Despite Barcelona’s fall from grace, this will probably not be enough to induce feelings of panic at the Nou Camp. West Ham supporters, anticipating the prospect of a prize scalp in the Europa League, chorused: “Barcelona, we’re coming for you.” Forget Barcelona, however, West Ham may rue their inability to beat Burnley. For a side with a genuine chance of a top-four finish, this felt a case of two points being dropped.
Sean Dyche’s bland team put the stale into the stalemate while David Moyes cut an increasingly frustrated figure, irritated at his side’s inability to forge a breakthrough. “Last season we had a near-perfect record against the teams below us,” noted Moyes but while West Ham have flagship wins over Liverpool and Chelsea, a failure to beat Brentford, Brighton and now Burnley threatens to cost a club with lofty aspirations.
Under other circumstances, a first top-flight clean sheet at Turf Moor since 1928 might have felt more of an achievement for a team burdened by defensive injuries, especially as Lukasz Fabianski only had to field one, tame attempt on target. If a couple of terrific saves by Nick Pope and some defiant defending secured Burnley’s shutout, in itself a rarity for them this season, West Ham offered too little excitement. It was as though their reserves of inspiration were exhausted against Chelsea last week.
Declan Rice appeared the lone exception. “Declan was the one who raised the level, took the fight to Burnley and at one point looked as if he was going to waltz through everyone and score,” said Moyes. Rice made a series of driving runs and threatened a winner with a spectacular late shot. The watching Steven Gerrard may have recognised the sight of a midfielder capable of grabbing a game by the scruff of its neck.
Another spectator was given much to consider. Gareth Southgate has omitted Pope from recent England squads, but the goalkeeper reacted brilliantly to keep out Issa Diop’s header, courtesy of Jarrod Bowen’s free-kick. If that showed the speed of his reactions, Pope illustrated his athleticism by parrying Saïd Benrahma’s header. Include an injury-time save from Bowen and a painful occasion for him, having been bloodied by Craig Dawson’s boot, was a triumphant one. “The top-level keeper that he is, he will be pleased but they are saves you would fancy him to make,” said Dyche; after Pope’s mistake led to Newcastle’s winner last week, normal service was resumed.
But West Ham occupied Pope too rarely. “We scored three goals against Chelsea last week but we couldn’t get any,” said Moyes. “We just didn’t have the quality in the final third.” Fresh from his freakish winner against Chelsea, Arthur Masuaku almost scored in more deliberate fashion, connecting sweetly with a volley that went just wide. In the second half, Benrahma and Michail Antonio fired wide from distance but the striker has now gone eight games without a goal.
Goal droughts are more common among the Burnley players, however. They were poor in possession, lacking fluency or creativity. “I would take the point and the clean sheet,” said the pragmatist in Dyche, but Burnley have now gone three games without a goal. They have a solitary win in 15 and the Championship is starting to loom large.
Relying on Maxwel Cornet to score wonder goals rarely felt a sustainable formula, even before injury ruled him out here; Dyche will monitor bulletins about the Ivorian’s fitness for Wednesday’s potentially crucial game with Watford. Minus the wild card, he chose a midfield who lack a goal between them this season, so there was an added importance to defenders’ efforts from set pieces and James Tarkowski leapt highest to meet Dwight McNeil’s corner but headed over. Meanwhile, Jay Rodriguez looped a header wide and had a half-volley deflected wide by Dawson, leaving the striker with a solitary goal in his last 46 league games.
The lone flashpoint revolved around Dawson. Burnley were reprieved when McNeil tripped Dawson in the box. Referee Graham Scott did not award the penalty; the greater surprise was that Jonathan Moss, the VAR, did not either.
“This weekend we have seen more soft penalty kicks given in the Premier League than all season so I think if those ones were given, I would expect this to be given,” said Moyes, who nevertheless prefers a higher bar for the awarding of spot kicks. Perhaps Moss concluded that Dawson sought the contact; perhaps he simply deemed that officiating Manchester City v Wolves gave him enough experience of awarding contentious penalties for one weekend.