And then there were two. Burnley picked up a precious point at Aston Villa to head into the final day outside the relegation zone and, crucially, with the upper hand on Leeds, who must better Burnley’s result on Sunday to avoid dropping into the Championship. As this game rolled into the sixth of what started as four nervy minutes of second-half stoppage time, Burnley’s supporters celebrated a free-kick on halfway like they did Ashley Barnes’s cool first-half penalty. Even the straight red card shown to the Burnley substitute Matt Lowton could not taint a fine evening.
If Burnley do end up securing safety by virtue of their far superior goal difference then they will surely reflect on Nick Pope’s superb showing as a significant chapter in an impressive escape mission. Pope made a trio of fine stops, saving the best until last to deny Bertrand Traoré glancing in, but Burnley will equally wonder how Tyrone Mings prevented the substitute Wout Weghorst from tucking in a winner five minutes from time after Emiliano Martínez instinctively saved from Connor Roberts.
Burnley earned one win from their first 21 league games this season but their resurgence since the surprise sacking of Sean Dyche continued here, despite Emi Buendía’s equaliser forcing a draw. Burnley can finish on a high at home to Newcastle on the final day, when Leeds, with whom they are level on points, visit Brentford.
In the buildup to this game Burnley’s caretaker manager, Mike Jackson, told how several of his players had pledged to play their part even if not 100% fit and James Tarkowski, who is out of contract next month, impressed after returning to the heart of defence following a hamstring injury sustained in the reverse fixture less than a fortnight ago, which Villa won 3-1 at Turf Moor. Ashley Westwood, who is recovering from a broken ankle, has been mucking in with opposition analysis and Matej Vydra recently paid the squad a visit on crutches after knee surgery. Ben Mee, Tarkowski’s usual sidekick and Burnley’s club captain, recently returned to training but remained on the sidelines in a club tracksuit here, instead helping Jackson with the warm-up and instructing from the away dugout.
Burnley created little before they were gifted a chance to open the scoring when Buendía, seconds after barging Tarkowski in the box, upended Maxwel Cornet as the winger chopped inside. The referee, Paul Tierney, pointed to the spot. Buendía looked to the skies and shook his head. Some Burnley fans turned their backs, too nervous to look. They need not have worried, with Barnes coolly sending Martínez the wrong way in front of the Holte End to register his first goal for 15 months.
Steven Gerrard was adamant Barnes should not have been on the pitch by then after striking Mings with a stray elbow with five minutes gone. “I think we should have been playing against 10 men from a very early stage,” the Villa manager said. “The PGMOL said there was not enough force for it to be a red card. I heard it and I was 60 yards away. He’s pulled his elbow back and smashed him in the face. Have you got to break someone’s cheek or make someone go off the pitch to be a red card? Everyone knows that’s a red card.”
Villa’s equaliser was achingly poor from Burnley’s perspective. Buendía wandered freely into the box to meet a floated John McGinn pass and the unmarked Argentina midfielder smacked in on the volley from a central position, beating Roberts to the punch and exposing Pope in the Burnley goal. Pope equally may feel he should have done better.
On 71 minutes it was time for Villa to survive a scare, when Lucas Digne was deemed not to have handled inside the box.
The former Burnley forward Danny Ings arrived from the bench in place of Ollie Watkins and went close to finding a winner with his first touch, smacking a shot narrowly wide after reading McGinn’s layoff.
The drama increased as the game went on. Pope diverted Traoré’s deft header down to his right and then Villa survived a hairy episode when Martínez and Mings came to their rescue. Pope denied Matty Cash before four minutes of stoppage time, during which the former Villa defender Lowton was given a straight red card for a wholehearted challenge on Calum Chambers.
“It’s been a difficult season,” Tarkowski said. “To put ourselves in this position from where we were is a big achievement.”