Ashley Barnes, right, fires home Burnley’s late winner against Stoke City to sent the Clarets into the top four. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters Jamie Jackson at Turf Moor
Ashley Barnes grabbed a late winner to send Burnley soaring into fourth place, the team’s highest position in the top flight for 42 years, when they were second in the old First Division in March 1975.
Burnley, on 31 points, are now behind only Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City and above Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, for 24 hour at least.
The manager, Sean Dyche, though, was keeping his feet firmly on the ground before Saturday’s game at Brighton & Hove Albion and chose to joke about the team’s position. “It’s just slightly less than 43 years,” he said. “I’m proud of it. The proudest man in Proudsville. I’m proud of all of it. It’s about the next game. Football is about realities but also about dreams. It’s a tough task for us winning games at this level but Leicester blew the roof off dreams in football [by becoming champions in 2016] – there’s no bold statement from me on that. We’re having a real go at what we can achieve this season.”
The defeat for Stoke, who remain in 15th place, piles more pressure on Mark Hughes, who was booed by his owns fans near the end after taking off Xherdan Shaqiri for Eric Choupo-Mouting.
The manager acknowledged the unrest. “There’s a little bit of dissent, we understand it,” he said. “It’s been there a number of months, you only keep it down if you win football matches. That’s the only way to keep the noise down. The message to the players is: ‘Give me that every time we play and we’ll be fine.’”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s home match against West Ham, the manager added: “We have to stick our chests out and get some points. I’m looking forward to the weekend already because I think you’ll see more of the same.”
For this game Dyche picked an unchanged side from the 1-0 win over Watford. Hughes, though, reacted to the 5-1 defeat by Tottenham by making three changes, with Ramadan Sobhi, Peter Crouch and Geoff Cameron coming in for Thomas Edwards, Kevin Wimmer, and Choupo-Mouting.
Inside three minutes Crouch might have given Stoke the lead. Sobhi drifted in from the left and crossed, James Tarkowski flapped, and Nick Pope had to beat the danger away via his left-hand post with Crouch ready to pounce.
This was sloppy from the Clarets, who were soon caught out again. Shaqiri swung in a corner from the left and as Burnley ball-watched Kurt Zouma had time to volley but his effort was straight at Pope, who gathered the ball.
Gradually, Dyche’s men settled and started to enjoy more possession and just before the half hour won their first corner. Johann Berg Gudmundsson took it from the left, but Stoke’s Joe Allen intervened before the ball could reach Steven Defour.
It was drab fare and would not have impressed the England manager Gareth Southgate, perhaps present to run the rule over Stoke’s goalkeeper Jack Butland and Jack Cork of Burnley.
After Stoke camped near Pope’s goal for a period, it was Burnley’s turn to attack and win a rare free-kick. Gudmundsson took it and picked out Tarkowski, whose header yielded a corner. Again, though, there was disappointment as Gudmundsson’s delivery went awry.
Now came the move of the half. Defour turned Stoke’s defence with an inside pass for the onrushing left-back Stephen Ward but though his cross was in the right area, Chris Wood failed to connect.
The second half began in near freezing temperatures and with Burnley probing Stoke’s left flank. But too often the ball was hoofed skywards in hope, with little craft involved.
There had also been far too many errors. A spritely Burnley attack foundered when Scott Arfield ceded the ball too easily, drawing disappointed “oohs” from the home crowd. Kevin Long then slipped to allow Stoke’s Darren Fletcher a run down the left but the defender recovered to snuff out the danger.
Zouma tweaked a hamstring and had to be replaced by Wimmer – “he’ll miss games,” Hughes said – then Dyche brought on Barnes for Jeff Hendrick. It proved to be a masterstroke and with time running out, Barnes took a return pass from Arfield and fired the winner past Butland.