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Rovers ace was right to take his red card
AS Lee Williamson made the long trudge to the dressing rooms at the Cricket Field End of Turf Moor, the visiting supporters applauded. Rarely has a man sent off been greeted so warmly.
This was not sympathy, but gratitude.
The man himself did not look particularly chuffed. Williamson had waited months to get back on a football field, but after coming on as a late substitute he was gone in 105 seconds.
It will be back to the sidelines in midweek, as he serves a one-match ban.
Is Williamson a hero or villain? Was his act unsportsmanlike or borne out of necessity?
When preventing your team from losing a vital match requires an act that is clearly against the rules of the game, what would you do?
In 2010, Luis Suarez made his choice.
Uruguay would have lost their World Cup quarter final against Ghana had he not leapt across the goalline to make a goalkeeper’s save to keep out a header in injury time.
Was he right to do it? Probably yes, if not morally.
Did he take it too far by wildly celebrating after Uruguay’s eventual victory? Definitely.
There were no such histrionics from Williamson. He did what he knew he had to do, took his punishment and departed.
Danny Ings was clear on goal. In the form the striker has been in, the chances are he would have scored.
Williamson was the man left to carry the can, the last man after Todd Kane had gifted possession to Ings near the halfway line.
Kane probably thanked his team-mate afterwards, because 34 years of derby dominance depended on Williamson taking one for the team.
Burnley fans were ready to party like it was 1979.
Clarets supporters will have just cause in seeing it all very differently.
What Williamson did was against the spirit of the game, and in their eyes the punishment was not enough for a crime that probably altered the result of the match and the path of East Lancashire football history.
But most will also be realistic. The rules are clear and had the roles been reversed, they would have wanted their player to do the same.
Indeed, Kevin Ball’s tackle on David Dunn in 2000 should not have happened either, but has been celebrated by many ever since.
In bad taste? Certainly. But an East Lancashire derby brings out such tribalism, on both sides of the fence.
After the events of the past two derby games, those at Turf Moor could be forgiven for thinking victory over Blackburn Rovers is just not meant to be.
“You’ll never beat the Rovers,” came the chant from the away end near full time.
Last time Rovers were rescued by a 95th-minute goal from David Dunn, this time it was by the freakiest of freak goals.
It may have been the first time he had faced Blackburn, but Scott Arfield knew the magnitude of what he had done.
It was his misplaced backpass that started the bizarre chain of events that led to Michael Duff smashing a clearance off Jordan Rhodes and into the net.
Sam Vokes has scored a few of those recently. This was the worst possible time for luck to even itself out.
Arfield dropped to his knees, inconsolable. Yards away Kieran Trippier had also collapsed to the ground.
There were still five minutes left, but it was like they had just been beaten in a World Cup final penalty shoot-out.
That’s how much this derby means.
Burnley’s players wanted to be heroes, and for a few minutes after Junior Stanislas’ stunning goal they thought they would be.
Fans had darted out of the lower tier of the Jimmy McIlroy Stand to celebrate with Stanislas and his team-mates.
Seconds later, at the other end of the field another pitch invader – a half-hearted streaker who had opted to retain his pants – was wrestled to the ground.
A titanic struggle ensued, requiring six stewards and police to carry him away.
Smoke bombs set off in the Jimmy Hargreaves Stand had earlier caused the authorities some concern, but for the most part rivalry inside the ground did not get out of hand.
For once at least, no chickens were released in the making of this derby.
For Rovers and their boss Gary Bowyer, who had gestured to his heart and whipped up the away fans as he walked to the dugout at kick-off, a draw meant their unbeaten record against their rivals will now stretch to 35 years before the sides meet again in March.
That will be another close contest.
For Burnley, Williamson’s contribution ensured it was once more a case of what might have been.
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