Burnley sink listless Southampton thanks to substitute Sam Vokes
Away team scorers Sam Vokes 81
If this was to be Sean Dyche’s last game as Burnley manager, he leaves them hovering just outside the Champions League places and presumably with the best wishes of everyone. This would be an appropriate way to depart too, a meat-and-potatoes 1-0 win against Southampton of the sort that most – fairly or not – would associate with Dyche’s style.
Substitute Sam Vokes got the only goal, another apt detail because he was on the pitch as part of an astute tactical switch by Dyche, an aspect of his make-up that doesn’t get enough attention. Everton have plenty of problems but a shrewd football mind who can steer them through the next few months will solve a couple of them.
This was otherwise not a game for the ages. The first-half displayed all the requisite huff and puff, but little to persuade anyone who’d brought alternative entertainment to glance up from their novel, iPad or – as one spectator took along to Arsenal’s Europa League game this week – Sudoku puzzle. Burnley were doing the stodgy, sensible thing and digging in for the away point, while Southampton tried to have a little more invention but were afflicted with whatever the football equivalent of writer’s block is.
The first save of note either keeper had to make was in the 34th minute, when Sofiane Boufal volleyed towards the near-post, but the in-form Nick Pope stooped to his right and blocked. A few minutes later Pope tried to bring some entertainment by nearly dribbling straight into Manolo Gabbiadini, but basic competence quickly returned and he sensibly cleared.
It wasn’t that the game was offensively bad or completely devoid of quality – there were a couple of zippy passing interchanges from both sides, and Boufal danced out of trouble with a roulette at one point – but it was a distance from being good. At half-time there was virtually no reaction, positive or negative, from the crowd: it was as if 30,000 people were just glad to get out of the house. The game existed, but little more could be said either way.
After the break things perked up a little. Southampton attacked and Burnley defended stoutly, no more so than Pope who, after flapping a little at a corner, brilliantly saved as Maya Yoshida spun on the second ball to send a half-volley towards the top corner.
Southampton continued to dominate and, with Burnley in danger of being completely pegged back, Dyche brought on Ashley Barnes and Vokes, switching formation to his trusty old 4-4-2: the change had the desired impact, as Burnley emerged from their defensive bunker to threaten the Southampton goal.
The Southampton manager, Mauricio Pellegrino, responded by making his own attacking changes, introducing forwards Charlie Austin and Shane Long, the latter coming on for Dusan Tadic, whose departure was greeted with some glee by the home support. Not that their delight lasted too long, however, as Burnley took the lead with only nine minutes remaining.
The impressive Johann Berg Gudmundsson collected the ball with chalk on his boots near the right touchline, boomed over an inswinging left-footed cross to Vokes. The high point of the Welshman’s career so far is probably his header against Belgium at Euro 2016, and this goal wasn’t a million miles away from that: with his body angled away from goal he rose, twisted himself and directed the ball past the grasping Fraser Forster. Dyche reacted by calmly reaching for a bottle of water. At the final whistle he strode onto the pitch, applauded the travelling support for perhaps a touch longer than usual. Read into that what you will.