When Sean Dyche led Burnley into Europe in 2018, a pub opposite Turf Moor vowed to honour the club’s manager. ‘The Princess Royal’ became ‘The Royal Dyche’.
The pub was typically busy ahead of Burnley’s crunch clash with Southampton on Thursday. A sign outside read: “Joke of the season: Burnley sack Sean Dyche. P.S. We are not changing our name.”
There was no such dissent inside the ground. Dyche’s dismissal last week certainly came as a shock. He had worked wonders by continually keeping Burnley in the Premier League on one of the lowest budgets in the division. This season has been tough, but most Clarets felt Dyche was still the best man to get them out of trouble.
That was a debate to be had in the pubs and the stadium concourses before the match got under way. As soon as the referee’s whistle sounded for the first time, the Burnley fans were fully focused on getting behind their team. Their support was rewarded with one of Burnley’s best performances of the campaign.
Southampton made the brighter start. An underhit backpass from Charlie Taylor put Burnley in danger, before Oriol Romeu sent a free header wide from a corner. The Spaniard should have done better. That was an early let-off for Burnley.
The hosts soon took control. Jack Cork and Josh Brownhill began to dominate the midfield. Maxwel Cornet and Dwight McNeil, positioned high and wide, looked lively whenever they got the ball. In the 12th minute, Connor Roberts cut inside onto his left foot and bent a shot into the far corner, sending Turf Moor into raptures.
Burnley should have doubled their lead soon after. Some neat combination play between Cornet and McNeil produced an opening for Wout Weghorst, whose low shot was smothered by Fraser Forster. The Southampton goalkeeper then produced an excellent save to keep out Jay Rodriguez’s fierce strike.
Forster was soon on hand to thwart Rodriguez again, this time from a header, before Weghorst nodded the ball onto the post from close range.
At this point it was one-way traffic, with the caretaker manager Mike Jackson applauding his team’s efforts on the touchline. Yet he must have feared that Burnley could be made to pay for their profligacy.
Southampton were lacklustre, though. Romeu wasted another golden headed chance from a typically pinpoint James Ward-Prowse delivery, but Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side struggled to create chances from open play. In the end it was Southampton’s wastefulness that was punished, as Nathan Collins showed Romeu how it is done by directing a header past Forster.
A two-goal cushion gave Burnley breathing space in the second half. Romain Perraud and Stuart Armstrong got into some decent positions down the left for Southampton, but the final ball from both players left a lot to be desired. The Saints struggled to supply Armando Broja, who showed some nice touches but was a peripheral figure for much of the contest.
Burnley’s work ethic would not have surprised anyone who watched them under Dyche. Rodriguez and Weghost led the effort from the front, but everyone did their bit. They had the ball in the net for a third time shortly after the hour mark, but Jack Cork was adjudged to have been offside by VAR.
That was not enough to dampen Burnley’s mood. Nick Pope showed sharp reflexes to push a Che Adams volley over the bar, but the Clarets held their opponents at arm’s length for the most part. Ward-Prowse had a free-kick tipped over and a last-ditch block from Charlie Taylor denied Adams, but Southampton simply did not do enough to get back into the game.
This 2-0 win means Burnley have now taken four points from a possible six since Dyche was dismissed. They may well have got the same tally under their former manager. They might even have bettered it. But whether or not the sacking was the right decision, one thing is for sure: Burnley will not go down without a fight. More than anyone else, Dyche has made sure of that.