It was one of those nights when everything went right for West Bromwich Albion, so much so that the home supporters were singing Tony Pulis’ name as the Midlands club recorded an emphatic victory that reinforced the idea that Burnley do not take too kindly to being on the road.
On the basis of what we have seen so far this season, Burnley will be relying on their form at Turf Moor to extend their stay in the Premier League. This was a fourth defeat in five away games for Sean Dyche’s team, leaving them with a solitary point and a single goal from their travels, and it was alarming to see the way in which they were so brutally exposed defensively.
Albion, in fairness, were excellent and on another evening they could have scored even more than four. James Morrison left the field to a standing ovation after an outstanding performance, Salomón Rondón led the line superbly and Matt Phillips showed some lovely touches. All three of those players were on the scoresheet, along with Darren Fletcher, as Albion ran riot.
On the back of their victory at the Premier League champions prior to the international break, which ended Leicester’s 14-month unbeaten home record, Albion are now up to ninth in the table and it is a measure of how much the mood has changed that long before half-time Pulis was responding to requests from the fans in the Smethwick End to “give us a wave”.
Three goals in the first 37 minutes certainly helped and effectively killed the game on a night when Dyche described his players as “weak-willed” and lamented the way in which his team “got drunk on keeping the ball”.
It was the first time this season that Burnley have had more than 50% of possession in a match – Albion came into the game with the same record so something had to give – and Dyche’s players could be forgiven for thinking that they are better off without the ball after this chastening experience.
There were less than four minutes on the clock when the rout started and Burnley never recovered. “A real head scratcher for us,” Dyche said. “I was really surprised with the first half, we were miles off what we do, we got drunk on keeping the ball, tried to overplay with no tempo. They were miles stronger than us in all departments in the first half. They had a mini-break for the first goal, but beyond that we just looked weak-willed and happy to pass it around without ever affecting them.”
For Pulis, it was a hugely satisfactory evening and he looked almost a little embarrassed afterwards when he was asked about being serenaded by the Albion fans. “Obviously it’s enjoyable, but when you take the stick … you’ve got to have a strong character both ways,” the Albion manager said. “I’m very pleased for the supporters, they could easily have given it a miss and watched it on TV but they’ve come out.”
Phillips got Albion up and running after Dean Marney tried to intercept Morrison’s cross but succeeded only in diverting the ball into the path of the Albion winger. With his back to goal, Phillips turned Ben Mee far too easily and lifted the ball into the roof of the net past an exposed Tom Heaton after just four minutes.
As poor as Burnley were in the first half, they should have equalised in the 14th minute when Jeff Hendrick latched onto Sam Vokes’ knock down only to lift his shot the wrong side of the far post. Albion were not so generous at the other end when Morrison ran clear moments later. Rondón expertly held off Michael Keane just inside the Burnley half and released Morrison, who accepted the invitation to carry the ball forward as Mee backed off and stroked a precise shot inside Heaton’s near post. It was a lovely finish.
Burnley looked shell-shocked and it seemed a matter of time before Albion added a third. Morrison curled wide after a mistake by Heaton, who atoned for that error when he brilliantly turned Rondón’s shot over the angle of crossbar and post. Yet there was nothing that the Burnley goalkeeper could do about Albion’s third as the unmarked Fletcher turned in Phillips’ superb cross. In doing so Fletcher became the third Scotland international to get on the scoresheet.
Dyche had seen enough and replaced Steven Defour with Ashley Barnes at the interval – “I could have taken at least nine of them off,” the Burnley manager later admitted – but the complexion of the game never changed and it was just a matter of how many Albion would score.
Rondón eventually got the goal his performance warranted in the 64th minute. Allan Nyom, set free by Morrison, cut the ball back for the Venezuelan striker, who turned sharply before drilling a low shot that beat Heaton via a deflection off Stephen Ward.