Burnley 3-0 Birmingham: Zaroury quick off the mark in comfortable Clarets win
Anass Zaroury took less than a minute to announce his return from the World Cup as Burnley secured a 3-0 win over Birmingham.
The Morocco winger, who played for his country in the play-off for third place just 10 days earlier, was thrown straight back into the action by manager Vincent Kompany and responded by scoring the quickest goal in the Championship this season, with 50 seconds on the clock.
Connor Roberts, another player who tasted World Cup action with Wales, netted just before half-time and Nathan Tella rounded things off late on.
The win puts table-topping Burnley three points clear of second-placed Sheffield United and 11 ahead of neighbours Blackburn, who are third.
Zaroury has made a healthy habit of coming off his left-wing position to score this season, and when Manuel Benson – who equally spreads terror down the right flank – combined with Roberts to carve open the dozing Birmingham defence, Zaroury popped up close to the penalty spot to fire home the full-back’s cross.
The Clarets then took full control, containing the Midlanders’ attempts to gain a foothold and constantly threatening to open them up on the flanks with Benson and Zaroury in a dangerous mood.
Benson and Roberts combined again, with the Belgian playing a one-two off his Welsh team-mate and then firing over the bar.
Birmingham’s attempts to add a physical element to the game did not pay off either, with Troy Deeney on the end of a painful ankle rap from Josh Cullen that earned the Burnley man a booking.
Hannibal Mejbri sought some vengeance with a clumsy hack at Roberts that saw him also get a yellow and in the angry aftermath Tahith Chong shoved Jack Cork to become the third entry in referee Darren England’s book.
It was a matter of time before Burnley’s patient, methodical build-up paid dividends again, and in the 44th minute they secured the second goal.
Roberts started it again, but this time he also finished it, playing a neat one-two with Josh Brownhill before firing a left-footed shot low into the corner.
Birmingham almost grabbed a lifeline in first-half added time, Juninho Bacuna curling a 25-yard free-kick just wide of the angle of Aro Muric’s post and bar.
Deeney was next to go in the book, early in the second half as he caught Roberts late and high.
Burnley then set about killing Birmingham’s interest in the game, with Benson carving inside from the right and firing a shot inches over John Ruddy’s bar.
The Clarets went close again as the marauding Zaroury cut in from the left and curved a cross towards the penalty spot. Jay Rodriguez had to swivel and adjust, managing to get the faintest of backheels to the ball, but Ruddy read the flight of the improvised shot and grabbed it at the second attempt.
Burnley would not be denied though and deep in added time, substitute Tella rounded off the scoring, racing onto a through ball from Charlie Taylor and slotting his shot under Ruddy.