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1617 burnley turf moor 02 1000x500It doesn’t seem two minutes since Swansea were at Burnley to kick off the season, but it is a season that will be over tomorrow with West Ham our visitors for the last game of the season.

It’s the first time in four years we’ve ended the season at Turf Moor with the three previous seasons having seen things come to an end at Reading, Aston Villa and Charlton.

There is no doubt it has been an incredible season for us. Those with their glasses half empty had condemned us to relegation before a ball was kicked while even those whose glasses are half empty didn’t have too much confidence that we’d be too far away from the bottom three.

It is, just about, possible to finish 17th but it’s not been a relegation scrap at all. There might have been one or two nerves in the last few weeks but I became confident after the wins against Middlesbrough and Sunderland at the end of 2016 and was all but convinced we’d stay up on the night we beat Leicester on the last day of January.

We are currently 15th and a win could potentially take us up as high as 11th. Does it matter? Well, it would be nice to go out on a win, it would be nice to finish as high as possible and, from the club’s point of view, at £1.9m per place, the difference between 11th and 17th is a mere £11.4m or the transfer fee for a decent player.

Captain Tom Heaton has played all but three of this season’s games and he said ahead of the final game: “The target was to stay in the Premier League and we’ve done that with a game or two to spare. We’re not finished there, there’s still places to play for, and we’re still determined to make our way up the table.”

Interestingly, he singled out what he thought was a pivotal moment. When we went in 3-0 down at half time against West Brom there was much shaking of heads and tut tutting in the away end. “We’re down,” one Burnley fan told me, despite the fact that we were sitting on 14 points from the first 11 games.

There were no heads shaking or any tut tutting in the dressing room. Heaton said: “We had a moment before the manager said his piece, which was very strong. It was ‘whatever happens from here on in, we stick together’.

“They are the sort of moments where, as a team, you have to stick together. You can’t start pointing the finger, you can’t start chucking the towel in, and it’s tough. Things aren’t going your way, and they’re probably not going to go your way, but it’s important we really had that togetherness.

“I thought that was a pivotal moment in the season. Alright, we got beaten on the night, fair enough. You hold your hands up and we weren’t great, but I think we really did stick together in that second half. It’s important, and it’s very difficult, at times, to do that in team sports, certainly in my experience.”

Heaton kept ten clean sheets in our 2014/15 Premier League season; he’s kept ten clean sheets this season so will be looking to get number eleven tomorrow and create a new record for himself. If so, he’ll probably have to do it behind the new look central defensive pairing we’ve seen in the last two games.

Michael Keane and Ben Mee had been ever presents this season but Mee came off at half time in the game against Manchester United and has missed the three games since while Kean has also been ruled out of the team for the last two games. James Tarkowski came in for Mee with Kevin Long having deputised in the last two games.

The suggestion from manager Sean Dyche was, as last week, that Mee wouldn’t make it and that Keane remained doubtful. There’s also a concern over Stephen Ward but he was expected to play.

That could leave us with the same team that lost at Bournemouth last week although the manager could opt to bring Andre Gray back in. He’s been on the bench recently but used as a substitute.

If he sticks with Sam Vokes and Ashley Barnes we could line up: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Kevin Long, James Tarkowski, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Jeff Hendrick, Ashley Westwood, Scott Arfield, Sam Vokes, Ashley Barnes. Subs from: Nick Pope, Jon Flanagan, Tendayi Darikwa, Steven Defour, Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Robbie Brady, Andre Gray, Dan Agyei.

West Ham ended last season in 7th place with 62 points. They were only four points behind Manchester City who qualified for the Champions League. This season, however, they have not been able to maintain that and currently have twenty points less than last season’s final total. The stadium move has been given as one of the reasons. In their first season at the London Stadium they have lost more often than they have won.

Back in mid-December they dropped to 17th in the league, just above the drop zone, but wins against us, Hull and Swansea in successive games lifted them up to 11th and they’ve never dropped anything like as close to the bottom since, not even when they suffered five successive defeats in March and April.

The recovery from that has been excellent. They followed it up with a run of five games without defeat with their only loss since coming last Sunday when they were beaten 4-0 at home by Liverpool.

They come to the Turf with some injury problems that will force them to play without the services of a few players including captain Mark Noble, Winston Reid, Andy Carroll, although that one is not a surprise, and Michail Antonio.

Their team could be: Adrian, Jose Fonte, Declan Rice, James Collins, Sam Byram, Edimilson Fernandes, Havard Nordtveit, Aaron Cresswell, Andre Ayew, Manuel Lanzini, Jonathan Calleri. Subs: Darren Randolph, Sofiane Feghouli, Robert Snodgrass, Ashley Fletcher, Quina, Angelo Ogbonna, Nathan Holland.

Prior to kick off tomorrow, there will be a minute’s applause in memory of Peter Noble who so sadly passed away on Saturday 6th May.

Noble, or Uwe as he was affectionately known to Burnley supporters, scored 80 goals for the Clarets in 301 appearances between 1973 and 1979. Three of those goals came against tomorrow’s opponents West Ham.

The Burnley players, as a mark of respect, will wear black armbands.

 

LAST TIME THEY WERE HERE

 

Things weren’t looking too good for Burnley when West Ham last pitched up at Turf Moor on 18th October 2014. We’d played seven league games, won none of them and were in the bottom three with Newcastle and QPR. We all had four points but Newcastle were above us on goals scored whilst QPR were bottom with the worst goal difference.

Things certainly didn’t improve as West Ham won the game 3-1 to give their manager Sam Allardyce an early birthday present ahead of his 60th the day after, but it really shouldn’t have been the case after we played our best football of the season in the first half.

Danny Ings had an early effort blocked and George Boyd saw a superb effort smash against the bar. Then Ings forced a save out of Adrian but the ground lifted when Lukas Jutkiewicz fired in the rebound to give us the lead, or so we thought. Unfortunately, assistant referee Matthew Wilkes, who had a shocking afternoon, flagged for offside and the sides remained level.

West Ham also hit the woodwork but overall it was Burnley on top throughout the first half and generally the level of performance was being compared with the Nottingham Forest first half at home in the previous season.

Quite how we weren’t in front by half time was puzzle most couldn’t find an answer to but things changed after the break. With less than nine minutes of the half gone, West Ham were 2-0 up with two outstanding headed goals, the first from Diafra Sakho and the second scored by Enner Valencia with a stunning finish.

It would have been three but for a goal line clearance but then things changed back in our favour. On the hour, Ings won a corner and then tangled with goalkeeper Adrian. The ball ran loose for Boyd to score his first Burnley goal from close range.

Almost immediately Ings headed just wide from a Kieran Trippier cross but there was real believe we would still get something out of this game. But it went West Ham’s way with a third goal, a scrappy affair which ended with Carlton Cole heading home and although Ashley Barnes smashed a superb volley against the underside of the bar, we couldn’t find a second goal to get back into the game.

The teams were;

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Kieran Trippier, Michael Duff, Jason Shackell, Ben Mee, George Boyd, Scott Arfield, David Jones, Michael Kightly (Nathaniel Chalobah 83), Danny Ings (Marvin Sordell 83), Lukas Jutkiewicz (Ashley Barnes 65). Subs not used: Matt Gilks, Kevin Long, Stephen Ward, Ross Wallace.

West Ham: Adrian, Carl Jenkinson, James Collins, Winston Reid, Aaron Cresswell, Alex Song (Kevin Nolan 83), Mark Noble, Morgan Amalfitano, Stewart Downing, Diafra Sakho, Enner Valencia (Carlton Cole 58). Subs not used: Jussi Jaaskelainen, Reece Burke, Joey O’Brien, Matthew Jarvis, Ricardo Vaz Te.

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