REFEREE Craig Pawson never seems to be far away from controversy, especially where the Clarets are concerned.
The South Yorkshire official had Gus Poyet’s blood boiling last term as he reduced the Seagulls to nine men in the opening 12 minutes following the dismissals of Romain Vincelot and Ashley Barnes at the Amex Stadium.
Pawson had initially been oblivious to the off-the-ball altercation involving Vincelot and Marvin Bartley, with the incident having to be brought to light by his fourth official.
On that occasion the decision was dealt with swiftly and professionally, but there was no such luck on Saturday.
For in excess of a minute, the 11,192 fans housed inside Turf Moor, along with both dugouts, thought the Clarets had taken a 3-1 lead when Junior Stanislas fired past David Forde just after the hour, but Pawson had other ideas.
With Stanislas celebrating what should have been his third of the campaign and the ball having been returned to the centre circle ready for the restart, Pawson marched towards his assistant referee, William Smallwood and after deliberation a flag was raised and the goal wiped out.
“We haven’t had an explanation from anybody yet,” said Clarets boss Eddie Howe.
“It was a real killer blow for us, I thought we were 3-1 up for a good period of time and my players certainly felt the same way as did the crowd. I’ve never seen a decision like that before in football in all my life.”
It proved a huge psychological blow for the Clarets who failed to recover in the aftermath following a dominant first half.
But it was the Lions who roared early on, taking the lead in the fourth minute when an intricate, triangular passage of play involving Liam Trotter, Andy Keogh and James Henry manufactured space down the right for Keogh and the striker squared for Trotter who side-footed beyond Lee Grant from the edge of the box.
Ross Wallace scooped over the bar after intelligent work from Chris McCann on the overlap before Danny Shittu recovered well to deny Martin Paterson a tap in from inside the six-yard box as Forde failed to deal with David Edgar’s hopeful pass.
Ben Mee then headed over from Stanislas’s floated free-kick as the Clarets bombardment intensified while McCann stung the palms of Forde in the next attack before Stanislas clipped the bar at the near post once Kieran Trippier, Wallace and Paterson had carved an opening down the right.
Howe’s men were rhythmic on occasions, working effectively from the back. They get their reward with Stanislas the provider from the corner and with Forde rooted to the spot, his path obstructed by Nadjim Abdou, Mee thumped a header in to the roof of the net to register the first goal of his career.
However, the next incident should have been a sign of things to come.
Wallace supplied McCann down the right with a quickly taken
free-kick and his centre was driven goalwards by Martin Paterson, only for the effort to be blocked by the raised arms of Danny Shittu. It looked blatant, but no penalty insisted Pawson.
Dean Marney blazed over on the half-volley as the Clarets continued in the ascendency.
Stanislas’s fizzed a set-piece over, Charlie Austin headed wide, Trippier fired over, while at the other end, Grant produced a superb save at full stretch to deny Henry as half-time approached but what
was to follow was an example of a striker embodying confidence,
self belief and a frightening raw talent.
A move starting at the back with Michael Duff, developed with a marauding run from Trippier, and was finished with a sublime header from the country’s leading scorer, Austin, who cranked his neck muscles to loop his effort over Forde.
It was a finish rewarding of a player who had joined a very select group at the club recently, becoming the fourth player in its decorated history to score 10 senior goals before the end of September.
It was 37 years ago the last time it happened as Peter Noble scored 11 in 1975, which included hat-tricks in successive home games.
The first time a Claret achieved that feat was in 1928 when the club’s all-time record goalscorer George Beel netted double figures and sandwiched in between was Ray Pointer in 1961 who scored 12.
David Edgar, who replaced injured skipper Jason Shackell in the starting XI, almost extended that cushion as his header from Wallace’s corner drifted wide, to confirm the home side’s dominance in the opening 45 minutes.
But the pattern changed after the interval as Millwall took control of midfield, forcing the Clarets deep. At one end McCann went close
In the 63rd minute, ‘that’ moment of controversy arrived. Wallace fired a pass in to the feet of Stanislas who swapped passes with Paterson before outpacing substitute Jack Smith and Alan Dunne before slotting home.
At first viewing, and as replays later suggested, Paterson had moved from an offside position before supplying the pass, but only Pawson and his assistant will know why play was brought back, why so much time was allowed to elapse between the ball finding the net and the goal being struck off, and why a flag hadn’t been raised in the first instance.
But you still felt the Clarets would get all three points until Lions sub Darius Henderson came to life in the five minutes of time added on.
He fired a warning shot when his header across goal was glanced on to the bar by Chris Wood, but moments later he stunned Turf Moor into silence when Trotter’s well-executed flick fell into his path, and Henderson lashed in.
And it could have been worse when Grant was beaten to a long ball over the top by Henderson and, in an attempt to clear, Mee fired on to the underside of his own bar before the ball dropped, almost in slow motion, on to the line.
The outcome is a tough one to take but Burnley have to move on in preparation for Sheffield Wednesday’s arrival tonight.