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REPORT: Cheltenham Town 2 Burnley U23s 3

Bobby Thomas header gives Clarets victory over former boss Michael Duff

27 July 2019

A Bobby Thomas winner gave Burnley a morale-boosting victory in their meeting with former boss Michael Duff.

Duff nurtured a number of the young Clarets during his time in charge of the Under-18 and Under-23s before ending his 14-years of outstanding service at Turf Moor last September.

Thomas wasn’t one of those as the 18-year-old came on board as a scholar just after Duff’s promotion to the older age group.

And the teenage defender continues to blossom under the guidance of Steve Stone – who filled Duff’s boots when the former playing favourite returned to former club Cheltenham for a first crack at senior management.

Thomas header.jpg

And it was a typical Thomas header early in the second half that rewarded an increasingly assertive performance from Stone’s youngsters - aided by the return of Jimmy Dunne, Josh Benson and Ali Koiki after pre-season duties with the first team - who led three times before finally seeing it out to secure a notable result.

With the start of Cheltenham’s League Two campaign just a week away, Duff fielded close to his best available side.

Having cancelled a planned final friendly against Bristol Rovers – having drawn the Pirates in the opening round of the Carabao Cup – Duff’s men wanted a proper test.

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And despite being on the back foot for periods of the first half, the Clarets claimed two early goals to make it that way.

Stone’s side struck twice in the opening 12 minutes, both chances converted by trialists, the second after a powerful header by Dunne from a Josh Benson corner had been saved.

But neither time were they able to hold onto the lead as the veteran Luke Varney led the Robins' fightback.

The much-travelled striker – whose previous clubs include Crewe, Charlton, Portsmouth, Leeds and Blackburn Rovers – is now 36.

But his goals were integral in the successful fight against relegation inspired last season by Duff.

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And he showed all his predatory instincts by glancing in a Sean Long header at the near post and then getting in behind Burnley’s back four to coolly slot home and make it 2-2 with less than half an hour gone.

Despite the welcome presence of a calm and commanding Dunne, the Clarets were certainly tested defensively, with only brief respite coming from sporadic forays forward on the break.

But with Adam Legzdins getting down sharply to keep out a cross-shot from Varney and former Brighton midfielder Rohan Ince poking an effort just wide, Cheltenham were unable to make their possession pay with a third goal.

Josh Benson challenge.jpg

And after the break it was a case of role reversal for the opening 25 minutes as much of the football was played in the Cheltenham half.

The Clarets were more progressive and forward-looking – helped by the growing influence of midfielder Benson – and six minutes into the second half regained their lead through another set-piece.

Benson’s delivery was again spot-on, this time from a free-kick, to pick out centre-back Thomas to score with a trademark powerful header.

That might have frustrated Duff, but the former Clarets’ defender did see his side create the chances to avoid signing off their warm-up programme with a defeat.

Adam Legzdins goalmouth scramble.jpg

Varney was close to completing a hat-trick with a header deflected just wide, while Ben Tozer and substitute Jake Gray both threatened the target.

Scott Wilson also had to clear off the line in the last minute as the visitors survived a goalmouth scramble.

But the Clarets had grown impressively in stature and confidence to get their noses back in front and this time keep them there with a measure of control.

And by refusing to relinquish their advantage again, Stone's charges had done enough to secure a victory that should stand them in good stead when the real thing starts at Professional Development League level – or when individuals head out on loan.

Cheltenham Town: Flinders; Long, Raglan (Horton 82), Tozer, Bowry; Broom (Gray 62), Ince, Clements Thomas 73), Boyle, Varney (Addai 82), Campbell (Smith 62). Substitutes: Brennan, Lovett. Substitutes: Lovett, Brennan.

Burnley: Legzdins; Cropper, Thomas, Dunne, Wilson; Trialist (Conn-Clarke 52), Trialist (N’Guessan 73), Benson, Koiki; Harker, Trialist (Richardson HT). Substitutes: Calderbank-Park, Senior, Steels, Harris.

Referee: John Busby

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