CLARKE Carlisle, the Burnley defender, will make an appearance on popular British television show Countdown later this week, but it was Aston Villa who played the numbers game yesterday as they scored five to boost their Champions League aspirations.
While Manchester City and Liverpool played out a drab goalless draw at Eastlands, Martin O’Neill’s side were well below their best but still struck four goals in a ruthless 12-minute spell in the second-half for only their second win in eight games.
The result moves Villa level on points with Liverpool and one point off City, right in the thick of the race for the fourth and final slot in Europe’s premier competition next season. It also marks the start of an exciting week for the club, with a trip to Wembley next Sunday for the Carling Cup final against Manchester United on the horizon.
Burnley remain second-bottom in the Premier League with only a club that could be out of existence in a week’s time, Portsmouth, below them. After a promising start to life in the top flight, they appear to be on their way back down at the first attempt and there looks to be no way of arresting the slide.
The worst travellers in English football, Brian Laws’ side have picked up just one point from 14 away games this season and after taking an early lead through Steven Fletcher, it was the complete capitulation from the Burnley players rather than any discernible change in Villa’s approach that turned the game.
Ashley Young equalised before half-time before the visitors surrendered four goals in 12 second-half minutes. Stewart Downing scored two in quick succession before Emile Heskey made it effectively game over. Gabriel Agbonlahor bundled home a fifth to complete a full house of English goalscorers for O’Neill’s side before Martin Paterson’s late consolation.
O’Neill was grateful for Burnley’s generosity after coming into this game with just one win – and only three goals – from their previous seven matches. Indeed, the final score will probably deflect attention away from a generally soporific performance, although Young’s pace was a constant threat.
“I really don’t know if the end of the week was on their minds,” O’Neill reflected. “We started off slowly but we had a great spell in the second-half and that was more than enough. The goals and the movement were absolutely terrific.”
Laws, on the other hand, was left to lament a mental fragility that he thinks has been present in the Burnley side since long before he took over from Owen Coyle as the club’s manager last month.
“We had a crazy 12-minute spell and it cost us the game,” he said. “We were blown out of the water after they scored their second because we were so open. It’s been the mentality all season and I thought I had changed it, but obviously not. You could see the players lost their fight but it’s been like that all season.
“Goal difference is just as important as a point and I would hate it if switching off here sends us down at the end of the season.”
Burnley took the lead in the 10th minute when Jack Cork, on loan from Chelsea, kept his head in the midfield maelstrom to find David Nugent, whose delivery across the face of the goal was tapped in by Fletcher.
The home crowd grew frustrated as they watched their side struggle to break down Burnley’s five-man midfield, but they got back into the game through Young.
Always the instigator, the England hopeful played a short corner with James Milner on 31 minutes, and his vicious cross-come-shot somehow seemed to evade a forest of legs before skimming off the boot of the unfortunate Danny Fox and past Burnley goalkeeper Brian Jensen.
Eleven minutes after the re-start, Downing opened the floodgates with a driven strike from inside the area after more good work from Young. Moments later he added his second, again the hosts scoring with the aid of a deflection off Fox after Downing’s shot from the edge of the box.
Heskey turned in Agbonlahor’s cross from the left before Villa’s top scorer got on the scoresheet himself, bundling over his 14th of the season after good work from Milner.
Paterson grabbed a late goal back for the visitors but it does not take a genius like Carlisle to work out that Burnley are in deep trouble.
MATCH RATING: *** – It was a strange old game and did little to justify seven goals. Villa were electrifying when the goals were flying in but offered little either side of that 12-minute spell, while Burnley’s gameplan was clearly to avoid defeat.
Referee: Stuart Atwell (Warwickshire) 6 – A competent display although in truth he had no major decisions to make in a low-key encounter.
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