AS the final whistle blew at The Den, keeper Lee Grant sank to his knees, punching the air.
The Clarets had just registered back to back league wins for the first time since April, but you imagine Grant’s reaction was just as much connected with that rarest of Burnley commodities – keeping a clean sheet.
Grant and his team-mates shut out Millwall after digging deep in a battling second-half performance, where they defended the lead given them by Jay Rodriguez shortly before the break.
The buzz phrase after the game was ‘win ugly”, and that was certainly the case.
And the reward, aside from climbing the table to within five points of the play-off places, with a game in hand, was to get that monkey off their backs, after 23 games without that elusive clean sheet.
Grant was also the custodian, and man of the match, the last time Burnley achieved a shut-out, in the 1-0 win at Hull City almost six months ago.
He claimed not to have been unduly worried by the statistic: “It didn’t really concern me and it didn’t really come into a lot of people’s mindsets.
“But I think people jump on the bandwagon and started talking about it.
“We had to work really hard for that and we know it was coming because we’ve put in the work.
“We stayed positive and thankfully it has come.”
Strangely, that game at Hull was also won by the same clever corner routine that proved Millwall’s downfall here.
That night, Ross Wallace’s flag-kick was stepped over by Chris Eagles, and while Rodriguez scuffed his shot, loan man Nathan Delfouneso turned the ball in for a debut goal.
At The Den, Wallace’s corner was dummied by David Edgar, and while Rodriguez again somewhat choked his effort, it was enough to evade the Lions defence and creep inside the far corner.
It was the first we had seen of the training ground manoeuvre this season, despite it proving highly successful last term, and boss Eddie Howe said: “The corner routine hasn’t been out for a while, so we decided to wheel it out here.
“We’re pleased with it because there are such fine margins between winning and losing, and you can win a game on a set-piece.”
No one seems to have gotten wise to it though, and whether it brings a goal or not, it has more often resulted in a great chance to score.
And great chances to score were few and far between at The Den.
The sides went into the game in conflicting form, Burnley having hammered Nottingham Forest 5-1, while Millwall had lost five of six, having scored one and conceded 13 in September.
Having lost talisman Steve Morison to Norwich in the summer, the goals have dried up, with only Doncaster scoring fewer, and the defence – the backbone of their fine campaign last term – nowhere near as watertight.
Kenny Jackett sent his side out in a 4-2-1-3 formation, handing debuts to loanees Brian Howard and Jay Simpson, but Burnley dominated with the ball in the first half in terms of possession and territory, without making the most of some promising situations.
Marvin Bartley and Chris McCann won the midfield battle with ease against a toothless Lions engine room, while Wallace and Junior Stanislas were great outlets for the Clarets.
Burnley weren’t pressured until they got into the final third, and it was all too easy, while you could see why Millwall have struggled for goals, with Dany N’Guessan isolated as the midfield and defence tried to keep compact. The goal was just reward for Burnley’s efforts, but Jackett changed things at the interval, replacing the ineffective Simpson with the more physical John Marquis, moving to a 4-4-2.
All of a sudden, James Henry and Liam Feeney pinned back Burnley’s full-backs, and the Clarets struggled to keep possession, fighting fires all over the pitch and playing percentages.
Burnley had a let-off just after the break as Liam Trotter, released from a less familiar anchor role, played in Marquis, who was brought down by Grant, and while Andre Amougou cleared the loose ball off the line, Marquis turned in the rebound – only to see the linesman’s flagged raised. Marquis then headed over a Howard corner, but while the Clarets were forced to defend deep, they themselves had chances to kill the game – the first falling to Stanislas after great work from Wallace and McCann, but the former Hammer took the shot early, setting it too far wide as he looked to curl it in the far corner.
Charlie Austin was then released by Rodriguez, but opted for an extra touch rather than taking a shot early, and was crowded out.
At the other end, Marquis looked to trick his way past Edgar in the box, but threw himself theatrically to the floor. It was a heart-in-mouth moment, but fortunately the referee was unmoved, instantly brandishing a yellow card to the striker for diving.
Marquis, as Grant and Edgar said after the game, as much as confirmed the referee’s suspicions in any case in his conversations with the pair.
There was time for another escape as Marquis’ header was blocked from Feeney’s cross, and despite four minutes of injury time, Millwall couldn’t conjure up another opening of note, and Burnley celebrated a second away win from four so far this season, going into the international break in great heart after seven points from nine from what looked a hugely testing week.