For 87 minutes of this match – this frenetic, dramatic, and overall tremendous match – Burnley were heading for a point that would have been scant reward for their endeavours against a floundering Leicester City.
They had done seemingly everything within their power to find a way past what was once the most feared defence in the country, and with time, energy and patience running low, up stepped Sam Vokes to remind the watching Claret supporters just why night games at Turf Moor are held in such high regard.
The Wales international scored 10 minutes after his introduction into the most enthralling of games which, without context, was difficult to correctly identify the current Premier League champions, such was the Clarets’ performance.
An end-to-end affair
It was actually Leicester who flew out of the traps, in a start that harked back to their blistering approach last season, but the hosts were the first to produce a meaningful effort when Ashley Barnes dragged an effort wide of Kasper Schmeichel’s left-hand post, before the Burnley forward failed to make a clean connection with Steven Defour’s inswinging free-kick.
The Foxes were struggling to show the same levels of stoicism that formed the bedrock of their title success, as Burnley’s high-intensity, unrelenting approach looked to show green shoots of promise. Andre Gray was the next to tease Claret supporters, with his venomous shot hitting the side netting from a tight angle.
The respective systems of both sides made for enthralling viewing: two battle-hardened 4-4-2s, quick in transition from front to back, making life awkward for their opponents. Michael Keane received rapturous applause for smothering the advances of the livewire Jamie Vardy, before Burnley toiled to score at the other end: it was, to use a cliché, a back-to-front encounter in a lively opening 45 minutes.
But for all their positive work, Sean Dyche’s men were dealt a blow when Belgium midfielder Defour was withdrawn through a suspected hamstring injury, with Scott Arfield his replacement.
Yet they plugged away, and home supporters felt aggrieved when referee Mike Dean waved away penalty appeals after an apparent shove on Keane in the Foxes’ area. Dean has courted criticism for similar incidents this season, and the Burnley faithful made their displeasure vocal.
A dramatic finale
Dean emerged from the tunnel at half-time to a chorus of boos, but those unimpressed with his officiating nearly forgot their ire when Joey Barton’s fizzing effort – within two minutes of the restart – whistled wide of Schmeichel’s goal again. Arfield, too, chanced his arm moments later, but his effort also went wide.
If these were warning signs, Claudio Ranieri’s side could not heed them. Gray stole a match on the defence once more on a trademark arcing run, away from goal, before forcing the Foxes’ goalkeeper into a smart near-post save. Those of a Leicester persuasion will tell you that while possession may be nine-tenths of the law, after last season, it is still not enough.
They eventually broke forward through Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, and the latter exhibited deft footwork to find space for a curling effort that Tom Heaton could only spill to Leicester’s England striker. Burnley’s stopper won the 50:50 duel, but not without his England teammate tumbling and appealing for a spot-kick. Dean, predictably, was not amused.
Such was the nature of this game that Burnley piled forward in response. Their intricate play often irritated supporters, yet there was a seamless beauty to the way the ball was stroked around the Foxes’ penalty area with abandon. Gray, Keane and Jeff Hendrick all saw shots blocked, one way or another, before defender Ben Mee was a whisker away from thumping home a close-range header.
As time wore on, home fans became more agitated and, eventually, Leicester relented and watched an unlikely point dissipate in the palm of their hands. Arfield swung in what seemed to be the umpteenth corner of the second half, Mee headed it down towards Vokes and the striker swung a left leg towards the ball. Delirium ensued, as did full-time, when Burnley could reflect on the hysteria. Justice had prevailed.