Sean Dyche's side capitalise on Marvin Zeegelaar sending off to keep pace with Arsenal and Spurs
Burnley show staying power as they take advantage of Watford indiscipline
The battle to be the best of the rest was decided by a piece of unnecessary aggression. Burnley and Watford were the 16th and 17th- place finishers who contested a clash of two overachievers. It was decided by Scott Arfield but also determined by the dismissed Marvin Zeegelaar. It left Burnley savouring the sight of a league table that, ludicrous as it appears, shows them level on points in December with Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur and only one behind fourth-placed Liverpool.
“From a fan point of view, it is fantastic for them to look at it,” said manager Sean Dyche. With every win, they seem less a flash in the pan than a side with staying power. They lack the talent, budget or profile of the top six, but get on with their own game in uncomplaining, unflashy fashion. “We work really hard for everything we have got,” Dyche added.
Their fifth win in seven games came courtesy of their own industry and organisation, but also of Zeegelaar’s indiscipline. The left-back had made a positive impression on his first four appearances for Watford. His fifth was curtailed before half time. The Dutchman leapt in two-footed on Steven Defour. “A definite sending off,” said Dyche. His Watford counterpart disagreed. “Harsh, harsh, harsh,” said Marco Silva, aggrieved that referee Lee Probert had refused to discuss the decision with him as they left the pitch at half time.
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Probert had been quick to reach for the red card. Burnley were similarly rapid in applying a different form of punishment. Johann Berg Gudmundsson picked out Arfield, whose deft turn took him past Daryl Janmaat and whose precise shot brought his second goal of the season. Each, in his own way, compensated for the loss of Robbie Brady, who suffered a serious knee injury at Leicester City. The scorer Arfield was the Irishman’s direct replacement. The supplier Gudmundsson took on his duties as set-piece specialist. “Their keeper has made three top-class saves, two from Johann,” Dyche added.
An ability to unearth overlooked gems accounts for Burnley’s rise. The Icelander was bought from a Charlton Athletic side who were relegated to League One. Arfield, as Dyche likes to mention, was signed on a free transfer from Huddersfield Town. Similarly, pound for pound, Dyche has delivered value for money. It was a day for his understudies: Nick Pope kept another clean sheet in goal, Kevin Long, standing in for the injured Ben Mee, proved a reliable presence at the heart of statistically the third-best defence in the division.
Watford’s best chance, which Silva rued, fell early to Richarlison and was lifted over the bar. When they were reduced to 10 men, Burnley had two goals disallowed for offside. The second was especially contentious. Ashley Barnes slotted home after Arfield’s pass bounced off two Watford defenders before finding him. “A confusing moment,” said Dyche. “Pick the bones out of that one.”
Pick the bones, too, out of Watford’s 2012 decision to sack him after a fine year in charge. Both club and manager have progressed since then, but Dyche has advanced further. The league table is proof.