Burnley pile on the pain for Sheffield United to reignite survival chances

Estimated read time 4 min read

“Painful” is the word Chris Wilder routinely chooses to describe this season but it turned positively agonising as Burnley inflicted more unsightly wounds on his Championship-bound Sheffield United side.

No metaphorical plaster is likely to be large enough to hide the psychological damage gleefully delivered as the visitors recovered from a shaky start to play with the newfound belief befitting a side that has lost one of its past seven Premier League games.

While the Blades remain rooted to the foot of the table, 10 points adrift of the safety line, 19th-placed Burnley are three points behind fourth-bottom Nottingham Forest, albeit having played a game more. After spending the entire campaign in the relegation zone, survival is tantalisingly within touching distance.

“I feel really happy,” said Vincent Kompany. “The main thing I care about is that we keep playing with no fear and focus on improving. Hopefully, we can keep momentum building and take things to the end.”

Wilder was characteristically forthright after his initially promising early tactical shift from 3-5-2 to 4-2‑3-1 ultimately flattered to deceive. “There’s a lack of leadership and quality,” he said. “We should have been two or three up but then, in a heartbeat, we’re two down.

“That comes from individual mistakes, unit mistakes and poor leadership. A whole lot of things aren’t right. This league is too powerful for us and you get exposed.”

Given these teams had kept three clean league sheets between them all season, goals seemed almost as likely as one of the rain showers that, in recent months, seem to have become an almost daily event in northern England.

The only surprise was that it took 38 minutes for a defence to fracture. Once Sheffield United’s rearguard did finally splintered, two goals arrived inside an awful three-minute spell for Ivo Grbic.

First, Jacob Bruun Larsen’s rather speculative, slightly scuffed volley was deflected past a wrongfooted Grbic and squirmed, almost apologetically, across the line. Poor Grbic soon looked utterly mortified after failing to save Lorenz Assignon’s less than clean shot after the right back cut inside unchallenged.

Oli McBurnie should have opened the scoring in the ninth minute but the striker placed his shot too close to the outstanding Arijanet Muric who made a fine, extremely close-range, save.

Lorenz Assignon wheels away after scoring Burnley’s second goal.View image in fullscreen

Muric subsequently did well to tip another McBurnie effort over the bar after Gustavo Hamer’s pass. By then though the midfield power balance had begun shifting Burnley’s way.

That department witnessed a collision of Sheffield United’s past and future with the Norway international Sander Berge, sold to Turf Moor for £12m last summer, up against their brightest young prospect, the 19-year-old Ollie Arblaster.

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If some of Arblaster’s touches demonstrated precisely why his progress is being tracked by a raft of leading clubs, Berge’s passes – each one dutifully booed by a once-adoring public – tended to be at the heart of Burnley’s best moves.

It made hurtful viewing for home fans, many of whom jeered their team off at the interval. As the second half began the number of remaining empty seats suggested some feared a repeat of Sheffield United’s 5-0 defeat at Turf Moor in December and remembered they had something better to do.

They missed a tremendous goal from Hamer after the Brazilian-born midfielder left Assignon on his backside as, shaping to shoot left-footed, he instead cut in and curled a right-foot shot past Muric.

Burnley’s goalkeeper made another important save to deny Ben Brereton Díaz before Lyle Foster restored their two-goal advantage. When Assignon atoned for his humiliation at Hamer’s feet by crossing adroitly, an unmarked Foster extended his right foot and exacerbated Grbic’s misery.

The latter’s afternoon deteriorated further when the Burnley substitute Jóhann Berg Gudmundsson scored with his first touch, the newcomer sending a curving left-foot shot imperiously into the back of the net seconds after stepping off the bench.

A resigned Wilder folded his arms. “We understand the magnitude of today’s result,” he said. “Pain is going through every part of this club.”

Source: theguardian.com

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