Ben Mee gave Burnley a concrete reason to celebrate amid reports of the club’s imminent US takeover as his goal sent Sheffield United into the new year winless in the Premier League.
With the sports investment firm ALK said to be on the verge of assuming control of the Clarets, Mee’s first-half header paved the way for a 1-0 win and a result that provides Sean Dyche’s side with a vital buffer over the bottom three.
“It was a great ball in and a great finish,” Sean Dyche said of Mee’s goal, although the Burnley manager was less happy about the injury that resulted in Charlie Taylor having to be substituted after nine minutes. “It is a hamstring. It was a foul before that and if the ref blows his whistle he doesn’t pull his hamstring.
“We are a bit stretched at the moment and we can only hope these injuries stop coming and we get everybody fully fit.”
News of a coronavirus outbreak at United had briefly raised question marks over the viability of the fixture – with Chris Wilder only able to name seven substitutes after two players and “four or five” backroom staff returned positive tests. Wilder was still able to make only one change from his previous starting XI and confirmed before kick-off that he was not in favour of the game being postponed. But with two spaces unfilled on a bench that did not include Phil Jagielka or Billy Sharp, any further developments among the squad would surely spell trouble.
Those expecting a cagey start from the two joint lowest scoring teams in the division were caught wrong-footed as Josh Brownhill’s long ball to Chris Wood was knocked down to give Ashley Barnes a one-on-one after barely more than a minute. Aaron Ramsdale spread himself to swamp Barnes’ effort.
David McGoldrick was the brightest part of Sheffield United’s attacking effort, with a handful of inventive touches going unappreciated as Lys Mousset’s and Rhian Brewster’s partnership up front struggled for fluency. McGoldrick did well to earn a corner after cutting inside Ashley Westwood and when Brewster nodded goalwards there was a big shout for handball as Brownhill blocked on the line. There seemed to be a case but the referee, Chris Kavanagh, was unmoved.
United barely had time to digest their indignation when James Tarkowski launched a counterattack, Robbie Brady crossed to Wood and Ramsdale flung out an arm to parry the header. The resulting corner was the set piece Burnley needed to barge their way in to the lead, Brady curling one towards the six-yard box where Mee slalomed in between three defenders and nodded into the bottom corner. Ethan Ampadu had failed to read the danger more obviously than most and looked particularly guilty as the netting rippled.
Neither side did much to threaten the status quo before half-time but McGoldrick fashioned an opening at the start of the second period. Nick Pope judged his angles perfectly and fended away with a firm hand.
Wilder threw on John Fleck, Oliver Burke and Ollie Norwood in three separate changes inside a 10-minute period. The energy levels rose appreciably, with Burnley forced back into a containing pattern, but barring one powerful strike from John Egan there was no reward for their efforts as Pope was spared any real moments of discomfort. “I think we were a little bit naive at times,” reflected Wilder afterwards. “We saw plenty of the ball but they got their noses in front and did what they had to do to see the game out.”