Dave Thornley, the Clarets Mad resident match summariser reflects on the trials and tribulations of a really long, and awkward season at Turf Moor.
This football season has felt like a long hard trudge through unfamiliar and at times unforgiving terrain. That Burnley have emerged from it with their Premier League status intact is to their credit, but on more than one occasion it has been touch and go.
Burnley have felt the absence of the fans from their stadium perhaps more keenly than other teams. In normal times, support from the stands can drive the players to greater efforts and turn around a losing cause, whilst simultaneously disorientating their opponents. In several matches this season, the absence of that encouragement proved telling.
For the fans, compelled to follow their team from a remote distance, this season has been a largely frustrating experience. Traditionally, it was something of a perk when a fixture one was unable to attend in person was televised; but a season in which each and every game may only be viewed from the sofa, often at inconvenient times, ultimately it became was a challenging endeavour.
It was therefore welcome indeed that last Wednesday night’s final home game of the season, against Liverpool, was played in front of 3500 balloted and socially distanced spectators.
For the lucky recipients of which I was one, it was an unusual match-day experience; corralled into queues at each designated entrance gate; credentials examined; masked up and ushered to an unfamiliar seat; with scented hand-sanitizer wafting around the spring air; fans of my vintage will recall that the signature aroma of Turf Moor used to be a heady concoction of tobacco, Bovril and stale urine.
Those in attendance were treated to a pretty decent match; Leicester and Chelsea, who were contesting fourth place with Liverpool, can have no complaints about the level of commitment shown by Burnley and although Liverpool ran out winners, it was a much closer call than the 3-0 score line would suggest.
Indeed, the impressive Allison in the Liverpool goal was employed to a far greater extent than Burnley’s Will Norris, a surprise inclusion ahead of Bailey Peacock-Farrell who has let in rather too many goals whilst deputising for Nick Pope, despite being blameless for most of them.
Norris might have done better with Roberto Firminho’s opening goal, turning in Robertson’s left-wing cross, and Oxlade-Chamberlain’s late third, twisting past Charlie Taylor and unleashing a low shot. Equally the keeper might have felt entitled to receive greater assistance from his defenders for the second, a straight-forward far post header from Liverpool’s unmarked centre-back Nat Phillips.
In between times, Burnley committed themselves manfully to the task before them; Chris Wood and Ben Mee each came close to scoring but in the final analysis Liverpool’s extra class would win out.
Concluding the season, Burnley put in a sloppy and listless display in losing yesterday’s final fixture against already relegated Sheffield United. The only goal scored by David McGoldrick, came towards the end of the first half and once again illustrated what has become an alarming feature of Burnley’s recent matches; namely a tendency to back off in the face of an opponent running with the ball from deep positions.
A fully fit Nick Pope may well have turned McGoldrick’s shot around the post, Will Norris failed to get an outstretched hand to the ball. He should not be blamed for not being Nick Pope.
Despite some magnificent high points, away wins at Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton; a brilliant comeback victory over Aston Villa and the handing of a four goal hammering to Wolves, it has for the most part been a tough and often miserable season.
Injuries haven’t helped, neither has the club’s chronic inactivity in the last two transfer windows and it is massively to the credit of the character of the players and the management of Sean Dyche that Burnley hauled themselves away from relegation trouble and were able to keep the dreaded drop at arm’s length.
Nevertheless, Burnley failed to muster forty points and finished fourth bottom, albeit some way clear of the teams below them. This is not a cause for satisfaction and the squad, as it is currently constituted, will struggle to survive next season; given that it is unlikely that three other teams will implode as completely as Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United did this season.
A lot of hard work lies ahead of the club’s hierarchy as they seek to replenish the squad. Most supporters will have their own ideas as to which players they would like to see wearing the Claret shirt next season – the scorer of yesterday’s winning goal would be on my list – but it is perhaps of greater importance that Burnley re-assert the core values which have served them so well in recent seasons: commitment, discipline, organisation, and fitness. New arrivals must buy into those values.
We are Burnley, we owe no apology to anyone for the way we set about the task of staying in the Premier League. Next season needs to be better than this, if the new owners come through with the support they have pledged to Sean Dyche and hold off advances for both Dyche and for key players, there is every reason to believe it will be.