In Town’s sixth Premier League outing of the season, David Wagner and his men headed to Turf Moor to face a well-drilled Burnley side.
It was a game with very few clear-cut chances due to two supremely impressive organised defences and it wasn’t a particularly attractive game for the neutral.
There were two notable chances for both sides. In the first half, Town looked content to sit deep and frustrate Burnley and for large periods of the first half, they did this successfully.
However, the combination of Robbie Brady and Stephen Ward was becoming increasingly influential. A first time cross from Stephen Ward found Chris Wood but he miscued his glancing header when he should’ve done better.
The second major chance for Burnley was created by Robbie Brady who showed that he is capable of a moment of magic as he slipped Stephen Ward into the box, taking out three Town defenders with a single pass. It looked inevitably that Chris Wood would have a tap in as Ward fired the ball across the six yard box but Christopher Schindler somehow managed to hook it away.
In the second half, Town grew in confidence and grew into the game. Tom Ince was Town’s main protagonist going forward and it was his mazy run which found Laurent Depoitre in the box. He attempted to curl it past Nick Pope but the former Charlton stopper managed to parry it before it eventually cleared.
The second major chance that Town had came from Tom Ince who found a rare pocket of space between the lines. Instantly he turned to run at Burnley’s defence before taking his shot early. The strike from thirty yards out was just inches away from nestling in the bottom corner.
Unsurprisingly, two of the hardest working teams in the entirety of the division cancelled each other out as the game ended in stalemate.
After another clean sheet and another point on the board, in this piece, I give my post-match thoughts and run through some of the major talking points to discuss from this hard earned draw.
Players in focus
Christopher Schindler – Simply immense
One man who has epitomised Town’s early season success has been Christopher Schindler.
Since stroking home that famous penalty to send Town to the Premier League, the former 1860 Munich centre-half has found another level as he has coped with the transition to the Premier League with ease.
After facing difficulties against Andy Carroll, some may have thought that another large target man in Chris Wood would have caused problems for Christopher Schindler.
However, Schindler put in a performance which could only be described as immense. From reading Burnley attacks to perfectly timed tackles, Schindler did not a put foot wrong all game.
If it wasn’t for a crucial goal-saving interception from Schindler in his own six yard box then Burnley would’ve undoubtedly gone on to win the game.
For me, Schindler was easily the man of the match and alongside Zanka, there is a defensive partnership which seems to be thriving despite the challenges the Premier League poses.
Zanka – Growing in stature
Whilst Christopher Schindler will be rightfully receiving the plaudits after another superb performance, I think Zanka’s role in Town’s defensive success has been underappreciated.
Since joining Town from FC Copenhagen, Danish centre-half Zanka has partnered Christopher Schindler at the heart of Town’s defence.
Despite being part of a defence with four clean sheets in six Premier League matches, some questions have been asked about the Danish centre-half who has looked clumsy at times and his distribution when in possession has been erratic.
However, now that Zanka has had time to adapt to life in English football, the Danish centre-half is looking increasingly comfortable and growing in stature.
This has been reflected in his performances. Zanka’s past two performances against Leicester City and yesterday against Burnley have been two of his best and alongside Schindler, I can only see Zanka continuing to improve as the season goes on.
Jonathan Hogg – The midfield general’s return
After the disappointing news that Danny Williams would be sidelined between 3-6 weeks after fracturing a bone in his foot, it seemed to be the opportune moment for Jonathan Hogg’s return.
In a game which at some points spilled into an attritional war, the midfield generals of both Town and Burnley came into their own.
It was no surprise to hear that Steven Defour was the home side’s man of the match and Jonathan Hogg put in an equally excellent performance as he broke up attacks and screened the defence alongside Aaron Mooy.
Whilst we didn’t see Jonathan Hogg’s influence on the ball, Hogg’s off the ball work was superb and it even attracted the admiration of Sean Dyche.
With a tough run of fixtures to come, Jonathan Hogg’s return could be just what Town need to solidify their already impressive defence further.
A dramatic defensive transformation
On the 22nd October 2016, Town beat Derby County to secure their ninth win of the season and their fourth clean sheet in fourteen games.
Fast forward roughly eleven months, we have already witnessed a dramatic defensive transformation as Town claimed their fourth clean sheet in just six Premier League matches.
Most expected Town to have the feel of Blackpool when they were promoted as an expansive, attractive side to watch with nothing to lose.
Town, on the other hand, have looked very much the Premier League side with one of the best defensive records in England.
Most of this has to go down to the ever-improving partnership between Mathias Zanka and Christopher Schindler who are relishing the Premier League challenge.
This defensive transformation from a side that was leaking goals at an alarming rate in the Championship to one that Premier League sides are finding great difficulty breaking down is a testament to the hard work of David Wagner, his staff and of course, the players.
Town are becoming increasingly hard to beat
Town have yet to face one of the Premier League’s big six (although that will all change next Saturday) so it has yet to be seen how Town will fare against the cream of the Premier League crop.
However, one defeat in six Premier League games suggests that against all the other Premier League sides that Town have faced so far, they have more than held their own.
Whilst many of us would’ve liked to see some of their draws converted into wins, Town can take great confidence from the fact that they have been competitive in practically every game so far this season.
At times this season, including against Burnley, Town have had to sit deep and soak up the pressure. This does come as a stark comparison to their usual front-foot expansive approach.
However, away from home, David Wagner acknowledges that his side will have to be more cautious in the league that some describe as the most unforgiving in the world.
As an organised hard-working outfit which is full of energy, Town have become incredibly hard to beat. If David Wagner can solve the goal-scoring issue, Town will not only be hard to beat but hard to contain as well.
Next week, we will see what Town are really made of when they face an excellent Tottenham Hotspur side that will be looking to at the very least finish in a Champions League spot. However, if Town can put the lessons above into practice to the best of their ability, David Wagner’s fearless side could cause a real upset that sends shock-waves through the Premier League.