City overcame a decent Burnley side 3-0 at the Circle yesterday. The first half was goalless, though not of terrible quality. Burnley had entered the game in ropey form, with only one win in their last seven games; they did, however, boast a remarkable against City, winning nine of the last ten meetings (including all of the last five in Hull).
City’s form hasn’t exactly been stellar of late, typified by the horror shows at Leeds and Rotherham in recent weeks. That made for a cagey first half, with long range shots from Diamé and a header from Harry Maguire that Burnley keeper Tom Heaton tipped over the nearest City game. Meanwhile, the visitors didn’t test McGregor until almost half-time, the City keeper safely catching a rasper from Joey Barton and then holding on well to a low shot from ex-Tiger George Boyd.
If the first half was leftover turkey sandwiches, the second was profiteroles with cream washed down with Châteauneuf-du-Pape. City opened the scoring on 57 when a Maguire fed Clucas on the left, whose cross evaded everyone in claret but was thunderously volleyed in by Jake Livermore.
Five minutes later Burnley should have equalised when Andre Gray wildly swiped a loose ball wide, and he paid quickly for it. Diamé fed Hernández on the right, he cut in past a wrong-footed marker and directed a low shot past Heaton.
At 2-0 it felt over, and City got a third on 90 when substitute Robert Snodgrass engineered a yard of space on the left and cut the ball back to Clucas, who steered the ball high into the net. He ought to have made it 4-0 when being teed by Elmohamady, but his shot crept a foot wide.
Steve Bruce stuck with 4-4-2, replacing Maloney with Clucas and Akpom with Diamé. That made City a little more resilient throughout the XI, but the start wasn’t quite rip-roaring. Burnley had the better of the opening exchanges, but City toughed it out and made a good contest of it, in a way that was conspicuously absent at Elland Road and the New York stadium.
Plenty have spoken before of the need to “earn the right to play”, and City did that yesterday. Burnley are a handy side who’d come to play – and just imagine the atmosphere in the stadium if their bright opening had led to the game’s first goal.
Having done the ugly bit well in the first half, City had given themselves a foundation upon which to let their superior ability display itself. When that happened, the game was settled in a ten minute spell midway through the second half, and by the end Burnley were grimly hanging on.
City were particularly successful in midfield, where the pedigree of the in-form Jake Livermore contrasted almost cruelly with the inadequate scuffling of Joey Barton. David Meyler is David Meyler, meaning that Burnley’s only hope was out wide, where Elmohamady’s workrate appeared much improved and Odubajo contained adeptly, while Robertson’s well-known defensive frailties were not severely tested.
City didn’t much miss Dawson, for perhaps the first time during his latest absence. Maguire was terrific, Davies calmly contained Gray – in fact, from 1-11 City were vastly improved.
Season mended? That depends upon the extent of the repair job you considered to be necessary. The Circle, which has a good festive atmosphere, left happy and with confidence renewed. This wasn’t quite as good as the 3-0 demolition of Middlesbrough, but it’s up there. Burnley are no Middlesbrough, but then City have been in poor form. We didn’t really build upon the wins over Bolton and Reading, which were themselves patchy.
This was much more assured, and means we travel to Preston and then QPR in much better heart. We know City can do. It just needs to happen with greater consistency, and with the quality this side possesses, anything remains possible.