Burnley extended their impressive record away from home this season as Sam Vokes’ late header proved enough to secure all three points against Southampton at St Mary’s on Saturday afternoon.
The Clarets seemed happy to give their opponents the lion’s share of the possession from the opening whistle but Mauricio Pellegrino’s side found it hard to break down a rigid Burnley defence.
Even when they did manage to get a shot on goal they found Nick Pope in inspired form between the sticks, pushing away two first-half efforts from Sofiane Boufal and Nathan Redmond before superbly denying Maya Yoshida, but on the whole it was an encounter devoid of any true quality.
It seemed like the match was destined for a draw but substitute Vokes popped up inside the box and nodded home with nine minutes left to send his side up to the dizzy heights of sixth in the table.
Southampton feeling deja vu as toothless attack flops again
Southampton fans will feel like they’re experiencing their own version of Groundhog Day as they failed to find the back of the net at St Mary’s for the ninth time in their past 11 home league games.
It was another case of same old, same old for Pellegrino’s men, who accumulated 63% possession across 90 minutes but just ran out of ideas in the final third when faced with an organised opposition.
Neither Manolo Gabbiadini, Shane Long or Charlie Austin had a clear sight of goal all match and when Boufal and Redmond found space they couldn’t beat Pope, but they never really subjected Burnley to a prolonged period of pressure and instead put in a very slow, lethargic team display.
But whilst Southampton’s worries in front of goal are no closer to a solution just yet, the visitor’s approach to Saturday’s match has to be praised as they ground out a third away win of the season.
Dyche instructed his side to sit deep inside their own half, allowing Southampton’s centre-back pairing of Virgil van Dijk and Maya Yoshida to have an awful lot of time on the ball, but they quickly shut off any possible pass into the Burnley half of the pitch and just kept things generally tight and compact.
It proved successful during the 1-0 win away at Everton and this measured approach came out on top once again at St Mary’s, and Burnley are quickly turning out to be the top-flight’s big surprise package.
Tale of two managerial decisions
Whilst the action on the pitch at St Mary’s was largely uneventful from the opening whistle, the outcome of the match can be attributed to two managerial decisions from Dyche and Pellegrino.
With Southampton in the ascendency and controlling the game – despite not posing much in the way of a real threat – the Saints manager took the peculiar decision to haul Manolo Gabbiadini off.
The Italian may not have been enjoying his best afternoon in a Southampton shirt but he’s a forward capable of popping up or producing a moment of brilliance, as he did with his double against Newcastle a few weeks back, and taking him off immediately lessened their threat around the area.
By contrast, his managerial counterpart Dyche sensed that his side could get something out of the match and opted to introduce the eventual match-winner Vokes and fellow forward Ashley Barnes.
All of a sudden the visitors began to press higher up the pitch and commit more men forward, upping the tempo of their play, and Dyche ultimately reaped the rewards for a shrewd and bold managerial decision.
Nick Pope continues to impress in Tom Heaton’s absence
One player who has been making a serious impression this season for high-flying Burnley has been goalkeeper Nick Pope, who once again produced a string of excellent saves to secure his clean sheet.
The 25-year-old was almost unheard of at the start of the season but since the unfortunate injury picked up by Tom Heaton two months ago he’s certainly gone about taking his opportunity in Burnley’s first-team, keeping four clean sheets and starring in the Clarets’ unlikely venture into the Premier League’s top-six .
Whilst he wasn’t particularly subjected to a siege on Saturday he still stood tall when needed, making one exceptional stop from Yoshida to keep the scores level shortly after the break.
He’s become a critical part of this impressive Burnley side and it begins to beg the question of whether Heaton will walk back into the side or not – because Pope has certainly made a statement of his quality.
If he doesn’t manage to retain his spot when Heaton returns then it wouldn’t have been a decision made lightly by Dyche, and that’d just be testament to the impact he’s had at Turf Moor this season.