Burnley equal best run in 50 years to fire European dream
The point is arriving where Burnley’s supporters will have to start planning for the Europa League, and they know it. “We’re all going on a European tour,” they sang at the final whistle.
Life has not been this good at Turf Moor since the days of Harry Potts. A nervy win over Leicester was their fifth in a row, something they last managed in the top flight in 1968. The victory means that a first European campaign since 1966-67 is now more than likely.
Unless Southampton win the FA Cup, seventh place is likely to be enough for a place in the second qualifying round of next season’s Europa League. It will mean starting the campaign in late July, but everyone at Turf Moor sees that as a price well worth paying.
This is a club that was struggling in the bottom half of the Championship when Sean Dyche arrived as manager 5½ years ago. Right now, they are the best in England outside the rarefied atmosphere of the top six.
Leicester were Burnley’s closest challengers for seventh place before this meeting, and they were six points behind even before kick-off. It looked unlikely they would offer much of a contest after Chris Wood and Kevin Long scored in the first nine minutes.
As it turned out, the visitors were unfortunate not to get a point. Jamie Vardy scored for the fifth successive Leicester game and had four other opportunities to add to it. Burnley, though, just about did enough to win. “The players stuck in and did the ugly side,” said manager Dyche. “Europe can’t be a negative. Five-and-a-half years ago, we were 16th in the Championship. For us, to even be spoken about in terms of Europe is a long way from where we were, even last season.”
Leicester might still have been in contention themselves but for their poor start to the match. They were the better side in the second half, with youth graduate Hamza Choudhury enthusiastic in midfield as he made his first start, and Vardy may well wonder how he only ended up with one goal.
The England forward spurned two good first-half openings, nodding tamely wide from a Ben Chilwell cross on the run, and then glancing Demarai Gray’s delivery straight into the arms of Nick Pope, the Burnley goalkeeper.
Pope, watched by England manager Gareth Southgate, was impressive. Having reacted superbly to block Riyad Mahrez’s first-half header, he was sharp again to turn the ball aside after Vardy had been played in by Adrien Silva af- ter the break. He had no chance when Vardy did score by slotting substitute Kelechi Iheanacho’s pass high into the net with 18 minutes left.
Pope was key to ensuring Burnley’s fast start was enough to win the game. The opening goal was a sweet moment for Wood, the New Zealand striker who believes he was not given a fair chance during his time at Leicester. He scored his fifth goal in five matches at the second attempt, slotting in the loose ball after Kasper Schmeichel had saved his first attempt.
Poor defending followed for the second goal. Johann Berg Gudmundsson swung over a corner, and Long climbed above both Harry Maguire and Danny Simpson to head in from five yards.
For Leicester manager Claude Puel, hopes of European qualification have pretty much gone.
“While it’s mathematically possible [to finish seventh]we have to keep fighting,” he said. “We’re chasing a very good team that showed a lot of solidity. But there were promising spells for us.”
Payback time: Chris Wood celebrates scoring for Burnley against his former club