Ashley Barnes scored two and had a big hand in another goal for Anass Zaroury as Burnley swept aside Blackburn 3-0 in Sunday’s East Lancashire derby to claim top spot in the Championship.
The 33-year-old has had to make do with rare starts this season, but the absence of the unfit Jay Rodriguez handed him a start against rivals Rovers, who themselves would have gone top with a win.
His first league goal of the campaign broke the deadlock in the second half of what had been a tense encounter – and that goal opened the floodgates for a convincing Clarets win.
The chance to leapfrog Sheffield United into pole position ahead of the World Cup break heightened the stakes in a derby which is always ferocious, one of only two local rivalries to have survived since the first Football League season in 1888-89.
Vincent Kompany opted for Barnes above the more youthful, subtle skills of Nathan Tella, and it paid off for the Clarets manager. Barnes, looking rusty early on, was beaten to Josh Brownhill’s cross by Daniel Ayala as the Clarets threatened in the opening exchanges, while Rovers’ only hope in that opening 45 minutes came with a penalty appeal as Ben Brereton Díaz went down under a challenge from Jordan Beyer.
Thomas Kaminski was the visitors’ hero just before the break as Burnley imposed themselves at successive set-pieces. The Belgian goalkeeper hurled himself high to his left to turn away Barnes’ header and moments later he tipped over another dangerous attempt, this time from Taylor Harwood-Bellis.
Blackburn began the second half in more positive fashion, with Brereton Díaz getting free down the left and cutting inside to sting the palms of Aro Muric.
Barnes caused more problems from Jack Cork’s direct ball, chesting it down for Josh Cullen, with two Rovers defenders desperately hurling their bodies in the way to prevent a certain goal.
Within a minute, resurgent Burnley were ahead as Anass Zaroury got the better of Hedges and crossed for Barnes to steer his header past Kaminski. Rovers could not respond and when the Burnley pressure forced a mistake, Tella’s flick teed up Barnes for a volley. It was parried by Kaminski but Zaroury tucked away the rebound.
The home fans’ joy was complete seven minutes from time as Josh Brownhill skipped past Clinton Mola and pulled his cross back for Barnes, who calmly slipped a challenge and fired home the third.