Brentford 1 Burnley 3
Burnley closed the gap on the Championship top three as a scintillating first-half display helped them to a 3-1 win against struggling Brentford at Griffin Park.
The outcome was never in doubt after a one-sided first 45 minutes which saw the Clarets boss the game in every area of the field. It took them just 11 minutes to break the deadlock when former Bees striker Andre Gray teed-up Scott Arfield to curl a stunning shot into the top corner from the edge of the box.
It was two on the half hour when Joey Barton’s exquisite dipping free-kick cleared the wall and goalkeeper David Button’s outstretched arm to find the net.
The first-half footballing lesson continued eight minutes later when a half-hearted headed clearance from Jack O’Connell was returned with interest on the volley by George Boyd to nestle in the bottom corner.
The only surprise was that Gray, who left Griffin Park for £9million in the summer, failed to find the net in the opening 45 minutes.
He was at the heart of everything positive in the first 15 minutes, firing narrowly wide and setting up Arfield for an early effort which flashed just wide.
Brentford fans, who had to wait until the 37th minute for Alan Judge’s first bobbling effort on goal, were booed off at the break.
The Bees’ cause was hampered before kick-off when James Tarkowski, a target for Burnley just days before the game, failed to appear on the teamsheet. A Brentford club statement said he had asked not to play against his potential future employers.
But that was no excuse for an abject performance, which should have seen Dean Smith’s side go in at the interval at least five or six down.
Gray squandered two gilt-edged chances just before half-time as Brentford struggled to get anywhere near the far more physical and creative Clarets midfield.
But it was a different story after the break as Brentford emerged the brighter as Burnley sat deep and tried to kill the game off.
Judge, also a Burnley target, flashed a shot wide of the upright to signal his side’s intent as the hosts pressed higher up the field.
But all too often the final ball lacked quality and when it did reach the danger area Brentford looked toothless in front of goal.
Alan Judge scores on his 250th league career app - 8 goals & 6 assists in his last 16 CH apps pic.twitter.com/AGLxkkkPyb— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) January 15, 2016
Half-time substitutes Sam Saunders and Lasse Vibe sharpened things up and it was no surprise when Judge cut in from the left to fire a low drive under Tom Heaton – a shot the goalkeeper should really have stopped.
Judge teed-up Saunders on the hour mark but the midfielder’s glancing header drifted wide of the far post as Brentford surged forward in waves.
Judge and Bees right-back Maxime Colin both found the side-netting with sharp drives, but it was always going to need something special to breach a resolute Burnley rearguard.
Defender O’Connell’s spectacular overhead kick promised much but bounced through a melee into the grateful hands of Heaton.
In the end it was a comfortable win for the Clarets, who closed the gap on leaders Middlesbrough to four points.