16 Conclusions on Survival Saturday: Embarrassing Toney, Chelsea loanee shines, Forest flounder, late Luton

Matt Stead
Brentford striker Ivan Toney, Nottingham Forest manager Nuno Espirito Santo and Burnley forward David Datro Fofana
Relegation Conclusions? Let's do it

The Ivan Toney Self-Auction Tour is getting a little embarrassing, Nottingham Forest are their own worst enemy, Burnley sub subs and Luton will not die.

 

1) With the help of some FA Cup quarter-final chicanery, the Premier League managed to accidentally assemble a traditional 3pm blackout schedule limited to just two games, but still laden with abundant narrative strands with potential consequences which would resonate through and beyond the imminent international break.

Poor Sky Sports would absolutely have dubbed it ‘Survival Saturday’ if they were able to broadcast a single second of it. Those selfish match-going lower-league supporters have an awful lot to answer for. But how funny that it was then-Burnley chairman Bob Lord who brought the “anti-TV” rules in six decades ago, considering the Clarets were the biggest and indeed only winners of the afternoon.

 

2) It remains eminently likely that Burnley will return from whence they came, but not as certain as it once seemed. What previously felt like an insurmountable gap to safety now stands at essentially nine points with as many games remaining, taking a thoroughly inferior goal difference into account.

There is obviously no precedent for a Vincent Kompany-led team overhauling that sort of difference in the final stage of the season to deliver unexpected glory when all seemed lost so there is nothing to see here. But good lord, the Clarets made victory while boasting a man, a goal and home advantage for about 100 minutes look like bloody hard work.

 

3) Thomas Frank said Brentford “need to be prepared” when previewing their visit to a team which had won one home Premier League game all season, that being against the only team worse than them in the entire division when Sheffield United were dismantled at Turf Moor in December.

The Dane probably didn’t have a ninth-minute red card and penalty concession – after the longest of VAR delays – in mind.

The ease with which the visitors were sliced open early on was striking, a simple ball but well-executed ball from Josh Cullen nevertheless rendering Brentford’s entire defensive line obsolete, save for Sergio Reguilon. But the Spaniard was still stationed behind Vitinho and made no attempt to play the ball when trying to amend that situation; the punishment suited the crime.

Brentford were nevertheless indignant, much like they were when Ivan Toney pretended that jumping into an opposition goalkeeper when challenging for an aerial ball was entirely fair game. Shandon Baptiste’s cross was open to competition and ended up looping into the net, but with Aro Muric sprawled on the ground it was always going to be disallowed.

 

4) Toney was booked a few minutes later after connecting with Muric’s actual head when contending for another loose ball which was ostensibly there to be won. Shot-stoppers undeniably receive a little too much protection from referees in the modern game and Brentford switching their gameplan in search of a late equaliser to ‘let’s just absolutely batter their goalkeeper for a bit’ was something of a gamble.

No Burnley player was fouled more often than Muric (three times), and indeed only Toney (four times) bettered him across the whole game.

But this was the latest stop on the rather underwhelming and anti-climactic Ivan Toney Self-Auction Tour. The sheer volume of interviews he has given in pursuit of securing his big summer move is ludicrous and frankly verging on embarrassing. It’s almost enough to distract from him having nearly as many yellow cards (three) as goals (four) since his return.

Arsenal, Man Utd and Chelsea linked Brentford striker Ivan Toney
Arsenal, Man Utd and Chelsea linked Brentford striker Ivan Toney

 

5) Poor Muric soldiered on through to the final whistle, having played the biggest role of any player in securing the win on his Premier League debut. One game is not nearly enough of a sample size but James Trafford has three wins from 28 matches so there is that.

Kompany explained his goalkeeping change by saying Muric “deserved a chance”, but that was true months ago, if not at the start of the actual season after he helped deliver promotion but was dropped for someone who had never played above League One.

Muric produced some stunning saves, not least from Yoane Wissa on the stroke of half-time or when Dara O’Shea almost scored a comical own goal with a blind pass back towards his own goal under pressure from Mathias Jensen. Muric had to sprint from the other side of his six-yard box to slide and clear the ball from the line, subsequently saving Toney’s follow-up.

It is impossible to know where Burnley would be if Muric had been trusted more often this season, but equally difficult not to wonder. One thing is as close to certain as possible: Trafford would have wilted under that late Brentford assault.

READ MORE: Liverpool hero below Arsenal, Chelsea goalkeepers in ranking of all 20 Premier League No. 2s

 

6) As they should have been, Burnley were the better side for most of the game after Jacob Bruun Larsen converted the early penalty. But mainly through David Datro Fofana’s affable incompetence, they took an age maximising that advantage.

His miss in the first half was incredible, staring the gift horse the excellent Lorenz Assignon had offered in the mouth and almost completely airing the shot from a matter of yards out. It barely went out for a goal kick but his reaction of disbelieving laughter rather than performative fury was actually charming.

Another chance from a driven Charlie Taylor cross went by in similar but slightly less catastrophic fashion before Fofana got his goal, taken beautifully when played in by Wilson Odobert. But his impression of Dion Dublin against Shay Given before that was glorious.

Mark Flekken had the ball in his hands as Fofana waited patiently. The call never came and the Brentford keeper rolled the ball out. Fofana nipped in from behind but slipped and Flekken squeezed the ball out for a corner.

Fofana obviously laughed it off but knowing that he’s jumping this Burnley ship in the summer and playing well enough to get a chance at Chelsea next season must be liberating. He has all the requisite qualities, just not necessarily always at the same time.

 

7) Immediately before that second goal, Brentford had countered and found themselves entering a Burnley half occupied by no defenders. Quite how Kompany’s side were leading and had a man advantage but still showed enough naivety to put themselves in that position is unknown. But Brentford being Brentford, they wasted the opportunity anyway.

Keane Lewis-Potter had only just been introduced but could not shake Vitinho – who had started – before his shot was blocked with Toney waiting. Burnley recovered, built from the back and scored within a minute. It encapsulated how both teams probably deserve relegation at this point.

Brentford particularly, despite these results keeping them in 15th with an admittedly disappearing cushion. Burnley and Sheffield United have won four home league games between them this season and half of those have come against the Bees. Injuries cannot fully explain that embarrassment.

 

8) There will be blame levelled at Darren Bond and his officiating team. That much was made obvious when Kristoffer Ajer decided to celebrate what turned out to be an excellent consolatory header by shouting in the referee’s face as he returned to his own half, replete with yellow card.

Reguilon, Zanka and the decision not to deploy the returning counter-attacking threat of Bryan Mbeumo until the 78th minute rank higher in terms of reasons for a 14th defeat in 18 Premier League games.

 

9) Kompany subbed a player on and off yet again without injury being a factor. It’s happened seven times this season and he’s been responsible for four of them. Someone stop that man. Although it does seem to work.

 

10) Nottingham Forest would have leapfrogged Brentford with victory and led fairly comfortably from the 34th minute until late on at Kenilworth Road. But the substitution of their goalscorer, assister and other biggest threat culminated in a build-up of pressure which inevitably delivered an equaliser.

Forest were in control of the situation and Luton were struggling to create much of note until Chris Wood, Divock Origi and Morgan Gibbs-White – two valuable outlets and one phenomenal protector of the ball – were replaced by Callum Hudson-Odoi, Felipe and Nicolas Dominguez. One forward with no support and defensive-minded players saw Forest struggle to get out, invite pressure and eventually concede through yet another corner.

It was a strange tribute from Nuno to his predecessor. Steve Cooper did much the same thing at the City Ground against Luton in October, making three defensive changes after taking a 2-0 lead and another double substitution of defenders soon after the Hatters pulled a goal back and generated enough momentum to score a stoppage-time equaliser.

There were no glaring referee mistakes so good luck wheeling Mark Clattenburg out to justify yet another spurned chance to pull clear of the mess.

 

11) The damning fact is that Luton have scored 16 Premier League goals from the 76th minute onwards this season, a tally only Liverpool can better. Sitting back and trying to defend that lead was, in a word, stupid. Forest got what they deserved.

 

12) Gibbs-White was brilliant through and his assist for Wood was ridiculous. At no point between winning the header, making the run to receive the return ball from Neco Williams and crossing for his lurking teammate did he look up. It was all instinct, muscle memory from a player strong enough to carry an entire team’s attacking burden.

Wood has also scored nine times this season – it was a brilliant finish, all things considered – and is quietly approaching a fifth Premier League campaign of reaching double figures for goals. Precisely what everyone expected last summer.

 

13) As for Origi, it seems bizarre to praise the 28-year-old for his switches of play but they were genuinely exemplary. At least a couple of times he dug Forest out of a tough situation in possession or simply opened up new avenues with a passing range he has never been particularly associated with.

One of them came early in the second half and helped produce a huge chance for Forest. Anthony Elanga collected it, traded passes with Wood and curled his effort past Thomas Kaminski but the Luton keeper got a touch and Teden Mengi superbly cleared off the line.

There were some absurd clearances in this game. One Origi shot similarly beat Kaminski but Reece Burke somehow diverted it away, then Williams dug one great Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu cross out from under the Forest bar just before half-time. Issa Kabore dribbled another Origi shot away from the line with Kaminski beaten as two sides scrapping for everything displayed some elite last-gasp defending.

 

14) Murillo is incredible fun. It is difficult to think of a centre-half quite like him. Willy Boly was very good by his side and it does feel like the Brazilian needs that guidance but if Forest can properly harness his ability then they have a gem on their hands.

His role in Ruddock-Mpanzu’s injury-enforced substitution was unfortunate. Murillo, stacked as he is, barged the Luton midfielder into the advertising hoardings with what did seem to be unintended force, and the collision did not look pleasant.

Soon after, the Forest centre-half hammered a free-kick goalwards from about 65 yards and forced a corner from Kaminski’s scrambling save. It’s a shame Nuno’s side are as bad attacking them as they are defending them.

 

15) It would have been the best of an already phenomenal list of goalline clearances but Williams could not quite get enough behind his attempt to keep Luke Berry at bay. Ross Barkley’s corner was headed back into danger by Burke and Berry’s clever finish on the turn restored parity.

Luton remain within touching distance of survival and fair play to Berry, whose nine Premier League appearances this season do not even equal a full hour of actual game time.

Cauley Woodrow had been a little more present this campaign before his late equaliser against Crystal Palace, but not much. There is a rare spirit flowing through this Luton team and they will not go down easily, if indeed at all.

 

16) If you think 16 Conclusions on two Saturday 3pm games was an ambitious and frankly foolish concept, just know that it comes four years to the day after similar coverage on a true Premier League classic between Spurs and Manchester United which never actually happened.

Bloody lockdown. Not sure about the excuse this time. Bloody FA Cup? That’ll do.