- Burnley two points behind automatic promotion places
- Brentford stay 11th after fourth straight defeat in all competitions
- Arfield, Barton and Boyd goals put Clarets in command before Judge reply
- Andre Gray subdued in first appearance against former club
- Brentford’s James Tarkowski refuses to play amid Burnley transfer speculation
THREE stunning first-half goals ensured Burnley held off Brentford’s revival to close the gap on the SkyBet Championship’s automatic promotion places to two points.
The Clarets had clear daylight through a Scott Arfield curler, Joey Barton’s free-kick and George Boyd’s half-volley after a rampant performance in the opening 45 minutes, described by boss Sean Dyche as “arguably the best since I’ve been here”.
Brentford’s top scorer Alan Judge – who could be at Turf Moor by the end of the month – fired home to give the Bees hope of a fightback but it wasn’t forthcoming despite an improved second-half display.
The build-up was dominated by James Tarkowski’s refusal to play for Brentford, who have opened up internal disciplinary proceedings, amid transfer interest from opponents Burnley.
A third away win of the week moved Dyche’s men to within a point of third-placed Derby County, who host Birmingham on Saturday, and two points of the top two.
Dean Smith was pleased with his side’s reaction but the disappointing start proved costly as the Bees fell to a fourth successive defeat in all competitions.
Andre Gray returned to Griffin Park for the first time since leaving in August for £9 million but Burnley’s 14-goal striker missed several first-half chances as he failed to get on the scoresheet and was withdrawn after 65 minutes.
Boss Dyche was subjected to taunts from Brentford fans behind the dugout over his pursuit of Tarkowski, whose absence left a gaping hole in the Bees defence which was clinically exploited by the Clarets from the outset.
The visitors’ composed start was rewarded in the 12th minute when Arfield curled his fifth goal of the season into the top corner with sublime precision from Gray’s lay-off.
It took until the half-hour mark for their superiority to be confirmed as Barton – from a one-step run-up – nonchalantly clipped a 25-yard free-kick past David Button for his second goal in as many games.
Nine minutes later, Boyd latched on to a loose Jack O’Connell clearance to send a sweet volley nestling into the bottom corner for his third league goal of the campaign.
Lacking in inspiration, a hapless Brentford managed a solitary shot in the first period as Burnley outclassed their West London opponents, with what was described by former Bees boss Uwe Rosler as “a complete away performance”.
Smith evidently rallied his troops at the interval and a double change – Sam Saunders and Lasse Vibe on for Sergi Canos and Marco Djuricin – brought immediate dividends as they sought to limit the damage.
With the hosts a different proposition, Judge drilled home his 11th goal of the season after skilfully gliding away from Matthew Lowton on 57 minutes.
The winger almost caught out Tom Heaton again at his near-post with a clever free-kick and Maxine Colin rifled into the side netting for the re-energised Bees, whose second-half showing matched their efforts in the midweek defeat by leaders Middlesbrough.
But despite showing greater fighting spirit and urgency in the second half, it was too little too late for a Brentford side who remain eight points adrift of the play-offs in 11th place.
Stout defending saw Burnley through after a convincing first-half display which took their tally to 16 goals in their last four league outings, of which they have won three.
Substitutes: Saunders (on for Canos 45′), Vibe (on for Djuricin 45′) and Yennaris (on for Swift 67′).
Not used: Bonham (GK), McEachran, Hoffman, Barbet.
Goals: Judge (57′)
Substitutes: Hennings (on for Gray 65′)
Not used: Nizic (GK), Duff, Darikwa, Marney, Kightly, Taylor.
Goals: Arfield (12′), Barton (30′), Boyd (39′)
Referee: Chris Kavanagh (Manchester) – 9/10