Burn­ley equal best run in 50 years to fire Euro­pean dream

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Premier League - By Mike Whal­ley at Turf Moor

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

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