Mark Perrow reports from Turf Moor
City fell to a strange defeat in Lancashire despite leading through Albert Adomah’s first-half opener.
How the visitors led at the interval is beyond comprehension after Burnley dominated the early stages, but the hosts scored twice in nine minutes early in the second period when City were on top.
With Sean O’Driscoll’s side pushing for an equaliser, Steven Davies had the chance to level eight minutes from time from the penalty spot only to see Lee Grant save his kick, before substitute Martin Paterson rubbed salt into Robin wounds with a late third.
The City head coach made three changes to his team – all enforced – as Lewin Nyatanga, Cole Skuse and Sam Baldock all missed out through injury.
In their absence, Matthew Bates, Paul Anderson and Adomah all started, with Davies the only recognised striker in the matchday squad.
City might have been behind as early as the second minute after some neat link-up play between strike partners Sam Vokes and Charlie Austin, as the latter cutely backheeled the ball back to the former, who just cut across his shot saw it disappear wide of Tom Heaton’s left-hand post.
It was an electrifying start from the hosts, who soon tested the City keeper for the first time when Austin got across the near post to connect sweetly with Vokes’ left-wing cross, but Heaton was able to gather the ball at the second attempt having instinctively pushed the initial shot up in the air.
Burnley enjoyed more chances to break the deadlock before the first ten minutes were up, as former City loanee Vokes met Ross Wallace’s teasing centre with a thumping downward header Heaton did well to thwart, while Dean Marney sent a curling effort only a whisker wide of the top corner from distance.
City were in need of rest bite, and a surging run from Anderson into the penalty area to force a corner provided a first signal of intent. But at the other end, the claret and blue shirts kept coming, and Vokes smashed another shot across goal from a tight angle with an opening goal looking increasingly likely.
It had been a first half to forget for City, who were lucky to still be in the game never mind be on level terms – a mood summed up by an uncharacteristically late tackle from Adomah to earn the winger a booking and leave youngster Joseph Mills needing treatment.
But Burnley’s dominance eventually began to peter out, and City took advantage with the opening goal completely against the run of play.
Davies’ assist was a moment completely out of place with a team propping up the division, as his imaginative slide rule pass was perfectly weighted to marry the run of Adomah, whose pace took him beyond the last defender to round Grant and take his time before slotting home.
The home fans were in a state of shock, but a quick response from their side nearly supplied an equaliser from Austin, but the usually razor-sharp striker was off target with a free header from Wallace’s corner, while Junior Stanislas lashed a loose ball high over the bar in the next attack as City somehow escaped at the interval unscathed.
Having got through to the break with their lead intact, City started the second half on the front foot only to be pegged back within seven minutes by a soft Burnley leveller.
Stanislas’ inswinging corner from the left was somehow allowed to bounce before skipper Jason Shackell adjusted his body shape to nod the ball in from just a couple of yards.
Suddenly the hosts had their impetus back, and Wallace’s cross was glanced goalwards by Vokes but straight at Heaton, before the keeper’s quick kick downfield saw Adomah collide with Shackell and leave the defender grounded.
But while the crowd cried out for the game to be stopped, Davies found Marvin Elliott charging into the box only for his shot to be blocked by a covering defender.
Moments later, some neat work from Brendan Moloney culminated in a fine pass into the feet of Davies, whose rising drive on the half-turn flew into the travelling fans behind Grant’s goal.
City were on top, but soon fell behind for the first time on 61 minutes, when marauding right-back Kieran Trippier was allowed space to pick out a cross to the back post for Chris McCann to control, take aim and fire a low drive underneath Heaton’s legs to turn the game on its head.
In scoring terms, City had been punished during their strongest spell in the game, but Burnley’s second saw the visitors’ positivity suffer a setback, and Austin set about putting the game to bed with an imaginative curling effort which just nestled on top of the net with Heaton scrambling.
With the clock running down, O’Driscoll turned to a bench short on attacking options and introduced Neil Kilkenny in place of Liam Kelly in an attempt to find the creative spark needed to haul his team level.
And almost immediately City would be afforded their best chance of the half, as Adomah showed Mills a clean pair of heels to breeze past the full-back into the box and draw a mistimed sliding challenge, which, after some deliberation, referee James Adcock deemed worthy of a spot-kick.
But Davies, faultless from 12 yards all season, saw his kick well saved by Grant diving to his right.
It felt like a pivotal moment, and Austin threatened to finish the contest soon after with a rasping 25-yarder excellently turned aside by Heaton from the jaws of his bottom-right corner.
City were pushing hard for a point, but a breakaway third for the hosts supplied by Paterson after his initial effort was blocked by Bates consigned the visitors to a third straight defeat on the road to leave their Championship status hanging by a thread.