Survival of the Premier League's Fittest

By The Editor's Chair
29 May 2017
Survival of the Fittest.

In the final analysis, Burnley’s season in the Premier League ended as it began, with an odd goal home defeat.

 A frustratingly downbeat conclusion to what was otherwise a season of steady and demonstrable upward progress, punctuated by a few memorable performances.

Two seasons ago, in the Clarets’ previous top-flight campaign, Burnley were wide-eyed innocents in unfamiliar territory, naïve and guileless newbies at the mercy of the neighbourhood bullies.

It proved to be too arduous a task and try as they might, the season eventually subsided into relegation.

But after earning the right to move back into the Premier League neighbourhood at the first time of asking , it was clear that that Sean Dyche and his team had learned a great deal from that earlier reconnaissance and absorbed the lessons of their previous visit.

One of those lessons was the need for a stronger start and the early 2-0 win over Liverpool injected some momentum into the season and provided the first of those memorable moments. It also put down a maker that Burnley were not in the top flight of English football and about to be pushed around.

As the season progressed, the adjectives applied by media pundits to Burnley’s play were of the positive, but unattractive variety, disciplined, determined, organised. These were indeed the cornerstones of the Clarets play and it served them well through the autumn and winter months.

Sean Dyche had his team well-drilled and superbly fit but Burnley also showed themselves to be capable of playing some stirring football at times and the fans were treated to a number of spectacular goals.

Playing at Fortress Turf Moor created a series of victories for the Clarets which by the end of January had ensured a points total which was already enough to almost guarantee Premier League survival.

Then things started to go awry. A shock FA Cup defeat at home by non-league Lincoln City marked an embarrassing low point and was followed immediately by a sequence of away fixtures; which brings us to the elephant in the room, Burnley’s quite abysmal away form. 

Turf Moor generated an atmosphere which seemed to provide the players with an extra step of pace, a touch more crispness in the tackle and little more spring in their leap. Once denied that cauldron of support the Clarets began to look a little flat and short of imagination.

They still had the organisation and with the exception of a Monday night horror show at the Hawthorns, there were no real hammerings. However, once the Clarets fell behind on their travels, there was little cause for hope that the position could be overturned.

Burnley played well enough in some away games; they were unlucky to come away empty-handed from Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City. But, along with West Bromwich Albion, the visits to Southampton, Leicester, West Ham and Swansea were particularly lamentable.

But just when thoughts of relegation were gathering momentum and causing anxiety in the minds of Clarets fans, Burnley got their act together away from home and the win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park was one of the season’s finest and timeliest of displays.

There were of course other highlights in the season. The obstinate, defensive rear guard at Old Trafford, the thrilling last-gasp home wins over Everton and Palace, the demolition of Sunderland, the perfectly executed game plan at home to the eventual champions, Chelsea.

And who could forget every football fan's favourite bad boy Joey Barton, marking his second coming at Turf Moor by scoring the late winner over Southampton with a deflected free kick?

Joey embodies how Burnley folk see themselves, forthright, anti-establishment and iconoclastic. His presence at the club ended unfortunately and perhaps typically controversially, but his contribution has been immeasurable for the Clarets and he will be sorely missed.

In the end, Burnley finished the season in 16th place with forty points, six clear of the relegated teams and with a gleeful sense of a job well done.

Burnley’s great strength lies in their unity, their consistency and their sense of continuity. This is not an accident, these are the core values of the club and one of Sean Dyche’s greatest strengths as a manager is that he instinctively understood those values and built upon them.

Interestingly, Dyche’s former employers, Watford, have achieved virtually identical results by using entirely different methods. The Hornets change managers and a large portion of the playing staff (largely borrowed from all over Europe) at the beginning of each season.

Whilst this tactic certainly keeps things fresh, I for one would rail against Burnley following a similar path. The connection between club and community is central to Burnley and a Watford style revolving door policy would only serve to diminish this.

For now though, Burnley fans can look forward to another season in the top flight but already there lies ahead a summer of great significance. The vultures are circling a crop of Burnley players who have performed so admirably during the latest campaign.

 Standing still is not an option for Burnley Football Club and Sean Dyche and his staff have a great deal of work to do. Dyche will be alive and alert on the new and improved training ground and also on the telephone to players, agents and other clubs.

Assuming the Clarets' chairman Mike Garlick can shoo away the circling vultures who are also reported to be targeting his manager, Sean Dyche will be hectic as he prepares the club for the exciting challenges  which lie ahead.

This end of season review was written by regular Clarets Mad contributor Dave Thornley. Enjoy your summer break Dave! (TEC).

Burnley Match Reports

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