Burnley 3-1 Middlesbrough: Vincent Kompany’s men rally after Duncan Watmore’s opener to an emphatic win thanks to a brace from Manuel Benson
Manuel Benson overcame gifting Middlesbrough the lead to fire his first Burnley brace and take Vincent Kompany’s team six points clear at the top of the Championship.
Benson’s blunder had allowed Boro’s Duncan Watmore to break the deadlock early in the second half but the talented Belgian bounced back brilliantly to score twice in seven minutes around the hour.
An own goal by Jonny Howson then secured Burnley’s victory to preserve their unbeaten home record this season and end Boro’s three-match winning run under Michael Carrick.
In a dramatic finale Burnley’s Connor Roberts was sent off after he was adjudged to have handled Chuba Akpom’s header – with Akpom then seeing his 89th-minute penalty saved by Arjanet Muric.
Boro had arrived with a clear gameplan to let Burnley have the ball and see if they could break down a stubborn defence.
It took 24 minutes for the home side to have any sort of chance when Johan Berg Gudmundsson beat the offside trap only for Zack Steffen to save at the near post.
Carrick’s men reached the interval with their goal intact but there were late warning signs with Josh Brownhill firing over from eight yards after Dael Fry’s miscontrol and Benson seeing his shot blocked by Darragh Lenihan.
The introduction at half-time of Watmore for Marcus Forss produced an early reward with the forward netting his third goal in five games after 49 minutes.
Benson acrobatically tried to keep the ball in by the halfway line but only succeeded in pinging it back towards his own goal where the alert Watmore reached it before Taylor Harwood-Bellis.
The former Sunderland player ran on to slip a tidy low finish past Arjanet Muric before running off to celebrate with the travelling fans behind the goal.
Boro claimed a penalty that might have made it 2-0 but Chuba Akpom’s protestations that he’d been fouled by Harwood-Bellis were waved away.
The visitors then seemed to be happy to hang on for 1-0 with goalkeeper Steffen booked for timewasting – but it proved a premature move.
After 60 minutes, Benson made amends for his error by conjuring up the equaliser.
There seemed little danger when he collected a pass from Beyer by the right-hand touchline but he brilliantly cut inside Ryan Giles and rifle a low finish into the bottom corner before Steffen could get across.
For an encore, the winger scored another beauty seven minutes later.
His curled cross from the touchline was aimed towards Jay Rodriguez but when the striker missed the ball the trajectory took it into the corner via the inside of the post.
It was Benson’s seventh goal of the season following his summer move from Antwerp and his sixth in nine games.
Any hopes Boro had of a comeback evaporated after 72 minutes. Harwood-Bellis jumped for a cross by Brownhill but the contact came from visitor’s captain Jonny Howson with the ball flying into his own net.
Boro thought they’d been given a lifeline when referee David Webb pointed to the spot for handball. Roberts protested his innocence as he was sent off, saying the ball had struck the crossbar, but Burnley avoided the double jeopardy when Akpom’s weak penalty was saved.