For a number of years, Turf Moor was seen as an intimidating Premier League away ground.
In all weather — although it was usually cold, wet and windy — a visiting team knew they were in for one of their toughest battles of the season. It was ferocious, physical and loud.
In Burnley’s final couple of seasons in the top flight, that fear factor faded. Teams were matching their hosts’ physicality and intensity. The crowd’s impact was less noticeable. The aura was weakening.
Between a 3-2 victory over Aston Villa in January 2021 and a 1-0 triumph over Tottenham in February 2022, Burnley won just one of their 20 home Premier League home games.
Turf Moor needed to find its spark, its hostility and, crucially, its belief.
Step forward Vincent Kompany. Impressive home form is all the Belgian has known. He has seen first-hand how successful seasons are built on the foundations set by a team’s record at their own ground.
Burnley’s 3-1 victory over Middlesbrough on Saturday took their home record this season to 12 games unbeaten in the Championship — 13 if the Carabao Cup victory over Crawley is included.
Kompany knew there would not be an immediate fix. The relationship between players and supporters would need to grow and, primarily, that would come through performances on the pitch.
Burnley drew four of their first six home games this season, including drawing 3-3 with Blackpool after leading 3-1 and conceding a late equaliser to Stoke, who Burnley dominated for virtually the entire game. Teams were finding ways to punish Kompany’s side.
The Stoke result in early October was the turning point. Since then, Burnley have won their last six home league games and seven in all competitions. Increasingly, there is becoming an inevitability about the end result of a Burnley home game no matter what the opposition do.
It is not just about being eye-catching and playing attractive football. There is another side to it. Kompany wants his side to be hungry, aggressive, and in the faces of their opposition, pressing from the front and making every second unbearable for the teams they face, who then dread returning.
Michael Carrick’s side were the latest to attempt to conquer Turf Moor, operating in a low defensive block, showing little attacking intent and waiting for moments to counter-attack if the right situation arose.
It has become the common set-up Burnley have faced. Teams don’t arrive to take them on. They come to try and survive.
For the first half, it worked. Then Middlesbrough took the lead through substitute Duncan Watmore within five minutes of the second half beginning.
But there was no panic. Burnley increased their tempo, cranking up the pressure to an unsustainable level. Middlesbrough tried to repel but they sank deeper towards their own goal before eventually cracking.
They are not the first side to experience it and they will not be the last. Ask Reading and Rotherham, who were on the receiving end of injury-time winners not long before the World Cup break. For Rotherham, they led 2-1 going into 10 minutes of injury time and lost 3-2 via the last kick of the game. These moments don’t happen.
When Burnley click into gear, they become a boulder crashing down a mountain; an unstoppable force leaving damage and destruction in their wake. Opponents wilt under the noise and the quality. On Saturday, three goals in 12 minutes blew Middlesbrough away.
It was etched on the faces of both Middlesbrough’s and Blackburn Rovers’ players, who Burnley dismantled in their final pre-World Cup home game. Beaten and broken from being smashed in the face by the ferocious roar and waves of attacks, they trudged off to the same serenade: “You’re fucking shit.”
You would expect Burnley’s home form to improve having dropped down a division, but there is more to it. This is about attitude, atmosphere and becoming feared again.
Special things continue to happen; the impossible becoming possible again. Character and belief mean Burnley never say die.
Turf Moor’s crowd believes too and they are playing a huge role. Kompany admitted that his side gave them little to cheer about in a pedestrian first half against Middlesbrough but when they pressed effectively, the crowd responded.
The vicious noise they create is electric. It is passionate, defiant and the players feed off it. There is no impatience or concern if things aren’t going right. Everything will turn out fine in the end.
That belief and character was epitomised by Manuel Benson, who turned from zero to hero in 18 second-half minutes.
Trying to keep the ball in play, Benson booted the ball back towards his own goal. It proved to be the perfect through pass to Watmore, who raced onto it and finished calmly past Arijanet Muric.
Benson raised his hand in apology and then equalised on the hour mark with his trademark cut inside onto his left, firing a low shot past Zack Steffen at his near post. Six minutes later, his deep cross was missed by everybody, and found its way into the far corner of the net.
It helps when you have an abundance of exciting attacking options. Benson gets bums off seats with his acceleration and trickery. Anass Zaroury leaves supporters’ heads spinning, never mind the opposition. Nathan Tella’s dynamic movement and speed keep defenders guessing.
Impressively, Burnley needed neither of the latter two to see off an in-form Middlesbrough side. Tella had been struggling with the flu all week while Zaroury was making his first World Cup appearance for Morocco in their third place play-off defeat to Croatia.
Manager Kompany has frequently spoken positively about Burnley’s supporters and his players have followed suit, singing the praises of those who sing their names every week.
Once again, Kompany directed a triumphant fist bump towards the Cricket Field Stand after another game his side battled through adversity to win. The supporters responded. It is becoming a regular routine.
Turf Moor is roaring again and Burnley have their fortress back.
(Top photo: Cameron Smith/Getty Images)