s.
“And Hope Akpan had the ball safe side when Ward comes in. Even though it’s only a slight touch, you can’t tackle when the ball is safe side. It’s impossible to win it.
“I’ve spoken to Mike who I think had a really good game. He gave me his explanation. That’s fair enough but I think he missed a major call and it cost us.”
Lambert had no issue with the penalty his own side conceded and with good reason. Duffy’s instinctive swipe at Boyd’s heels was as blatant as it was needless and Gray, the division’s top scorer, punished the error with ruthless calm.
Yet Ward’s shove in the back of Akpan was no less idiotic; had the collision occurred outside the box, you can bet your mortgage Jones would have given a free-kick.
If the defender was lucky to escape censure, there was nothing fortunate about his side’s continued resistance. For the remaining 65 minutes Rovers were rampant, inspired by the intelligence of Gomez and driven forward by the energy of Akpan and Elliott Bennett.
But Burnley’s shape and structure never cracked. Joey Barton and David Jones did more miles than a long-distance lorry driver. Michael Keane and Ben Mee blocked and tackled, forcing their opponents to shoot from range.
Even when one did sneak through, Rovers found Heaton in imperious form. The England man tipped over from Bennett, denied the same player low to his left and shovelled an Akpan effort round his post.
“Big keepers make big saves,” said Clarets boss Sean Dyche, whose side extended their unbeaten Championship run to 12 matches. “He’s had very quiet periods.We’ve had 15 clean sheets, which suggests that the team have protected him.
“But what good keepers do is respond when they’re needed. Sometimes that’s not a save. It’s clean hands, good distribution, all manner of things.”
Dyche also praised his players for dealing with the hype and hulla- baloo that preceded the 112th meeting of these ancient rivals.
“Players know,” he added. “It’s easy for me. I don’t do Twitter and all that. They do. And they’ve been getting ‘You’ve got to win because of this, because of that, it’s been 38 years and all of that stuff’. That does affect you and we looked a bit edgy. But the players dealt with it and delivered.”
Lambert added: “I’ve only been here a short time, but that’s the level I want to get to and that’s the level I want to see every week. I’m confident we’ll get there.”
WATT’S UP: Blackburn Rovers’ Tony Watt fires in a shot at the Burnley goal
SPOT THE DIFFERENCE: Andre Gray scores the only goal of the game after Shane Duffy felled George Boyd and, inset, wheels away in celebration