Burnley have scored only six goals in their 12 Premier League matches but clambered out of the relegation zone thanks to their refusal to concede at Villa Park. A combination of a special save by Nick Pope, several of the kind of blocks that have become routine for Burnley defenders, and repeatedly scruffy finishing by Aston Villa, ensured this eventful contest ended in a stalemate.
Emiliano Martínez’s howl of frustration at the final whistle showed Villa were deeply frustrated to draw for the first time this season.
Continuity of selection is a policy that has served Dean Smith well but he was forced to disrupt his favoured lineup for this match owing to suspensions for Douglas Luiz and Matty Cash and illness to Ezri Konsa, along with injury to Ross Barkley. Burnley, emboldened by last weekend’s win at Arsenal, were up for an even bigger challenge and made it hard for the hosts to settle.
Sean Dyche’s team were the first to threaten a goal, with Jay Rodriguez cutting a smart pass back to Ashley Westwood, whose shot from the edge of the area veered just wide. Villa, devoted to attack, soon found a rhythm, and Charlie Taylor had to make a critical intervention in the 21st minute when he slid in to block an effort by Bertrand Traoré from six yards. The winger should have got the shot off more quickly.
Burnley were rescued by their other full-back on the half hour when Matt Lowton showed wily instincts to position himself on the goalline in time to head away a deflected shot by Ahmed Elmohamady.
Villa did not quite mount an onslaught after that but they did give the visitors regular frights and struck the frame of the goal twice before the break. Anwar El Ghazi’s free-kick from 20 yards in the 37th minute was actually heading into the net until Pope, at full stretch, tipped it on to the crossbar. Just before half-time Elmohamady flicked on a corner by Traoré to Kortney Hause, whose reflex header from six yards bounced out off the post. A couple of inches to the right and Hause would have had a goal to mark his first league appearance of the season.
Although Villa were entitled to feel they merited a half-time lead on the balance of play, Burnley had alarmed them on a couple of counterattacks. The saves that Martínez had to make from Robbie Brady and Chris Wood were rather elementary but the goalkeeper would surely have been subjected to a far more stringent test by Dwight McNeil just before the break if Traoré had not charged back to make an excellent tackle on the midfielder, who had slalomed between two defenders.
For all Villa’s attacking, their centre-forward Ollie Watkins got little sight of goal in the first half, spending most of his time as a clever linkman or decoy. But, as Villa’s hold on the game grew stronger, Watkins began to find himself in front of goal more often. Pope remained unbeatable, however, clutching the striker’s header to his chest early in the second half. One minute later Watkins turned provider again, teeing up El Ghazi for a drive that whizzed inches past the post from the edge of the box.
El Ghazi, involved in most Villa attacks, curled a low effort at goal on the hour, but not with enough power to inconvenience Pope. The same could be said of Brady’s shot at the other end moments later, when Burnley made a rare second-half incursion into Villa territory.
When Jack Grealish, enterprising as ever, glided through midfield in the 66th minute and slipped through a delicate invitation for El Ghazi to score, yet another weak shot ensued, much to Pope’s relief and Grealish’s frustration. El Ghazi created a chance for himself to make amends in the 75th minute but boomed a shot high and wide from 20 yards following a splendid burst from midfield.
The element of surprise nearly did for Burnley when John McGinn caught them out with a quickly-taken free-kick in midfield but James Tarkowski rushed to the visitors’ rescue again, hurling himself in front of Traoré’s shot.
Villa attacked until the end but could not find the perfect finish, Tyrone Mings heading wide from eight yards before Grealish blasted over the bar after another surging run from deep.