THERE was no red carpet rolled out at Deepdale on the eve of the Oscars – just red mist in the tunnel.
Clarets past and present were understood to have been caught up in heat of the moment exchanges after Jack Cork’s late winner lifted Burnley’s play-off hopes, and almost certainly consigned rivals Preston to the drop.
North End boss Phil Brown had asked for passion on the pitch if they are to survive what looks an increasingly doomed relegation fight.
He admitted it had spilled over once the final whistle had gone.
But Burnley had won the battle where it mattered, though not for the first time this season they had to come from behind to do so.
A classy equaliser for Jay Rodriguez 52 minutes before Cork clinched it with a diving header took the Clarets’ rescue mission to an unrivalled 22 points earned from losing positions.
They are prepared to fight for that top six place.
And at the end of the season they could look back on their two meetings with Preston as the catalysts for realising their ambitions.
Back in September, North End threatened to trash the Turf Moor fortress; Burnley’s antidote to lingering travel sickness which, had it been taken away from them – especially by their rivals – could have been detrimental to the rest of the campaign.
As it was, a late hat-trick for Chris Iwelumo and Rodriguez’s late winner kept them going, and effectively killed Preston’s season there and then.
Now, under Eddie Howe’s guidance, a still enviable home record is being married to ever-improving efforts on the road at a time when teams above them are beginning to falter.
They would have been aware of Leeds’ 3-0 loss at automatic promotion-chasing Swansea in the day’s early kick-off.
That’s three games without a win for the Yorkshire club now, and three games in hand for Burnley before the derby got under way at Deepdale. Incentive, if ever any more was needed, to take the same points they took from Watford a fortnight beforehand, with the same starting line-up.
Defender David Gray laid some early markers down for the home side, doing what his manager had asked of him in winning his individual battle with two crunching tackles on Danny Fox to stop the left back getting forward, the second of which earned a free kick for Burnley and served as early reminders for referee Howard Webb that he would have to keep his wits about him.
But only once was the Premier League and World Cup official tempted to reach for his cards, despite numerous incidents through-out the game where bookings would have been justified.
Barry Nicholson drew first blood in this often scrappy contest after Billy Jones and Ian Ashbee had gone close with speculative efforts.
Threaded through by Paul Coutts, the midfielder held off Clarke Carlisle’s challenge and slotted the ball beyond Lee Grant.
Brown cheered from his lofty position in the gantry but came down to rally his troops from the touchline when Rodriguez got Burnley back in it less than 10 minutes later.
Grant’s long kick was flicked on by Iwelumo and poked through by Chris Eagles shortly after he had switched places with Rodriguez, who raced through from the left before giving Iain Turner the eyes and, with complete composure, stroked in his ninth of the season, and third of his career against Preston, having scored while on loan for Barnsley at Deepdale last season.
The second half had its moments.
Eagles left centre half Craig Morgan on his backside on a mazy run into the box, but his final ball couldn’t beat Sean St Ledger, whose clearance sparked a Preston breakaway.
Burnley got back on the front foot and Eagles should have produced a better finish when he linked with Rodriguez on the edge of the box, before having appeals for at least an indirect free kick ignored when he was obstructed by Ashbee just inside the area.
Preston brought Iain Hume on for Coutts and pushed, but there wasn’t much to test Grant.
Even when goalscorer Nicholson stung his hands with a fierce drive the Clarets goalkeeper was quick to smother his spillage.
A draw – what would have been four in a row for North End and second on the spin in the Championship for Burnley – was looking increasingly inevitable, until Cork picked up the ball inside the Preston half.
With time and space to assess his options, he picked out second-half substitute Wade Elliott on the right and set off on a burst into the box, where he met the winger’s sublime cross with a fearless diving header.
Five thousand and more Burnley fans behind that goal went wild.
Three points were so much more useful than one, and Fox’s deflection from substitute Eddie Johnson’s late effort, and Grant’s save from Jones’ header in the fourth of five added on minutes made sure the Clarets kept hold of them.