The ball cannoned off the underside of the bar and into the back of the net to leave a set of Manchester United statues stunned at what had just transpired. A smattering of cheers from the travelling Clarets fans, almost in disbelief, echoed around the Theatre of Dreams.
That rocket from Jay Rodriguez, to clinch a 2-0 win over United, created history for Burnley at the end of January: a first victory at Old Trafford since 1962. And Sean Dyche’s side haven’t looked back since.
The move that led to that crucial second encapsulates the progress achieved this season on a day when they perfectly blended diligent defending with a series of swift moves to outclass United.
Rodriguez had captured a picture of the play moments before being fed by Ashley Westwood, exchanging passes with Chris Wood before slamming the ball high into the roof of the net to beat David De Gea at his near post. While this Burnley is perhaps more potent going forward than in seasons past, including a wildcard in the form of sensational young talent Dwight McNeil, the foundation of this team’s success remains at the back.
James Tarkowski’s well-rounded game ought to see him capture this side’s Player of the Year award, while his contribution will surely see him included in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the European championships next year. His aerial presence and anticipation sets the tone alongside the impressive Ben Mee for this Burnley side to endure plenty of pressure.
While the moment of the season so far has to be Rodriguez’s spectacular strike against United, Nick Pope’s save to deny Jamie Vardy from the spot three days earlier could be the most vital. Leicester’s failure to recapture the lead at Turf Moor that day, allowing Westwood to drive home a late winner, certainly instilled belief as they began their march away from trouble and towards Europa League contention.
The gap is now 12 points to 18th place, while a point is needed to reach the desirable 40-point barrier. Yet Dyche could easily be switching focus to Wolves in sixth, who are just four points away.
They pulled off back-to-back wins following a heavy defeat to both Sheffield United and Tottenham before New Year, showing the resolve of Dyche’s side, while Rodriguez has detailed how they have maintained focus despite the lengthy break.
“We’re all pushing each other to keep improving. It’s really good, you can’t ever be off your game because you’ll get told and you’ll know that you’re letting the team down,” Rodriguez told the Burnley Express.
“I always appreciate that in football, I think that’s how it should be, you should train as you play and that’s how we keep improving.”
There might not be as much recognition as his side deserves right now, but after quietly building an impressive unbeaten streak, the return to fitness of Ashley Barnes, Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Matt Lowton and Rodriguez, the Clarets are remarkably on the brink of returning to Europe once more.