Football Features

Southampton 1-2 Burnley: An anatomy of Westwood’s ‘impossibly absurd’ goal for anyone who missed it

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 14:48, 15 February 2020

In a windswept afternoon of football, Burnley beat Southampton 1-2 thanks in part to an impossibly absurd goal.

Burnley had a corner just two minutes into the game and, with the score at 0-0, looked to pummel the weaker Southampton side with their colossal side. Saints had picked the massive Jannik Vestegaard as some sort of bulwark against the sheer size of the Burnley boys, so they knew what to expect as Ashley Westwood stood ready to send the corner in.

At least, they thought they did.

Theatricality and deception are powerful agents to the uninitiated, and the sight of the Burnley’s army of giants meandering up the field for a set-piece all clad in green like it was the March of the Ents is pure theatre. So Saints are all set-up to handle a deep corner, with goalkeeper Alex McCarthy even standing near his back-post, ready to spring out and catch it.

Then Ashley Westwood pulls the trigger on a spectacular act of misdirection. He whips the ball with tremendous speed and confidence to the near-post. The near-post.

Now, corners often get hit to the near-post all the time, as teams look to attack that area. Often those corners get slightly underhit and the first-man (usually a striker) clears the ball emphatically. Fans get frustrated at teams inability to clear the first-man with corners but the team is going for the smallest possible window to get the best possible chance, it’s understandable.

But instantly you can tell this corner is different. It’s not heading towards the penalty spot like most corners, it’s hugging the by-line like it’s magnetically drawn to it. How much of this was Westwood’s design and how much was a result of the ferocious whims of Storm Dennis’ is up for debate, but the end result is the same: this ball is going to be a problem.

The ball is low(-ish). It’s not going above head height and it’s drifting like a dozing driver on a midnight road. McCarthy has realised the problem and is running across his goal like a cartoon character, charging behind the line desperate to try and get into position to make a save. He’s not going to make it, but that’s alright because club hero Danny Ings has it covered.

Ings is the striker on the near-post, and his job is to clear the ball. Now ordinarily this would involve him leaping to head a corner away, but now he’d have to stoop and either head it behind for a corner or hook it away with his foot. Chris Wood is running to try and contest the ball, but Ings will get to it before Wood can make his considerable presence felt. So no problem, right?

Wrong.

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For reasons that can only be explained by Danny Ings himself, he chooses to leave it. Ings just sticks his hands up like Sergio Ramos does after fouling someone and backs away from a ball he very definitely had a responsibility to clear. Maybe he thinks it’s going wide? Maybe he thinks McCarthy is in position to cover?

In the end it’s irrelevant, Ings leaves the ball and it sails into the back of the net. Westwood’s second Olympic Goal within the last 12 months after sailing one over Alisson’s head at Anfield in March 2019. Then he relied on some tactical fouling from his defenders, today it was all thanks to Danny Ings.

Danny Ings against his old club – the side he claims to have joined as a boy and left as a man – makes a childish error and the ball goes in. McCarthy arrives to clear the ball seconds too late, and the ball bounces out where Ben Mee shows up to tap it home and wheel away in glorious celebration. Mee thinks he’s scored, but what he doesn’t know is that goal-line technology has already ruled that Westwood scored.

The game then carried on, although lord knows why as nothing could possibly top the madness of the opening goal. Danny Ings briefly vindicated himself with a superb strike to equalise before Matej Vydra one-upped him with an even better goal to win it for Burnley in the second-half.

So Ings managed to spare his blushes, and the focus will probably all go onto Vydra’s goal, but we cannot forget the madcap majesty of Ashley Westwood’s opener. Alex McCarthy’s hapless flailing, Danny Ings’ bizzare indecision and the fickle fury of Storm Dennis giving us one of the most impossibly absurd goals of the season.

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