TALKING POINTS: Fulham 0, Burnley 2

Burnley rubber-stamped a sixth-successive season in the Premier League on Monday night, relegating Fulham in the process.

Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 10:04 am
Updated Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 10:06 am

The Clarets were in control after two first half goals for Ashley Westwood and Chris Wood - his 50th for the club - and the Cottagers should have played the game out with 10 men after Alphonse Areola's professional foul on Matej Vydra, only for the incident to bizarrely go unpunished.

Here are the talking points:

SAFE

I was always confident Burnley would have enough to survive, and certainly things looked almost done and dusted after the win at Everton.

But to mathematically confirm a sixth-successive Premier League season with three games to spare is satisfying.

I asked Sean Dyche after the transfer window had closed in September, with the outgoing board having failed to remotely back him sufficiently - around a million pounds spent on a midfielder who has played 258 minutes in the Premier League, and a third-choice goalkeeper - whether staying up would be one of his biggest achievements.

He agreed, and reiterated that after victory at Fulham, saying it has been his “most challenging season in management”.

I wasn’t being glib when I asked the question, I just felt, bearing in mind a small squad was smaller still, the starting XI hadn’t been bolstered, there were significant injury concerns, the future of James Tarkowski was up in the air, the season was condensed due to the pandemic, and other clubs had strengthened, that he was bang up against it.

Dyche’s reputation would have stayed intact either way - if Burnley had been relegated, it was almost to be expected.

And if they weren’t, he would have been turning water into wine again.

He has overcome all those challenges to again set new milestones along the way - first wins at Arsenal and Anfield since the 1970s - while evolving the aesthetic of the team, particularly of late, when they have been more productive in front of goal and shown an impressive mix of play.

Dyche and new chairman Alan Pace seem to be on the same page as regards the way forward, and hopefully Burnley’s best manager since Harry Potts - Burnley’s best manager ever arguably - will be convinced to extend his contract, and be given the support he deserves at long last.

50 UP

One of Sean Dyche’s biggest successes has been the record signing of striker Chris Wood, whose £15m price tag of 2017 looks ridiculously cheap now, after hitting double figures in four-successive seasons.

Wood claimed his 50th goal for the club in the 2-0 win at Craven Cottage, the nature of it underlining the confidence coursing through his veins at present.

Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville said: “It’s almost like a player you’ve been watching for a few years and then all of a sudden you wake up to the fact that he’s better than I thought he was.”

And it’s not just been his goals and assists, Wood has all the physical attributes - if you were to tell people about this 6ft 4ins Kiwi, people would assume you were talking about an All Black, not an All White.

Wood is finally consistently punching his weight, using that frame with real aggression.

As Neville added, he may not have scored at Old Trafford recently, but he gave Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof as big a test as they have had for some time.

Wood was linked with a move to Lazio last summer, and it would be no surprise if there were more admirers this time around, so, as with Dyche, keeping hold of a player with two years still on his contract is similarly imperative.

VYDRA’S RUNNING

Much has been made of the extra dimension Matej Vydra’s running in behind defences has given Burnley.

But it is more than just that.

This time last season, you could see the penny begin to drop for him, as he began to secure possession or territory high up the pitch, getting his body in front of defenders, winning throw ins and free kicks from lost causes.

Monday night was the biggest example yet of this improvement. In the first half alone, twice he was a superb outball as Burnley moved out of defence, to ease the pressure, winning throw ins in the Fulham half from which to instigate attacks.

And then one superb run was picked out by a raking 70-yard pass from Matt Lowton, and the Czech forward easily beat Joachim Andersen and picked out Ashley Westwood to slot in the opener.

Vydra has been a pest, in the Ian Moore and Martin Paterson mode, but, with respect to those two, greater quality, and, allied to his greater understanding of what Dyche wants of him, he is a better player for it, and he is nailing down a starting berth alongside Wood as one of the major positives of the season.

LEGEND

While it was Sean Dyche's 350th league game in charge, it was skipper Ben Mee's 350th appearance for the club, and it's fair to say the former Manchester City youngster will go down as a Clarets legend.

It was no surprise Scott Parker sought him out to shake his hand after the game, after another typical Mee display where he headed everything away, and led by example.

Mee has now made more league appearances than former skipper Steve Davis - Mark Two - who won four promotions with the club as player and coach - and is 14 behind Michael Duff, who also won three promotions as a Claret.

Bearing in mind Mee has made more top-flight appearances than that pair, you can see the bracket he has played himself into.

Chris Wood's form will see him win a number of votes for the club's player of the year, but for his levels of consistency, yet again, Mee takes some beating.

AWAY FORM

Burnley look like finishing the season with more away wins than home victories for the first time in the Premier League era.

But while it has been a topsy-turvy season in terms of clubs' home form, with more away wins than expected, and Liverpool's Anfield fortress crumbling, it's not necessarily an anomaly for the Clarets.

After claiming only one away win in their first season back in 2016/17, at the penultimate attempt at Crystal Palace, the following season, in qualifying for Europe, they won as many games on the road as at Turf Moor - seven - and actually took two more points.

The balance was more like you would expect in a tough season the following year, but last season, it was eight home wins to seven away wins.

Dyche was asked before the Fulham game whether it was that Burnley prefered sides coming on to them away from home, but if you look back to the majority of the wins on the road this season - Everton, Crystal Palace, Wolves and Fulham - have been about the Clarets playing front foot football, taking a commanding lead and seeing it through.

That says more about the growth of these players at this level, and while the home form leaves room for improvement, when the Burnley fans are back in Turf Moor, hopefully making it a horrible, uncomfortable place to visit, maybe that will return to more expected levels.

VARCE

Week on week we talk about VAR, and I imagine a poll of fans would see the majority vote to get rid.

Dyche remains a fan, but Monday night's incident beggared belief.

Fulham keeper Alphonse Areola raced more than 20 yards outside his area, and moved his arm towards the ball to prevent Matej Vydra heading it past him and going clear on goal.

Covering midfielder Mario Lemina fell to the floor in his desperation to get back, but VAR decided they could not get involved as it was not a red card incident, as they felt Lemina was on the cover and could have got back.

Now, Lemina isn't getting back - he was virtually on his hands and knees.

Was it harsh on Areola, with Vydra heading it towards him from a short distance away? Not really, and in any case, the PSG keeper moves his arm towards the ball, and, actually, brings Vydra down as well.

It could only be a red card for Areola, but everyone watching could scarcely believe he got away with it.