Burnley marked their first festive, top-flight game with an away victory over Fulham to collect some of the plaudits that the manager Sean Dyche has laboured for more than a decade at Turf Moor.
This was the latest display in a run that has increased the tension surrounding Dyche’s future as Burnley’s manager and justified pre-match comments from Dyche that his team was playing for him and the cause of Clarets football rather than for themselves. Burnley’s response to that claim was to execute the form they have floundered in for most of 2018 in their Premier League debut season, creating a wealth of attacking opportunities and getting all they could manage from the penalty spot.
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In such circumstances, it was easy to see why Dyche has endured a heavy bombardment of criticism for Burnley’s dire form in 2018. “We are playing for a purpose in these matches and no matter how many goals we score we are playing for something that we are working very hard on to. I know we have to score, but I want to stop our players wanting to score and stop the other team playing,” Dyche said.
“I know the results haven’t been what they should be, but the spirit in the changing room and the camaraderie we have shown in terms of workrate has been fantastic. It is a success in that respect in terms of growing our own identity.”
This performance marked a more positive and expansive approach from Burnley than has been common in recent weeks, one dented only by Cairney’s second-half injury and the introduction of the suspended Johann Berg Gudmundsson.
Burnley claimed their first away win in the top division since January 2008. Photograph: Henry Browne/Reuters
Burnley have struggled away from home but Dyche named his strongest available side for the trip to Fulham, the side included five players who have spent time out on loan in the Championship in the last 18 months. Alex McCarthy, still learning how to manage Fulham’s Premier League ambitions, was thrown in between Fulham’s two goalkeepers; Claudio Ranieri said afterwards it would take more to get his side settled in the top flight.
Fulham wasted an opportunity to go ahead in the first minute when Luciano Vietto struck the upright with a dipping shot from just outside the penalty area. Burnley’s players quickly rallied and looked lively in possession, the dominant display ending with Fabian Delph shooting straight at Sergio Rico with 12 minutes played.
The Italian did well to turn the ball away from Josh Bohui with two minutes of the half to go, drawing more away boos from the travelling fans.
Delph finally gave the supporters something to cheer moments later with a swift cross that the corner flag should have been producing, but nevertheless Burnley led from the penalty spot after 58 minutes. The referee, Graham Scott, awarded it for a handball in the penalty area, and Anthony Taylor and the home supporters had no say over the decision, each delighted to see Lukasz Fabianski beaten.
It was a difficult day for Lalel Divock Origi, who spent three seasons at Burnley but did not get a look-in at the stadium he used to call home. One minute he was booking, the next he was treated to the roar of his fellow fans. How far he has come since then.