Burnley 1 Southampton 0Joey Barton announced his return to the Premier League in typical style as he came off the bench to give the Clarets the win that lifted them into the top half of the table.
Many might have thought Barton’s top-flight days were done when he left Turf Moor in the summer to join Glasgow Rangers.
But Barton’s life story rarely follows the script and after re-joining Burnley at the start of January, the 34-year-old popped up with the late goal that gave Sean Dyche’s relentless side a fourth home win in a row and sixth in their last seven home Premier League games.
Barton’s free-kick needed a deflection to find the back of the net – mirroring the effort he scored in Burnley’s derby win at Preston as they closed in on promotion last season.
But another totally committed team performance earned that slice of luck as Barton’s first Premier League goal since April, 2015 virtually vindicated the midfielder's return to Lancashire with one swing of his right boot alone.
Joey Barton's goal was his fourth in a Burnley shirt
With wide men Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Scott Arfield both injured, Dyche opted to start with Steven Defour on the left-hand side of midfield, rather than disrupt the shape that had brought the Clarets’ back-to-back home wins over Christmas and taken them to within a point of the Saints in the middle of the table.
Three successive league defeats had stalled Southampton’s progress but a mid-week EFL Cup semi-final, first-leg win over Liverpool had restored confidence in Claude Puel’s side – reflected in their first-half performance which saw the visitors create the better of the few chances on offer.
Puel made three changes to the side that had beaten the Reds, including leaving out Jay Rodriguez on the former Burnley striker’s first return to Turf Moor.
Shane Long got the nod to start in his place but the nearest the Republic of Ireland international got to adding to the six goals he had previously scored in nine games against Burnley was an effort charged down by international team-mate Jeff Hendrick.
Instead, the best openings fell to Dusan Tadic but from almost identical positions he dragged one left-foot shot across the face of goal and saw another blocked by Ben Mee when it might have just slipped past the post.
Tom Heaton also had to make a smothering save from a close-range James Ward-Prowse header, while Mee was also a prominent figure in the other penalty area.
Twice the defender went close to locating the target from Burnley set-pieces but with Southampton skipper Virgil Van Djik continuing his recent imperious form, the Clarets struggled to find a way through the visitors’ defence before the break.
The Clarets looked to raise the tempo after the re-start and enjoyed more possession in the Saints’ half, a run by Ashley Barnes drawing a foul from Oriol Romeu for a long-range free-kick Defour struck tamely at Fraser Forster.
Defour’s next effort following more good work from the impressive Hendrick was slightly more demanding for Forster as the Clarets began to pose a threat but a clear-cut chance remained elusive.
Tom Heaton's double save ensured a fourth clean sheet of the campaign at Turf Moor
That remained the case for Southampton as Burnley's back four barely put a foot wrong and with just over 20 minutes to go, Puel sent on Rodriguez in a bid to find a cutting edge.
Moments later Dyche also made a double change with Sam Vokes replacing Barnes and Barton coming on for Defour.
And it was who Barton made an instant impact, claiming the winner just five minutes after entering the fray with his first goal at Turf Moor.
Romeu was penalised for another trip 25 yards from goal and this time Barton had the pace and the direction on his attempt, with the aid of a deflection off the wall as Hendrick made his presence felt, to wrong-foot Forster and send the ball into the bottom corner with 11 minutes to go.
There was still time for Rodriguez to try and disappoint his former fans but Heaton saved the striker's effort and then made an even better stop to keep out the follow-up from substitute Josh Sims at the foot of a post.
But there was no denying Barton another addition to his remarkable CV and another big home win for the fast-rising Clarets, who sit proudly in 10th place.
Burnley: Heaton, Ward, Keane, Mee, Lowton, Hendrick, Marney (Barton 73), Defour (Vokes 73), Boyd, Gray (Tarkowski 86), Barnes. Substitutes: Flanagan, Darikwa, Kightly, Robinson.
Southampton: Forster, Soares, Yoshida, Long, Tadic (Rodriguez 68), Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Van Dijk, Bertrand, Redmond, Hiojbjerg. Substitutes: Taylor, Martina, Stephens, Clasie, Reed, Sims.
Booked: Yoshida, Romeu
Referee: Paul Tierney
Another job well done