A season like no other
The 2020/21 season is over, it came to an end almost two weeks ago with a miserable 1-0 defeat against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane but of more significance it came to an end with Burnley still in the Premier League.
Like everyone else, I’d had to watch the final nine games of the previous season in front of my television and it was going to be the same at the start of this season. At the time I don’t think any of us could have ever imagined that the season would end in virtually the same way although some of us were able to watch the final home game against Liverpool.
The close season can be anything up to thirteen weeks but this time it was just seven weeks although we did get a few extra days with our opening day opponents Manchester United being given an extra week having played into mid-August in the Europa League. That meant we started in the League Cup against Sheffield United. By then we’d been very busy in the transfer window. Will Norris had signed from Wolves to give us a third choice goalkeeper and that, I’m afraid was that.
We won that League Cup tie against the Blades on penalties (yes, a League Cup win, a first since 2017 when we beat Blackburn at Ewood Park) and then I thought we played better than the 4-2 defeat at Leicester would suggest in our opening league game.
We drew 0-0 at both West Brom and Brighton in the first seven games. I’m highlighting those two games because they were the only games from which we picked up any points in those opening seven games as injuries continued to hit us badly. We’d kicked off without a number of key players, including central defenders James Tarkowski and Ben Mee. Tarky came back in for game three but at Brighton in the last of those seven games it was good to see Mee back alongside him at the back.
Football supporters across the country had armed themselves with packages for all the broadcasters and it’s not a cheap item when it’s all totted up. Then, those two draws, along with a home game against Chelsea were not included on the broadcast list and for the privilege of watching them you had to pay a further £14.95 via Sky or BT Box Office.
Our chief exec Neil Hart thought it was a decent enough option. He said he’d pay it if he were a Burnley fan but he wasn’t, he wasn’t a football fan either and just didn’t understand. The FSA launched its #LetUsWatch campaign and thankfully the PPV idea went as quickly as it came.
That point at Brighton actually lifted us off the bottom of the league. Sheffield United, who had enjoyed such a good first season back in 2019/20, were behind us with one point while West Brom had three points. Just above the drop zone were Fulham, Brighton and Manchester United.
Still, things were improving. We even won at Arsenal. I thought to have any chance of doing that we’d need to score twice given that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would be a certain scorer. He did score, it was an own goal and we won 1-0.
The only defeat in a run of six games came courtesy of the appalling Rob Jones at Leeds. He somehow gave them a nonsensical penalty from which they won the game while denying us a goal or a penalty when he awarded them a free kick for their goalkeeper fouling.
The year ended with a 1-0 win against Sheffield United when Ben Mee scored his first goal home in almost six years. The end of 2020 also heralded a change in ownership at Burnley with Americans ALK taking over. We had a new chairman by the name of Alan Pace and at least we knew his relationship with Dyche couldn’t be worse than the one that the manager had with the departing chairman who would be staying on the board along with John B.
January saw a Turf Moor first, a referee visiting the pitch side monitor. It happened twice. Jon Moss dismissed Richard Keogh in our FA Cup tie against MK before reversing his decision and awarding a free kick against Wood.
On the subject of the cup tie against MK. That was another we won on penalties but it was a season of two cup runs, sort of. We went on to beat Millwall in the League Cup before losing against Manchester City while a win at Fulham gave us a fifth round FA Cup tie against Bournemouth. I’ll not comment on that.
Towards the end of January we had a defining week as the season reached the half way stage. Either side of the cup win at Fulham we had an away game at Liverpool followed by a home fixture against Aston Villa. In the previous season we were the only team to take a point from Anfield. This time we went one better with Ashley Barnes netting the only goal from the penalty spot. Liverpool whinged as Liverpool do when they don’t get their own way. It was their first home defeat in some considerable time but we showed the rest of the league how to do it; they went on to lose their next five league games at Anfield.
Six days later, Aston Villa were at the Turf. They led 1-0 at half time through an Ollie Watkins goal and I don’t think any of us could have any complaints. But what a second half. Ben Mee levelled, Jack Grealish restored their lead and then, two goals in three minutes from Dwight McNeil and Wood won it for us.
Our season was half way through. The poor start was almost forgotten as we sat with 22 points. Equal that in the second half of the season and we’ll be more than comfortable we all thought. What we didn’t know is that we would not win another home game.
We can only concentrate on the four away wins that we picked up because, ultimately, these were the games that helped keep us in the Premier League and it should have been more than four having gone 2-0 up at Southampton only to lose 3-2.
The first of the four was at Crystal Palace. This was the start of establishing early 2-0 leads on the road. With just ten minutes gone both Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson and Jay Rodriguez had scored. We ended that game with a 3-0 win with an unforgettable third goal less than two minutes into the second half from Matt Lowton, just his second Burnley goal and his first for us in the Premier League.
We swept Palace aside that afternoon but there was a much better performance to come four weeks later at Goodison Park. It took a while longer to go 2-0 up this time. Wood got the first with McNeil scoring a sensational second on 24 minutes. Dominic Calvert-Lewin quickly pulled one back but we were worthy winners on a day when I though we looked at our best.
Then came that trip to Southampton which was followed by a home defeat against Newcastle, again when we’d been in front. We couldn’t repeat our Old Trafford win of the previous season, going down 3-1 but it took two late goals when we looked to be picking up a deserved draw. It was three defeats in succession, could we end that sequence?
The habit of losing having gone in front reared its head again when West Ham played on the Turf but let’s be right here, they were one of the best teams to play at Burnley all season and they fully deserved their 2-1 win.
For those with a glass half full and worse, there were concerns. We had four games remaining; we were nine points above the drop zone. Fulham were the team in 18th place and off we went to Craven Cottage where their manager Scott Parker, having presided over five wins in 34 games thought they would win the last four and stay up. Those still fearful kept telling us that the gap would only be six points if they beat us. I kept replying with if, I was confident we would not lose at Fulham.
Sheffield United had already gone, by the time this game was played so had West Brom. Could Fulham survive against the odds? No chance, they weren’t good enough and we won 2-0. The season was over, we were safe. And it really was over, we’d three to play but we didn’t score another goal while conceding eight.
Undoubtedly it was nervy at times. I’ve never known Dyche make so many team changes over a season but injury after injury after injury blighted the season and there were times when you wondered whether we would have a team to turn out.
It’s a season that has lacked so much. More than once I’ve come close to switching off the television before the final whistle. I recall sending a text message to friends after the win against Sheffield United suggesting I’d decided I didn’t like football but liked going to football. I’ve likened it to watching a soap opera or drama. Being so detached from it has certainly had an effect. It really hasn’t felt real for most of the time and that’s taken away a lot of the elation when we’ve won and likewise, to some extent, the despair with each defeat. Whether people will get back into going to games again in the way they did we don’t know but I suspect some will be lost to the game.
Highlights and lowlights? All the wins are, in some ways, highlights, all the defeats are similarly lowlights. I suspect that dreadful home performance against West Brom would qualify for the lowest while the final whistle at Fulham was something to savour as was, for some of us, being able to go back on the Turf for the Liverpool game. If I ever doubted that I was missing it. If we are limited on numbers at the start of the next season then I hope those who missed out on tickets this time are front of the queue for the first game and get their chance.
A season like no other, undoubtedly, but one that has at least ended with us being in the Premier League again. “I’d just like one year in the Premier League,” one old friend used to say to me citing the fact that the likes of Barnsley, Oldham and Swindon had been there but we hadn’t. I don’t want to be greedy but six successive seasons for a club like ours is some special achievement.
Let’s just hope that connection that our manager and players have with the supporters can return again next season.
Finally, best wishes to Brady. I wish him well, I wish him an injury free period wherever he goes. I’ll remember the free kick against Chelsea, the performances in the first half of the 2017/18 season and even some this season before the injuries hit again.
Up the Clarets.
Ashley Westwood 38
James Tarkowski 36
Dwight McNeil 34+2
Matt Lowton 34
Josh Brownhill 32+1
Chris Wood 32+1
Nick Pope 32
Ben Mee 30
Charlie Taylor 28+1
Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson 16+6
Matěj Vydra 15+13
Ashley Barnes 15+7
Jack Cork 15+1
Erik Pieters 13+7
Jay Rodriguez 12+18
Robbie Brady 12+7
Kevin Long 7+1
Bailey Peacock-Farrell 4
Dale Stephens 3+4
Phil Bardsley 3+1
Jimmy Dunne 3
Josh Benson 2+4
Will Norris 2
Joel Mumbongo 0+4
Lewis Richardson 0+2
Chris Wood 12
Ashley Barnes 3
Matěj Vydra 3
Ashley Westwood 3
Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson 2
Dwight McNeil 2
Ben Mee 2
Robbie Brady 1
Jimmy Dunne 1
Matt Lowton 1
Jay Rodriguez 1
James Tarkowski 1
and an own goal scored by Pierre Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)