Andre Gray enjoys his trips to Alfreton Town and did so again with a hat-trick which earned the Clarets victory in a highly entertaining pre-season work-out.
Gray scored twice to lead Luton Town to a 5-0 win at the Impact Arena in December, 2013 during a golden season which saw him score 30 goals as the inspiration for the Hatters’ return to the Football League.
The striker’s personal journey has since taken him to the Premier League and he continued his warm-up for a second tilt at the top flight with a clinical display which brought him three second half goals.
“He looked nice and sharp,” said Burnley boss Sean Dyche. “He’s worked the keeper on three of four more occasions as well, and Steven Defour has had some great moments in front of goal.
“There was only the odd stray pass here and there or it could have been a considerable score.
“But that’s not vital. It’s the fact we are creating chances, we did look a force going forward and mostly, apart from a couple of mistakes, we looked pretty tidy as a back unit as well.
“I was pleased with the energy of the performance and the fitness. I’m pleased people came through and got an early 90 minutes, which was another goal for us which we wanted to achieve this year, which is why we split the groups.
“And also a lot of the play today. We made two mistakes for their two goals and we created a lot of chances, so I’m pleased with that sides of things.
“Because that’s important, to have that freedom in the top third to create chances.”
That was certainly the case as a strong Burnley line-up – sharing the workload with the side that went to Kidderminster – played some attractive football from the start on a wonderful playing surface.
Jon Walters headed a Johann Berg Gudmundsson corner against the bar after a couple of minutes to set the tone but Alfreton goalkeeper Chris Elliott made sure it would not be a one-sided scoreline.
The former Bradford City youngster made a handful of top-class saves, denying Steven Defour, Gudmundsson and Gray with two fine stops, as Chris Long also twice went close.
But Burnley still found themselves behind at the break as Alfreton – re-building for a National League North push under former Grimsby Town legend John McDermott – took a shock lead when Tom Allan headed in a Ryan Jennings’ free-kick.
The home side made it a proper work-out for Dyche’s men who got some valuable game-time into their legs, while also managing to look easy on the eye.
And with 53 minutes the Clarets were level through Gray as he played a neat one-two with Walters before calmly slotting home.
Parity lasted just two minutes as Alfreton hit back through Chris Sharp to make it 2-1 after Andre Johnson has got in behind the Clarets’ back line.
But Gray’s elusive running was always a threat to the home side and when Luke Shiels – perhaps harshly – was judged to have clipped the striker in the penalty area, he picked himself up to slot home a second equaliser.
The best was yet to come though and Gray wrapped up his hat-trick with what proved to be the winner with just under 20 minutes to go.
Jack Cork, impressive in midfield alongside the canny Defour, created the chance with a delightfully floated ball over the Town defence.
Gray’s first touch was perfect as he plucked the ball out of the air and with a further touch steered a shot into the bottom corner.
With Gudmundsson twice more going close the win could have been more emphatic.
But with plenty of boxes being ticked, it was still a successful afternoon for the Clarets, who were also able to blood a couple of their younger players as James Tarkowski and Ben Mee picked up slight injuries.
“Tarky’s got a bit of a knock. He had it before the game. Just a bit of a tight hip so we were careful with him,” added Dyche, who also confirmed that Sam Vokes had been stood down for the afternoon as a precaution following a tweak to the ankle.
“We were also careful with Ben, who got a knock and we got him straight off. We think they’re all minor.”
On a busy afternoon, the Clarets also recorded a 1-0 win at Kidderminster Harriers thanks to a first-half free-kick from Robbie Brady.
Again, several first-teamers got valuable minutes under their belts, under-lining the squad strength Dyche is looking to keep building.
“We lost five in the summer and brought in three,” he said.
“It’s fair to say we still need to add a couple more if we can. That will give us more depth, so we are on the look-out still.
“There are a couple of situations that may come to rise for us.”
Burnley v Alfreton: Heaton, Darikwa, Tarkowski (Whitmore 32), Mee (Birch 80), Taylor, Gudmundsson, Cork, Defour, C Long (Limb 83), Gray, Walters (Chakwana 70). Subs: Mitchell, Thomas, O'Neill.