Burnley 1 Middlesbrough 1
Michael Keane’s added-time equaliser gave this helter-skelter match the finish it deserved and means the fight for automatic promotion to the Premier League may go to the wire. Jordan Rhodes’s fifth goal since his £9m signing in January had appeared to be the winner and a decisive strike in Middlesbrough’s push to avoid the play-offs.
Rhodes beat Tom Heaton after 70 minutes with a poacher’s finish. Yet following Keane’s intervention, Middlesbrough have only a two-point lead over both Sean Dyche’s side and Brighton.
Burnley have to play Preston North End, QPR and Charlton Atheltic; Middlesbrough close with Ipswich Town, Birmingham City and Brighton. The Middlesbrough manager, Aitor Karanka, said: “We are top of the table with three games to go, although I think it will go to the end.”
The opening half ended goalless but was decorated with pulsating play. After a brief flurry from Middlesbrough, Burnley pinned them back with three successive corners.
This was an early illustration of the “strong jaw” Burnley possess, as described by Dyche before kick-off. Yet no side lead this division at this late stage of a campaign without their own intestinal fortitude – and Middlesbrough were quick to show it.
Stewart Downing sent in a corner from the left and when the ball broke to Albert Adomah the midfielder’s blistering shot crashed off Heaton’s bar to safety. Next, Gastón Ramírez’s cross came hurtling at Rhodes but the No9’s header only faintly connected as he dived forward at the ball.
This was now a pell-mell, end-to-end match with a sprinkling of spice to further warm an already raucous crowd. After Dean Marney was booked for chopping down Ramírez the visitors’ subsequent free-kick yielded nothing and Burnley tore upfield via Andre Gray. The freshly crowned Championship player of the year misplaced his off-load to kill this particular move but moments later he neatly found Scott Arfield but the wide man’s attempt from close range was skied. As the teams wandered off the sense was the match could go either way.
As the second half began, Brighton were leading at QPR, and so behind Burnley on goal difference alone and only two points worse off than Middlesbrough. Yet if this had been used by Dyche and Karanka as a rallying call the opening belied this. There was a discernible drop in quality and entertainment and when Joey Barton lifted a free-kick into the Middlesbrough area only for the referee, Mike Jones, to blow for offside, it was an indicator of how concentration had dropped.
As news came through that Brighton were 2-0 up, it was Burnley who appeared the likelier to respond. Barton sent in another free-kick, although again it amounted to nothing.
The home crowd had found their voice once more and following a Matthew Lowton corner from the right Barton should have done better with a free header but this sailed over the bar.
“Come on Burnley” rang out around Turf Moor as Stephen Ward began to tear at Middlesbrough along the left-back’s flank. However, now Rhodes finished, which followed a Downing free-kick. Then, came Keane’s goal: it may be priceless to Burnley, when this breathless season is over.