MIDDLESBROUGH proved to be Burnley’s promotion party poopers when Jacob Butterfield’s second half goal ensured a battling victory at Turf Moor.
Burnley had to win – and Derby County had to fail to victor – in order for their ascension back to the Premier League to be confirmed, but Boro did not read the script, with Butterfield’s goal from a counter-attack the only difference between the two sides.
Dimi Konstantopoulos saved a succession of Claret chances in the final 20 minutes of the game as Boro’s winning run reached a fourth game.
The message from Middlesbrough this week was that the Teessiders were set on spoiling the Burnley party. There was, indeed, nothing to suggest that Boro would be a pushover. Seeking a fourth successive victory, the momentum and confidence has been building up something of a head of steam of late.
But the visitors came under some considerable pressure from Sean Dyche’s side, with Ashley Barnes’ effort being scrambled away on 16 minutes, and Danny Ings volleying over after Kieran Trippier found the former Brighton striker unmarked.
Michael Kightly hit the post with a looping header after Scott Arfield’s shot was blocked by Dean Whitehead, while Ings’ shot from Dean Marney’s clever pass was saved well by Konstantopoulos.
In light of Boro’s defensive mini-crisis, owing to the suspension of Ben Gibson and Kenneth Omeruo after their respective red cards against Birmingham City, and the injury to George Friend, Aitor Karanka lined his side up in an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation, which took time to settle.
But going forward, the visitors looked sharp, and Danny Graham volleyed acrobatically over the bar from Albert Adomah’s cross on the half-hour, before the on-loan Sunderland striker had a crack from 25 yards out, forcing a smart save by Tom Heaton in the Burnley goal.
Butterfield had a similar effort pawed away by the Clarets keeper, before Emmanuel Ledesma fired wide from the edge of the penalty area.
Burnley’s first half profligacy was punished five minutes after the restart when Tomlin surged forward after Albert Adomah had twice denied the Clarets in the area. The former Peterborough attacker held off two defenders before finding Butterfield, who creamed his shot high past Heaton. Project Party Pooper was on.
The hosts rallied, but Boro’s defence – the meanest in the Championship since Karanka took charge in November – held firm. Ings scuffed a shot wide on the hour mark, as the 900 travelling fans poured scorn on the Claret promotion push.
Konstantopoulos was on his toes on 67 minutes to save Barnes’ header from Michael Duff’s left-sided cross, before making a similarly impressive stop from Trippier’s direct free-kick moments later.
The Greek goalkeeper was yet again called into action, again from a dead ball, when he tipped David Jones’ free-kick over the crossbar with ten minutes left on the clock.
Substitute Junior Stanislas, whose goal for West Ham in 2009 relegated the Teessiders from the Premier League, cracked a goalbound shot from distance on 84 minutes, but Konstantopoulos parried it away, and Barnes sliced the rebound wide.
Jonathan Woodgate gave Boro a scare when he miskicked on the line, but the ball dropped the other side of the post, before Konstantopoulos again denied the Clarets, this time from substitute Ross Wallace.
Grant Leadbitter blocked Michael Duff’s shot off the line as the corners rained in, before Boro’s Dani Ayala was sent off deep into stoppage time for his second bookable offence.
BURNLEY (4-4-2): Heaton; Trippier, Shackell, Duff, Mee; Arfield (Stanislas 80), Marney, Jones, Kightly (Wallace 80); Barnes, Ings. Substitutes: Cisak, Long, Treacy, Edgar, Baird.
MIDDLESBROUGH (3-5-1-1): Konstantopoulos; Ayala, Woodgate, Chalobah; Ledesma, Butterfield (Varga 72), Whitehead, Leadbitter, Adomah; Tomlin (Williams 82); Graham (Main 90). Substitutes: Steele, Morris, Atkinson, Jackson.