Dizzy heights leave Burnley with headache

Stoke City 2 Burnley 0
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The Independent Football

Twelve months ago Stoke City took their first tentative steps into the Premier League after a 23-year absence from English football's top flight and found themselves three goals down by half-time against Bolton at the Reebok Stadium.

They went on to lose the match, and a national bookmaker afterwards infamously paid out to punters who had wagered on the club to be relegated. Stoke, however, not only survived but prospered in the final third of the season to finish 12th with an 11-point cushion of safety. At the Britannia Stadium yesterday, Burnley were cast into Stoke's former role as they gingerly tiptoed back into the top flight for the first time in 33 years as favourites to go straight back down and made a similarly inauspicious start. Ryan Shawcross headed the home side into a 19th-minute lead and what followed was eerily reminiscent of last season's opening day.

Burnley, whose manager Owen Coyle fielded nine of the side that started the Championship play-off final in May, with summer signings Tyrone Mears and Steven Fletcher the only new faces, did not play badly, but they quickly learned that the margins between survival and failure this season will be narrow.

"We didn't lose because we can't pass or play good football, and we had players out there who didn't look out of place on the Premier stage," Coyle, said. "We lost because we couldn't defend two set pieces."

Burnley's inability to defend a Liam Lawrence free-kick after 19 minutes and allow Shawcross a free header inside the six-yard box set them on the road to defeat.

Worse was to follow, and they went 2-0 down after 33 minutes when a trademark long throw by Rory Delap was headed into his own net by Stephen Jordan.

It was almost 3-0 when Ricardo Fuller's looping header was hacked off his own line by Clark Carlisle and the visitors, who felt they deserved a penalty when Chris McCann tumbled under the challenge of new signing Dean Whitehead, were mightily relieved to hear referee Steve Bennett's half-time whistle.

There was improvement from Burnley in the second half but Stoke's defence – impressively organised by the imposing Abdoulaye Faye – always looked capable of protecting their lead.

Stoke's manager, Tony Pulis, said: "It was the first time that we have played a Premier League game at home and been favourites to win. I hope Burnley have a good season, but their fans at home will be very important to them, as they were for us last season. That's where they will pick up most of their points."

Since Burnley's next four Premier League fixtures are Manchester United and then Everton at Turf Moor, followed by Chelsea and Liverpool away, their induction looks like being very testing.

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