Sunday 15 January 2017

Joey Barton Marks His Premier League Return With Winner As Clarets Continue Home Delight

Joey Barton

Joey Barton scored with practically his first touch since returning to Premier League football, his deflected 25-yard free-kick settling a drab contest with Southampton and maintaining Burnley’s remarkable record at Turf Moor.

All but one of Sean Dyche’s 26 points to date this season have come on home soil and Barton continued that excellent home return on 78 minutes after Oriol Romeu had brought down George Boyd.

Barton, who still faces FA charges relating to allegations over betting on over 1,000 football matches, had not played in the Premier League since May 2015 but ensured his status in recent Burnley folklore on his return.

Dyche had named the recently re-signed Barton among his substitutes - a popular move judging by the reception his name received before kick-off - although, for the first 45 minutes at least, the game was crying out for the sort of unpredictable and combustible entertainment often provided by the midfielder in the past.

“He said what do I do? He was confused by being sub,” laughed Dyche. “He said, ‘Do I take my boots out with me, wear a t-shirt or wear a warm-up top or what?’.

“I said, ‘Oi, you get on with it.’ There was another word in there but you can imagine the sort of rapport we have built at the moment."

Not until the half-hour mark had been passed did either keeper break sweat, the preceding action all too often having been stifled by two well-organised defences and Southampton’s pressing game which hurried Burnley out of their stride.

Finally, from a set-piece that was only half-cleared by the Southampton defence, Ben Mee was able to connect with an 18-yard shot which flew just wide of the home goal.

But, for all Burnley’s impressive home record to date, the half would end with Southampton firmly in the ascendancy as they sought to avoid a fourth consecutive league defeat.

The League Cup semi-finalists threatened first, on 35 minutes, when Pierre-Emile Hojberg dispossessed Jeff Hendrick, allowing Dusan Tadic a low shot that only just missed the target.

Tadic was again on the end of a Southampton attack, from Cedric Soares’ right-wing cross, and although his sharp volley may well have missed the far post, Mee hacked the ball clear just to be certain.

And, closest yet to an opening goal, Shane Long’s cross was met by the head of James Ward-Prowse, forcing the England goalkeeper Tom Heaton into an unorthodox one-handed save to keep it out of his goal.

Within seconds of the restart, Burnley were awarded a free-kick in a promising position although Steven Defour succeeded only in drilling it directly into the Southampton wall, which hardly offered encouragement that better was to come.

At least the next set-piece, awarded after a 55th minute Romeu foul on Ashley Barnes, offered the Belgian the chance to redeem himself and Defour’s 25-yard free-kick represented Burnley’s first shot on target, Fraser Forster covering to make a simple save.

What passed for the “action” returned to the other end with Hojberg having a goal bound shot deflected behind for a corner by another block from Mee.

But Burnley were beginning to wear a more committed look and good, tenacious work from Hendrick won them the ball and played in Defour whose low shot was well smothered by the Southampton goalkeeper.

The added urgency had also created slightly more space for the two teams to try and exploit and a Soares cross was met by Long whose header was strong but inaccurate, nestling into the side-netting.

And as the home side re-adjusted following a double substitution - including the introduction of Barton - there was anxiety in the home area when Virgil van Dijk played a Ward-Prowse free-kick across goal and Heaton scrambled to safety.

After Barton’s goal, the game finally burst into life and Heaton made impressive late saves from Ryan Bertrand and Josh Sims to guarantee three points.

“You can't make it up," Dyche added on Barton's fairy tale return. "I just said to him I couldn’t write your story. It was a sublime finish, of course, he'll be telling everyone that anyway but we probably earned a scratch of luck today.

“We'll see what he can add. He's just come on today and played at Sunderland in the cup.

“He's experienced of course, there's a manliness to the way he goes about his performance and there's an assuredness from many years of playing top-level football around many clubs.

“For all he gets a bit of stick, he's so used to that, he brushes it off and gets on with it and focuses on his football. I felt it was appropriate for him to come back in to us.

“I’ve had no question marks about him before and I didn't see why I would again. So far, he's slotted in nicely again.”

Claude Puel was understandably not happy with the result, and rued his side's misfortune by claiming Burnley had only luck to thank for their victory.

“If they are lucky like today they can continue to win,” said Southampton manager Puel.

“It is difficult to play here with long balls, second balls but I think we can give a good answer against them. It is important to score and to take a good result but in this game I think we deserved something positive.”



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