It was always likely that Burnley’s increasingly threadbare squad would eventually encounter one match too many and so it proved yesterday when Brighton turned up at Turf Moor for the conclusion of a unique season and left with all three points.
Nick Pope’s quest for the Golden Glove, awarded for keeping the most Premier League clean sheets, ended after just twenty minutes when Brighton’s Yves Bissouma took on the kind of speculative long-range shot which normally requires retrieving by the stewards in the stands. On this occasion however, it rifled into the top corner of Nick Pope’s goal.
Burnley looked a little flat-footed and off the pace in the first half, but should have had a penalty when Jay Rodriguez was bundled over by Dale Stephens. VAR checked it but failed to see what to everyone else was blindingly obvious and play was waved on. The decision was rendered even more baffling when set against Arsenal being awarded a spot kick for a virtually identical infringement in their match against Watford.
It would seem that VAR is failing in one of its main objectives; improved consistency in decision-making. There were teething problems when similar technology was made available to officials in cricket, rugby and tennis; but those sports ironed out such issues far more smoothly and gracefully than the ham-fisted EPL/FA alliance have managed.
Burnley did find an equaliser just before half time when Rodriguez spotted Chris Wood peeling away from his Brighton maker and delivered a pin-point chipped pass onto Wood’s toe-end. One touch brought the ball under his control and a second slid it neatly past Matt Ryan for a quite sublime goal and Wood’s fourteenth of another productive season.
It would have been hoped that Burnley would press on and claim the win that would lift them to their highest Premier League points total and hoist them into eighth place, above Arsenal and Sheffield United. But it was not to be.
Kevin Long has performed better than admirably in Burnley’s defence whilst standing in for Ben Mee, but early in the second half he was caught on the wrong side of Brighton’s Aaron Connolly who was able to shrug off Long’s challenge and slot the ball past Nick Pope.
Burnley did respond, we would have expected nothing less from them, and a succession of corners saw Jay Rodriguez denied twice; first by VAR when his flicked header was ruled out for Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s offside; and then by Dale Stephens’ goal-line clearance.
A blocked Kevin Long shot apart, that was pretty much it for the match and the season. It was a downbeat note on which to finish, a match that Burnley shouldn’t have lost and a match that a full-strength Burnley wouldn’t have lost and whilst it would have been nice to finish above Arsenal and lovely for Nick Pope to win the Golden Glove, it has to be acknowledged that Brighton took their chances and that was fair enough.
The 2019-2020 season will go down in the history books as the season of the pandemic. It is a season the likes of which we must hope we never encounter again, but enormous credit must be given to all those who worked tirelessly to bring it to a conclusion in as fitting a manner as possible, with matters being settled on the pitch and not on a spreadsheet. It wasn’t perfect but it was the best that could be done in the unique set of circumstances that the FA and the Premier League were presented with.
For Burnley, it was a very good season, a top ten finish was just reward for the efforts of a talented, resilient and determined squad of players led by a manager who continues to work wonders. There have been signs of tensions emerging over funding for transfers and squad replenishment and these will need to be addressed.
Dyche is not one to throw his toys out of the pram, but he must feel that his work at Burnley should be rewarded by the opportunity to build a squad to push onto the next level; which means jostling with the likes of Wolves, Leicester, Spurs and Arsenal for European places. Should Burnley deny him this, his stock is currently so high that there are several clubs who would not.
It must also be born in mind that any worthwhile replacement that the Clarets would seek to employ would insist on the same level of funding (if not greater) than that which Dyche is seeking.
Looking back, if Burnley’s season could have been said to pivot upon just one incident, it must surely be Nick Pope’s save of Jamie Vardy’s penalty against Leicester back in January. Had Vardy scored, Leicester would have gone 2-0 up and would most likely have won and Burnley’s slide down the table would have continued.
As it was, Burnley went on to win that game and commence a run (interrupted by the lockdown) which saw them lose only two further games and encompassed a memorable win over Manchester United at Old Trafford and a draw at the Anfield home of the all-conquering Champions, Liverpool.
This is a fine Burnley team, one of the best in their long and proud history. It has been constructed on the solid foundations of togetherness and teamwork; Clarets fans everywhere should be thankful and enjoy their play and celebrate their achievements.
Dave Thornley wraps up a long and arduous season for the Clarets. Let us hope Mike Garlick and Sean Dyche can find congruence and bolster the sqaud for the next campaign which will be on us sooner than we can blink. (TEC).