Playing football the Sean Dyche way
It’s been party time in Burnley for over a week now as the Clarets celebrate a third promotion to the Premier League. It all started on May Day Bank Holiday with the win against QPR that clinched promotion before moving on to Charlton Athletic where the title was won and then came the presentation of the trophy two days ago at the Town Hall.
Like most Burnley fans I’m still trying to take it all in. Seven years ago we won promotion via the play-offs and two years ago went up in second place behind Leicester. They were both brilliant occasions, but to come out of the Premier League and return a year later as Football League Champions is very, very special.
I’d worked it out that, should we win 3-2 at Charlton, the record would be identical to 2013/14 with 15 wins, 6 draws and 2 defeats at home along with 11 wins, 9 draws and 3 defeats away. Not only that, it would leave us with 72 goals scored and 37 conceded with 19 clean sheets. We didn’t quite make it, the 3-0 win meant we’d conceded two goals less (and that shows we are improving as a team said one Burnley fan) with one extra clean sheet.
I seem to recall that Tom Heaton said before we’d even kicked off the season that he wanted twenty clean sheets to beat his previous record and that’s what he’s got. I also seem to recall Sean Dyche suggesting that we wouldn’t make the 93 points total again, that the previous occasion was a one off. No matter how well or badly anyone expected us to play this season, I’m sure most could only agree with Dyche’s sentiment. At the time, in May 2014, I wrote that this was one of those seasons that doesn’t come round very often and one we should all remember. At the time I likened it very much to the wonderful Second Division title winning season in 1972/73.
But how on earth has this all happened again?
The story of this season has to start with the departures. We knew Danny Ings was going for most of last season and in June last year we also lost Kieran Trippier to Spurs. Jason Shackell followed them after declining the invitation to play in our pre-season games. He went back to Derby and said: “There’s a really strong squad. With the additions that have been made, a lot of people expect us to be at the top end of the division this season. I believe that can be the case and that’s one reason why I wanted to come back.” Shackell would still play his part in our season though on a memorable return to Turf Moor but that was into the second half of the season.
Jelle Vossen was the replacement signing for Ings while Matt Lowton arrived from Aston Villa to fill Trippier’s boots. Tendayi Darikwa and Chris Long signed too ahead of the kick off, with Darikwa starting at full back with Lowton injured, and once underway it got off to a shaky start with only two points won in the first three games and an inglorious League Cup exit at Port Vale.
By then Rouwen Hennings had been signed to boost the attack and just before the first win of the season against Brentford, we raided them for Andre Gray. Gray made his debut a week later at Bristol City and scored on his home debut against Sheffield Wednesday but by then Vossen had returned to Belgium and Lukas Jutkiewicz had joined the cruciate ligament injury club while a former England midfielder by the name of Joey Barton had signed after enjoying an omelette cooked by the manager.
We then beat MK to make it four out of four which had taken us to third in the league but a draw at Derby was followed by a home defeat against Reading. We were 2-0 down in that game after nine minutes but pulled one back and finally saw the introduction of the aforementioned Barton as a substitute in a much improved second half.
He was in the starting line up for the next game at Rotherham, a place he would not relinquish all season. We had another nice little run of five wins and a draw in the next six, and that run included a 1-0 victory at Ewood Park where Scott Arfield put the ball in their net.
It was second place now for us, squeezed between leaders Hull and Brighton with all of us on 31 points. Middlesbrough and Derby were just a point behind in what was beginning to look as though it could be a five horse race.
We shouldn’t have got too excited though. We’d eight games still to play to half way and we won only one of them and that was against a shockingly poor Charlton side on the Saturday before Christmas.
On the Tuesday before that we’d lost 1-0 at Middlesbrough. We weren’t good but it’s a night I’ll always remember more for the abuse Dyche received from two Burnley fans I labelled as Stadtler and Waldorf.
We travelled to Hull after the Charlton win. What a day, and I don’t mean that in a good way. We had to battle through floods to get there and once we did we saw an inept performance leading to a 3-0 defeat.
It was looking much more like a four horse race for promotion now. Derby were top with 47 points, Middlesbrough had 46 with a game in hand with both Hull and Brighton on 44 points. Our total at the half way stage was 38 and that was only one point more than Ipswich and two points more than Sheffield Wednesday.
Being a mathematician I’d decided that we were heading for another end of season play-off battle. I know nine points might not be a lot but it is big gap when you look at a league table.
What’s happened since is like something from fantasy island. Dyche kept telling us that we’d get stronger as the season went on when others might not do the same. How right he’s been.
Had he been pushed I don’t think even he would have considered we might not lose again in the league, even he couldn’t surely have thought we could add another 55 points in the second half of the season. That’s a total as many as, or more than, ten clubs have won in the entire season, a list of clubs that includes our local rivals from down the road. It’s a total ten better than anyone else and a massive 24 points more than Boxing Day leaders Derby who went on to win just 31 more.
Suddenly, in January, we were banging goals in for fun. Our 2015 games ended with a 4-0 win against Bristol City, a second successive 4-0 home win, and although 2016 kicked off with a 0-0 draw against Ipswich we then rattled home a further twelve goals in the next three games.
The first of those wins was brilliant for me personally. The 5-0 win at Milton Keynes was our biggest away win since 1947 and landed right on my birthday. What a way to celebrate and against a club I’ve no time for whatsoever.
Three days later we turned in an incredible first half performance at Brentford and then came the Derby fun when Shackell might have wished he’d never made a return visit to the Turf. The next home game brought another crucial win, Sam Vokes scoring the goal as we beat Hull 1-0. Suddenly we were back in the running. Hull and Middlesbrough were both on 56 points and we had 55 with Brighton on 53. We had played more games than any of them though.
A draw at Reading was followed by two more home wins and then we went to Bolton. We fell behind to a Liam Feeney goal but Gray, who had scored twice in the home win against them, did it again with two more and we were top of the league.
We had to keep it going because the others still had games in hand but we beat Blackburn a week later to complete the double over them and then went to Fulham and Huddersfield and brought six points back.
As we left Huddersfield there was a real belief that we were going all the way again. The league table looked incredible. Burnley were top with 74 points from 37 games, and then came Middlesbrough (67 from 35), Hull (65 from 35) and Brighton (65 from 36). I’d ruled anyone else out by then for automatic promotion and when Middlesbrough lost at Charlton a day later with their manager having walked out it was looking very good.
Never count your chickens. The next three were draws. We conceded a stoppage time goal against Wolves at home but did score a vital one ourselves at Brighton through Michael Keane, but things weren’t looking just as good after that – it was now Burnley (77 from 40), Middlesbrough (76 from 39), Brighton (75 from 40) and for the super pessimists Hull (69 from 39).
We beat Leeds but by the time the next game came around at Birmingham both Middlesbrough and Brighton had been benefiting from stoppage time goals. When we kicked off, just as Middlesbrough had come from behind to win at Bolton, we were a point behind Brighton but five points adrift of Middlesbrough. A 2-1 win moved us back into second place.
Four to go and Middlesbrough were next. It was 0-0 at half time when they had probably been the better side. The second half saw us in the ascendancy but it was Boro who went in front. It looked as though we would go into the last three games in third place but Keane again was the hero with a stoppage time goal. I can’t recall when I last heard noise like it at the Turf. We’d had a huge roar at the end at Birmingham but this was something else. I’m sure the houses across the road must have been shaking.
Three to go, but we weren’t going to drop another point and we weren’t even going to concede another goal. A deflected free kick from Barton at Preston was followed by a Vokes winner in a nervous home win against QPR. Dropped points by Middlesbrough on the previous Friday and then Brighton just before we kicked off meant we were up. Nothing could stop us now and the other two would have to fight for the final automatic place.
All we had to do now was go and get what was needed at Charlton to clinch the title. As it turned out a defeat would have done it but, after a half time rollocking, we won 3-0. The title was ours, and the season had ended with the most remarkable unbeaten run.
It was party time for the Burnley fans at Charlton and beyond. The message board was unbelievably busy as Clarets worldwide celebrated another promotion, a third promotion in seven years to the Premier League.
It took my mind back to that day at Scunthorpe in 2000 when Stan’s team got us back into the second tier of the league. I think if someone had said then that 16 years later we would not have gone back down I’d have snapped their hands off but here we are with a third promotion to the Premier League. We were a bit fortunate with the first promotion, coming through to win the play-offs, but the last two have been sensational.
Which is the best?
I’d go with this one because it’s been crowned with the title, happen as well given that Joey wouldn’t have been interested otherwise. I recall his words some time ago when he said he hadn’t come here to finish second. At the time I’d have been more than happy to take second place. Joey was right. He’s been a catalyst I think this season and, of course, you can’t discount the 23 league goals scored by Gray.
No player can be discounted, from our captain and goalkeeper Tom Heaton right through to those players who have been sat on the bench and even not making it to the last 18 on match days. It’s that one club mentality that Sean has spoken about since the day he got here. It’s there for all to see both on and off the pitch and it’s culminated in another wonderful season to give us another shot at playing against the big boys.
Will Jose Mourinho be back next season so we can abuse him and watch Ashley Barnes score the winner against his team? What will Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp make of Turf Moor? Will the miserable Louis van Gaal still be in charge at Manchester United?
Bring it on. We’ve deserved it after another brilliant, brilliant season.
23 23 undefeated
23 23 I say
23 23 undefeated
Playing football the Sean Dyche way