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1516 burnley turf moor 04Burnley brought 2016 to an end with a sensational 4-1 home win against Sunderland with Andre Gray ending the year just as he’d done the previous one, with a hat trick.

All the talk will be of Gray who became the first Burnley player to score a top flight hat trick since Peter Noble in September 1975, but it shouldn’t be. His strike partner Ashley Barnes played as well as I’ve seen him since the draw at Manchester City two years ago and there were excellent individual performances all over the pitch.

We go into 2017 in 11th place in the Premier League, significantly with a nine point lead over the third from bottom club, but there was a real nervousness prior to the game yesterday . I suppose it is just being a Burnley fan, always thinking the worst will happen, but a number of people I spoke to were of the opinion that this was one we wouldn’t win, particularly given that we’d beaten Middlesbrough five days previously.

After the howling gales and sun of Monday we just had a strong wind on an overcast day as the team news came through. We couldn’t quite work out Sunderland’s line up with no obvious midfielder included but Sean Dyche made two changes to the side that had won the Middlesbrough game.

Matt Lowton returned from suspension with Jon Flanagan dropping out of the squad while Jeff Hendrick became our second suspended player with Steven Defour selected to partner Dean Marney, who was thankfully fit after picking up a Boxing Day injury, in a 4-4-2 formation. That meant a 200th league appearance for Marney since signing from Hull and for his team mate Ben Mee it was a 200th league and cup appearance in Burnley colours.

I’d like to report that we got at Sunderland right from the start, but it wasn’t the case. It was the visitors who took the game to us initially but other than one wild effort from Adnan Januzaj they didn’t threaten our goal although Victor Anichebe certainly let us know that he was going to be a threat.

It didn’t last too long and Gray got involved at the other end with a couple of shots. The first, from just outside the box, didn’t threaten but when he got clear on the right his shot found the side netting but caused Sunderland problems as defender Lamine Kone slid into the advertising board.

Clearly struggling he didn’t stay on much longer. They brought on midfielder Didier Ndong with John O’Shea, surprisingly playing in a defensive midfield role, going back to partner Papy Djilibodji in defence. The new pairing soon played a part in the opening goal.

Djilibodji got in the way when O’Shea and Barnes went up for the ball. It led to O’Shea getting his head on it as it went through to Gray. The defender’s touch meant Gray was onside. His shot looked too close to goalkeeper Vito Mannone but the power of the shot saw it go through to give the Clarets the lead on the half hour.

By half time, Sunderland had Anichebe limping, and in need of being replaced, with a hamstring injury but they had kept the score to 1-0 as the players went in at the interval. It was Burnley now in the ascendancy.

The game was all over soon into the second half as we tore this porous Sunderland defence apart. Gray got another chance but saw Mannone save his effort with Barnes’ rebound being blocked. I’m pleased that it didn’t go in because the assistant had his flag raised for offside; an incredibly bad decision that thankfully hadn’t cost us.

There was no respite for Sunderland and no escape when Marney played in Gray with a superbly chipped ball forward, described in one North East newspaper as a lumped ball up field. The now almost comedic figure of Djilibodji tried to pull Gray back. Referee Graham Scott, who didn’t have the best of games, played an advantage, Gray got round Mannone and from wide on the left he slid a left footed shot into the unguarded net with Djilibodji, looking almost as slow as their former central defender Stanislav Varga, not interested in getting back to cover.

It was looking like Andre’s day and two minutes later Steven Pienaar, on from Anichebe, trod on the ball and we were able to play it up to Barnes. He chested it down, played a neat short pass in for Gray who fired home into the left hand corner to celebrate his hat trick.

We were only eight minutes into the second half and then had around quarter of an hour to wait for number four. That came when Sebastian Larsson pushed over Scott Arfield, who was moving onto a pass from Barnes. There was no doubt; it was a penalty and Barnes stepped up to get his name on the scoresheet.

How many were we going to get? Sunderland looked shell shocked. But we took off Defour, who had been outstanding, and we lost some of the momentum. Within minutes it was 4-1 as Jermain Defoe converted a cross from Januzaj but there was to be no further threat from Sunderland. It did seem as though it had taken some of the gloss off the win but how can the gloss be removed when you’ve scored four in a Premier League game?

Sunderland were a well beaten and disjointed side by the end and really had no answer to Burnley on the day.

What a fantastic way to end the year and there were so many positives. I thought the two full backs played as well as I’ve seen them play. Defour returned to such great effect in midfield and the front two were absolutely fabulous. Sean Dyche admitted that Sam Vokes has done nothing wrong but has lost his place to this pair who, right now, are looking impossible to dislodge.

The only minus on the day was the yellow card picked up by Marney. He’ll miss tomorrow’s game at Manchester City now but at least we can welcome back Hendrick who has served his one match ban.

I’ve read today that we’ve become the first newly promoted team to win seven of our first eleven home games since Charlton in the 2000/01 season. They went on to win a total of twelve home games that season; a repeat from Burnley would probably see us safe.

We’re not safe though; we are just in a good position at half way, one we could probably have only dreamed of. We’ve still got a long way to go and a lot of work to do, but we have shown ourselves more than capable of achieving what we set out to achieve.

For now though, it brings one year to a successful end with real hope of further achievement in the new year.

What a fantastic time to be a Claret.

The teams were;

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Dean Marney, Steven Defour (Johann Berg Gudmundsson 68), Scott Arfield, Ashley Barnes (James Tarkowski 85), Andre Gray (Sam Vokes 78). Subs not used: Paul Robinson, Tendayi Darikwa, Aiden O’Neill, Patrick Bamford.
Yellow Card: Dean Marney.

Sunderland: Vito Mannone, Billy Jones, Lamine Kone (Didier Ndong 24), Papy Djilobodji, Patrick van Aanholt, Sebastian Larsson, John O’Shea (Donald Love 72), Adnan Januzaj, Victor Anichebe (Steven Pienaar ht), Fabio Borini, Jermain Defoe. Subs not used: Mika, Jack Rodwell, Wahbi Khazri, Javi Manquillo.
Yellow Card: Billy Jones.

Referee: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire).

Attendance: 21,142.

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