Burnley 1, Brighton 2: Chris Boden’s thoughts on an opening day defeat
It all started so well.
Clarets fans had given Sean Dyche a raucous welcome, as most of them made their first return to Turf Moor in almost 18 months, while the nods of acknowledgment to those who have sat near each other for years, and hugs and handshakes for more familiar faces, were a heart-warming sight.
Then James Tarkowski lit the blue touch paper with a firm header to give Burnley a second-minute lead from an Ashley Westwood corner.
Supporters may be underwhelmed, even downright disappointed with the lack of transfer activity from their club so far this window, but, back at their ‘Happy Place’, some of that pre-season pessimism dissipated.
For a good hour or so, Burnley gave cause for optimism - as Brighton boss Graham Potter said, Burnley did what they do better than Brighton.
The Clarets played with a real intensity and verve, pressing the life out of the visitors, who were either dispossessed or gave the ball away time and again.
Burnley worked promising situations down either flank, where Dwight McNeil and Charlie Taylor, and Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Matt Lowton combined well, with both full backs and wingers getting to the byeline time and again.
And the Clarets’ set pieces were a potent threat, as usual, aided by Seagulls keeper Robert Sanchez, who looked petrified every time the ball was whipped into the area - reminiscent of the hapless Roberto’s display for West Ham at Turf Moor a couple of seasons ago.
But while the team carried a familiar look in terms of personnel and how they operated, there were also familiar failings.
A failure to put opponents away when in the ascendancy proved costly on occasion last season, and came back to haunt Burnley against a Brighton side who scarcely posed a threat.
They were unfortunate in that twice they struck the woodwork when 1-0 up in the first half, but other openings and opportunities went begging.
And, in stark reminders of games late last term, as Burnley looked to rubber stamp their survival, seeing leads turn to defeats against Southampton and Newcastle United, the Clarets were caught out twice on the break, and ruthlessly punished by Brighton.
It may be harsh, but this was a 12th competitive game at Turf Moor without a win, and such a statistic, even with mitigating factors, such as the quality of opposition at times, and the absence of Burnley’s 12th man, that has to be something of a concern.
On this occasion, a point would have been a travesty, but defeat was a bitter pill to swallow, especially against a side that will surely be in and around Burnley again this season.
While Potter struck gold with his changes - two of his three substitutions were involved in goals with their first touches - Burnley’s lack of depth was glaringly obvious.
Ashley Barnes was brought on with 20 minutes remaining, at 1-0, to give the Clarets renewed vigour in their pressing from the front, with Jay Rodriguez making way.
However, within eight minutes, Brighton had turned the game around, with Burnley caught out of shape.
Neal Maupay - a peripheral figure - equalising from a teasing low ball across goal from sub Jakub Moder, before Pascal Gross centred from a similar position for Alexis MacAllister to run off the back of Westwood and drill home.
Potter had earlier brought on Adam Lallana for his 23m Euro summer signing Enock Mwepu, to help give Brighton more options on the ball, but Burnley’s paucity of options saw them forced into bringing on a central midfielder in Josh Brownhill for McNeil, and then Matej Vydra for Jack Cork.
Vydra at least looked a threat, and should come firmly into the thinking for a start, to renew his promising partnership established with Wood late last season, once he gets fully up to speed again after Euro 2020.
But Dyche is currently having to make do and mend with his substitutions, which is underlined indelibly when chasing a game, and there is much on the line in the remaining days of the transfer window.
A failure to bolster the squad will ensure another arduous scrap for survival, one which may be insurmountable this time, even given Dyche’s ability to turn water into wine.
It really is that important.
It is all well and good improving how Turf Moor looks, and enhancing the experience, but the club cannot afford to squander their Premier League status, not when a couple of long-overdue signings would give Dyche and his players a massive shot in the arm, and lift that loyal fan base no end.
There is much to do on the pitch to keep the Clarets afloat in the top flight, and off the pitch, where Burnley still have to get Dyche to sign on the dotted line, despite promising signs he will, while a number of players - Mee, Tarkowski, Cork, Rodriguez, Bardsley, Vydra and Pieters - are out of contract next summer.
Much could hinge on getting the main man to re-commit.
So for now, all eyes are on the main priority - adding to the squad - and any success on that front would go a long way to easing any fears.