Joey Barton may not be accustomed to the etiquette of a substitute – but Burnley boss Sean Dyche was glad he introduced him for a match-winning return to the Premier League.
In a 1-0 success over Southampton, the 34-year-old midfielder scored with a free-kick in the 78th minute, five minutes after coming off the bench for his first top-flight appearance since May 2015, as the Clarets’ eighth win at Turf Moor in the league this season moved them up to 10th.
Barton was an integral part of Burnley’s title-winning campaign last season before he spent an ill-fated spell at Rangers, and he rejoined Dyche’s squad earlier this month, despite a possible Football Association ban hanging over him for alleged betting breaches.
He started at Sunderland in the FA Cup last week, but was only among the substitutes against Saints before Dyche brought him on, which he did just once in their Championship campaign, and was rewarded with the winner.
Asked what such a colourful character is like as a replacement, Dyche joked: “He said, ‘What do I do?’ He was confused by being sub.
“He said, ‘Do I take my boots out with me? Wear a T-shirt or wear a warm-up top or what?’ I said, ‘Oi, you, get on with it!’
“There was another word in there, but you can imagine the sort of rapport built out of that moment!”
Barton may have struggled to find a home at several stops throughout his career, the most recent at Ibrox, but at Burnley he has a manager who understands him and a fan base who adore him, despite his exit last summer.
And in a dull contest lacking attacking spark, it had to be Barton who claimed the winner, even if his low free-kick may have gone in via a slight deflection.
“You can’t make it up,” Dyche admitted.
“I just said to him, ‘I couldn’t write your story’. Sublime finish – of course, he’ll be telling everyone that anyway. We probably earned a scratch of luck.
“He’s experienced. There’s a manliness to the way he goes about his performance and there’s an assuredness from many years of playing top-level football around many clubs.
“For all he gets a bit of stick, he’s so used to that, he brushes it off and gets on with it and focuses on his football.
“I felt it was appropriate for him to come back in to us. I’ve had no question marks about him before and I didn’t see why I would again. So far, he’s slotted in nicely again.”
Despite beating Liverpool in the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final in midweek, Southampton slipped to a fourth successive league defeat.
Their problems are clear as they failed to add to their total of 19 goals. Only Middlesbrough have managed fewer.
“It’s difficult to accept this loss,” said Saints boss Claude Puel.
“It was just one free-kick, a strange free-kick to win this game. It’s a big disappointment.
“Many games are the same – with quality, with a lot of chances. It’s important to be clinical and to be deserving all of this good work. It’s a big frustration and a big disappointment of course.
“It’s important to stop this scenario and to continue with the same spirit and to be more clinical.”