OLIVER NORWOOD joked as he left the John Smith’s Stadium that rather than going out to celebrate he would be back home protecting his windows.
Die-hard Clarets fan Norwood still lives close to Burnley’s ground and he had upset friends and family alike in playing the prominent role in knocking them off the top of the table.
Norwood’s midfield master class should have ended Burnley’s 12-match unbeaten run by half-time.
Yet he had to wait until after the break to set them on the way to victory with a long-range volley which bounced over fellow Manchester United product goalkeeper Tim Heaton as he dived to the foot of his right-hand post.
It came from Adam Hammill’s chipped corner which should have been a dead ball and Town’s second strike five minutes later in the 55th minute also followed a fortuitous decision in their favour.
Captain James Vaughan drilled a cross from the right corner, Michael Duff handled and referee Eddie Ilderton pointed to the spot on the advice of a linesman, though replays showed the offence was a good yard outside the area.
Vaughan needed no second bidding to plant the ball inside Howard’s left-hand post to underline Town’s dominance.
After that, however, Town lost their composure, opting to launch the ball from the back rather than pass Burnley out of the game and when Norwood’s one error, a weak back-header on halfway, allowed Sam Vokes to knock the ball through the middle, strike partner Danny Ings raced through to make it 2-1 and set up a nervy 12 minutes, including six of stoppage time, for Mark Robins’s men.
Tension was eased, however, when Duff, booked for protesting the penalty, hauled down Vaughan and received a second yellow and his marching orders.
Burnley’s comeback threat was over and their 3,639 following were silenced, much to the delight of Norwood.
“It’s nice when there’s so many people you know watching the game,” he said.
“I’ve been getting a bit of stick during the week so it’s been good to quieten a few people down. I hope Burnley do well for the rest of the season but (Saturday) was all about us.
“My wife was here with her mum and dad but, unfortunately, my parents are away. I had 40 or 50 friends in the Burnley end and I’ve had some nice text messages, put it that way. All my family are massive Burnley fans so I don’t think they’ll be speaking to me – but I’m still a Burnley lad and always will be.”
Of his strike, he said: “The goal is something we’ve been practising so it was nice to see it come off and hit the net.
“The most important thing is that we keep picking up wins and we keep climbing the table. If we can come out of this Christmas period in a healthy position, there’s no reason why we can’t kick on and stay up there.
“We spoke after the Birmingham game – which was atrocious – and said we couldn’t let that happen again because the fans deserve better. That was probably the worst we’ve played and the first hour against Burnley was the best. Now we need to do it for 90 minutes. We need to learn how to see games out and make sure we stay strong for the full game.
“The gaffer has given me licence to get up there and get involved. I have that freedom to get up there and support the play. I’m enjoying the football now and it shows. That formation suits me because I get to bomb on and get involved further up the pitch. Hopefully I can chip in with a few more goals.”
A last-day of the season draw against Barnsley ensured Town’s survival last season but Northern Ireland international Norwood is only looking up this time.
“We could achieve anything. I haven’t faced a team yet who I think have played us off the park. We’re going to Bolton on Tuesday to win. We want to replicate (Saturday’s) performance.
“We were frustrated not to go into the break 3-0 up, to be honest. The gaffer told us to keep going and they would fold. They didn’t exactly fold but they did fall apart a bit after the first goal.”
Norwood was the key figure as Burnley found themselves outplayed in that first period.
Vaughan failed to convert several opportunities and strike partner Martin Paterson, whose goals helped Burnley into the Premier League in 2009, also struck a post with a header.
Vaughan had tested Heaton with an early volley and the goalkeeper had raced out to block before he could convert a chest-down but the striker’s best chance came when he hit the ball into the ground and over the bar from inside the six-yard area after a flowing move.
Vaughan also just failed to connect with a diving header from Norwood’s delivery and a blank scoreline provoked Town concerns that Burnley would come out to pinch the points especially with Vokes and Ings looking so menacing and keeping Anthony Gerrard and Joel Lynch on guard.
But even a double substitution at the break failed to do the trick for Sean Dyche.
It was not until Town’s anxiety showed at 2-0 up that Burnley threatened.
They had two penalty appeals turned down before Ings forced Town goalkeeper Alex Smithies into a brilliant reaction save from an eight-yard drive after Vokes had headed down a cross from Junior Stanislas.
Vokes also netted from close range on 78 minutes, only for the effort to be ruled out for offside, and the striker was booked for protesting.
Town’s joy at a second successive 2-1 win was only tempered in stoppage time when Adam Clayton received his fifth booking of the season to incur a one-match ban.
There were poignant scenes on 13 minutes when the whole 17,930 crowd gave a standing ovation for Burnley fan Henry Tattersall, who died recently aged just 13. The teenager was found hanged in his bedroom last month.