THIS was the not the perfect way to close 2014 for Manchester City, though it could have been worse. If Burnley had been defeated, the champions would have notched a club record 10th consecutive win and, as Chelsea dropped two points at Southampton, Manuel Pellegriniâ€™s team would be one behind the London club.
Instead a second-half crumble meant Burnley might have grabbed a famous first victory since 1974 against City and the Sky Blues can be happy their unbeaten run remains intact. The fragility at the back that has troubled City all season had been evident in the first half and, within moments of the second commencing, it proved costly.
George Boyd seemed to have the final touch for a finish that may have fooled Joe Hart, otherwise the goalkeeper will be disappointed not to have saved a Burnley goal that derived from Danny Ingsâ€™ cross.
Of this a proud Sean Dyche said: â€œI have no clue and Iâ€™m not interested. I know it went in and that was my main concern. I actually havenâ€™t seen it; someone said it is offside. All I would say is, a scratch of luck when youâ€™re Burnley, we donâ€™t always get that, so weâ€™ll take that gladly.â€
While City had dominated until then and taken a 2-0 lead into the break, this was no surprise. There had, though, been an earlier eyebrow-raiser when the official word went out before kick-off that Yaya TourÃ© had been â€œrestedâ€ for this one. The Ivorian is off to the Africa Cup of Nations sometime around the Everton game of 10 January, so the expectation was that Pellegrini would use him as much as possible.
However, it emerged that TourÃ© has a groin injury. The manager hopes his star midfielder will be available for the New Yearâ€™s Day visit of Sunderland.
This meant Fernandinho and Fernando were in tandem in central midfield for only the third time, and only the second in the league. The pair and the rearguard behind them cannot have been content at how Burnley were able to rattle City before and after David Silvaâ€™s opener.
Not for the first time this season Eliaquim Mangala was shaky as Burnley pinged the ball around. One move culminated in a Kieran Tripper cross being narrowly missed by a stretching Ashley Barnes and later Boyd was able to make a nuisance of himself before Dean Marney fired straight at Hart.
Ings was also allowed to run at City through the centre and unload a shot that sailed over the bar as Burnley predominantly troubled the champions along Trippierâ€™s right-back corridor.
When roving forward City looked a team coasting in low gear who might punish the visitors at will. MartÃn Demichelis missed an early chance at the far post from a corner, Samir Nasri had an attempt blocked by Trippier and, after slick interplay from Silva and JesÃºs Navas, Cityâ€™s â€œfalseâ€ No9, James Milner, failed to finish.
Silvaâ€™s sixth club goal of the season came after Nasri fed Navas down the right. The Spaniard was found and, following a sweet pivot, he beat Tom Heaton.
That was on 23 minutes. Fernandinhoâ€™s first goal of the season came after the half- hour and left the Burnley goalkeeper scant chance. Nasri laid off to the Brazilian â€“ Boyd might have got tighter â€“ and Fernandinho drilled a beauty of a 25-yard finish that bent and crashed in off Heatonâ€™s bar.
As the break approached Pablo Zabaleta clashed heads and required treatment but one of Cityâ€™s most reliable soldiers merely picked himself up, had a headband applied and continued.
Boydâ€™s goal was the catalyst for Burnley to look for more and eventually draw level. Their equaliser came when Zabaleta gave away a free-kick near the centre circle. This was launched into the City area by Jason Shackell, the visiting captain, and, when Mangala proved a weak presence, Barnes finished from his own knockdown after it pinballed back to him.
Dyche said: â€œI thought Ashley Barnes, that was arguably one of the best centre-forward performances Iâ€™ve seen in a long, long time, especially against this standard of player. Youâ€™ve got to remember his journey, heâ€™s come from lower leagues, heâ€™s earned and fought for the right to play at this level, so why wouldnâ€™t he take his chance? If anyone sums up playing with freedom, he encapsulated that with an absolutely fine performance and a sublime finish.â€
City will spend the time before Sunderlandâ€™s visit on Thursday berating themselves. They suffered because of a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal and the more concerning powder-puff quality of their defending.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1) Hart; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Mangala, Kolarov; Fernandinho (Sinclair, 88), Fernando; Navas, Silva, Nasri (Lampard, 71); Milner (Jovetic, 62). Subs not used: Caballero, Sagna, Boyata, Clichy. Booked Fernando, Navas, Zabaleta, Silva.
Burnley (4-4-2) Heaton; Mee, Shackell, Keane, Trippier; Boyd, Jones, Marney, Arfield; Barnes, Ings. Subs not used Gilks, Long, Sordell, Kightly, Jutkiewicz, Wallace, Chalobah. Booked Mee. – The Guardian