Burnley had waited 33 years for a return to the top flight, but it was worth every second after Robbie Blake’s stunning strike gave them victory against the league Champions, Manchester United, in the first game of the new season at Turf Moor.
The hosts were grateful to Brian Jensen for a heroic goalkeeping display in which he pulled off a string of smart stops, smothered a handful of one-on-one chances, dominated in the air, and even saved a penalty late in the first half.
Burnley richly deserved their victory against a below-par United. They hassled and harried and used the ball intelligently. Despite United mustering many efforts on goal, in truth the Clarets were always relatively comfortable.
United’s injury crisis meant that Wes Brown partnered an unexpectedly passed fit Jonny Evans with John O’Shea moving across to right-back. In midfield Anderson was preferred to Valencia and Giggs to Fletcher. Sir Alex Ferguson also handed a first start to Michael Owen, who failed to impress in front of the watching England manager Fabio Capello.
Burnley lined up with the same fluid 4-5-1 shape they played with at Stoke, with Andre Bikey slotting straight into the defence in place of Christian Kalvenes just 36 hours after completing his move to Turf Moor from Reading.
The visitors had a couple of early sniffs of chances, with Owen’s movement causing problems but the striker’s finishing not quite up to standard. Burnley scored with their first patch of pressure of the game. United were pinned in their own penalty box and struggled to clear, with Patrice Evra eventually half-clearing a header from Stephen Jordan’s cross, under pressure from Martin Paterson, straight to the onrushing Robbie Blake, who rifled a crisp first-time volley into the top corner, leaving Ben Foster grasping at thin air.
Turf Moor erupted and the boost in the already blood-pumping atmosphere helped the team stiffen their resolve and cling on to a victory that will have the world’s media baffled.
A subdued Wayne Rooney had several efforts at goal but they were rarely on target, Bikey and the equally totemic Clarke Carlisle in the Burnley defence giving the attacker no room to manoeuvre.
United’s neatest passage of play gave them their best chance of the half, just moments before the break. Owen slotted a deliciously weighted ball in to Evra, who turned quickly into the box tumbled over Blake, who had foolishly slid in on his backside and clearly missed the ball.
Michael Carrick surprisingly stepped up despite a handful of likelier candidates and Jensen dived firmly to his right to save comfortably, Tyrone Mears tidying up the rebound for a corner. That let off reassured the hosts that they could win and they were rejuvenated for the second period, never giving their illustrious opponents an inch of room.
The massive gulf between the two football clubs was made clear by the substitutes the two managers turned to. Ferguson threw on a combined £50m of talent in Valencia and Dimitar Berbatov as well as the vastly experienced Gary Neville; Burnley’s Owen Coyle - who last season masterminded victories over Arsenal, Spurs, Fulham, West Brom and Chelsea on penalties - brought on United reject Chris Eagles, journeyman midfielder Joey Gudjonsson and free signing Steven Thompson.
Rafts of photographers packed the end United attacked in the second half but they were not to get their picture of an equaliser. Rooney twice played neat one-twos to free a fellow attacker into the box, but both times Jensen was equal to the ensuing effort, and the giant goalkeeper denied Rooney himself after the striker sprung the offside trap, diving in feet first to put the ball out for a throw.
Despite Burnley’s imperious home form last season – they won their last six games at Turf Moor - the result will still come as a huge surprise to most. The Clarets had fallen to defeat at Stoke on the opening day. This couldn’t have been a bigger turnaround, and if they turn in performances this spirited regularly they will have every chance of survival.
In contrast, United looked shaky in all areas, with their millionaire midfield hustled by the Clarets, and their trio of striker all looking ineffective. It’s easy to point to the lack of Cristiano Ronaldo, but the fact is United look to be missing him badly, and their need another figurehead for their attack, and soon, if they are to match the success of the last few seasons.