Meetings with Burnley have become something of an anathema to City fans over the past decade or so. Two wins in the past 13 (now 14) fixtures against the Clarets adds some weight to this, and alongside the seemingly endless injury list faced by Marco Silva, it would have been easy to harbour negative thoughts on Saturday afternoon.
The other side to this is, of course, Silva’s excellent record since he took over from Mike Phelan early last month. Indeed, going into this fixture he could boast of a 100% record at the KCOM. When Burnley’s bizarrely dreadful away record is also taken into account, it was little wonder that City were favourites to take all three points on Saturday.
As it happened, the limited options available to Marco Silva told as the Tigers had to settle for a point in a scrappy affair that would have pleased few neutrals. Tom Huddlestone’s spot-kick had supporters dreaming of yet another home victory in 2017, but it wasn’t to be as Michael Keane slammed in an equaliser soon after he had conceded the penalty that led to City’s opening goal.
Elmohamady and Maloney – the latter making only his second league start of the season – came in for the unavailable Markovic and Clucas, while Mbokani was preferred up front to Niasse. Ex-Tigers George Boyd and Robbie Brady started for Burnley, both receiving warm applause from City fans prior to kick-off. Joey Barton was roundly jeered.
The game started slowly as both teams struggled to inject any fluidity or pace into their play. Mbokani and Boyd both had half-chances for their respective sides in the opening 20 minutes, but there was little sign of a goal in the early stages. City’s best chance of the half came on 23 minutes as Tom Heaton found himself in no-mans-land following a through ball to Mbokani – Kamil Grosicki was only able to place his lob over the crossbar from outside the box, however.
Soon after it was Burnley’s turn to scupper a chance to take the lead. Boyd threaded the ball through to Brady, but the Irishman lashed his shot well off target from inside the area, much to City’s relief. Later in the half Jakupovic was called on to make his first real save of the afternoon, tipping Ben Mee’s header onto the crossbar. The last action of the opening 45 minutes was Grosicki taking aim from a set-piece, the Polish winger sending his effort marginally over the crossbar from around 20 yards out. Half-time: 0-0.
There was a controversial moment early in the second half when referee Martin Atkinson booked Huddlestone for his reaction to a Boyd foul on Maguire, which Boyd received no punishment for. Replays showed the ex-City man went in high on Maguire – similar challenges have resulted in red cards on several occasions this season.
As for the football, it was Burnley who were beginning to apply pressure to the home defence. On 56 minutes, Ashley Barnes shot narrowly wide from just outside the penalty area, while moments later Gray was put through on goal by Westwood, but his effort also missed the target to Jakupovic’s right-hand-side.
Finally there was some urgency about the game, and on the hour mark City had a golden chance to snatch a goal. Mbokani did well to tee up Grosicki on the left, and though many expected to see the ball fly into the net when it left Grosicki’s boot, his effort curled agonisingly wide.
Meyler and Niasse came on with around 25 minutes remaining. A series of City corners put pressure on the Clarets, and this paid off when City were awarded a penalty on 70 minutes following a Michael Keane handball. The referee did well to spot the incident, subsequently giving Barnes a yellow card for his protests. Tom Huddlestone dispatched the penalty, much to the anger of Heaton, who had gotten a hand to the ball but failed to keep it out. 1-0 City.
Just as City looked to be continuing Burnley’s miserable away form, the Clarets sprang into action and forced an equaliser on 76 minutes. Brady’s corner found its way to the far post, and Keane kept his composure, atoning for his error only a few minutes earlier by putting his shot into the top corner. 1-1.
Abel Hernandez came on in Silva’s last throw of the dice, and soon made an impact, heading wide from Robertson’s cross from the left. City were clearly wary of conceding a goal on the counter-attack, producing a frantic but largely uneventful end to the match. Barnes’ late foul on Ranocchia earned him a second yellow, and after Hernandez blasted a hopeful effort over the bar, the full-time whistle sounded and City had to be content with a point.
Harry Drew (@)