A wonderful season to look back on
The 2016/17 season ended just over a week ago. It was a bit of a damp squib in the end with two defeats in the last two games once we knew our place in the Premier League was safe, but the season as a whole was far from that with some outstanding performances, and in particular a superb home record.
I can’t think that any Burnley supporters, other than the most demanding, would not have taken that before it all kicked off last August. The target was surely always to be 17th or higher. In the end it was higher by just one place but had we won the last two games, which we could have done, then we’d have found ourselves in 9th place at the season’s end which would have dropped a further £13.3 million into the kitty.
Chairman Mike Garlick in an interview last week agreed that this is currently a golden era for the club. It’s not something I’d thought of to be honest but it is probably likely to always be the case that you don’t realise such things until they are over. I spoke to an old friend of mine who was brought up watching us in the 1950s and he said similar of the period when we won the league and played in Europe.
The first time we went into the Premier League we came down with 30 points. We finished 18th but were five points behind West Ham in 17th place. Two years ago we did increase that points total to 33 but we ended the season one place lower in 19th and despite repeated suggestions that we were close, we were once again five points behind 17th, this time Aston Villa. With three games to go that season we had only 26 points.
We were all on a high last summer. We’d won the Championship, we’d got 93 points again, we’d gone 23 games undefeated and surely looking better prepared for a season in the Premier League. Those highs soon dropped to concern for me when Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Nick Pope, two players relegated to League One with Charlton, were the only permanent signings ahead of the big kick off with Jon Flanagan having arrived from Liverpool on loan.
Speaking to a club director that week who asked me how confident I was, I said: “This season could be a disaster. I wouldn’t be surprised if we failed to get twenty points.”
We lost on the opening day to Swansea, a game we shouldn’t have lost and probably wouldn’t have if referee Kevin Friend had done is job and given us a penalty in the second half at 0-0. But we did lose against what was likely to be one of the weaker teams.
It led to an interesting week, that’s for sure. Just three days later we flogged David Jones to Sheffield Wednesday but not before bringing in Belgian international Steven Defour from Anderlecht. I’m no connoisseur of European football but the Defour signing certainly excited many on the message board with one poster boldly claiming that this would be the signing that would keep us up. ‘He must be good then’ I thought, and this, the first transfer fee for a midfielder since Brian Stock.
Personally I was more concerned about the loss of Jones who had been such an influence in two promotion seasons. I thought his sale would be a big loss. I know everyone doesn’t share my views but I always thought Jones had been a terrific signing in 2013 and I was very disappointed to see him leave.
Next up was Liverpool. It was at home again because the builders were behind schedule at Anfield with the new stand. Jones had to be replaced; Defour came in. And the season finally started for us. Sam Vokes scored before the game had got going and when Andre Gray, from a Defour assist, added a second before half time it was all over. These were our first goals against Liverpool since the 1970s and brought us our first points of the season.
Out came the statisticians. It was all about their possession stats, their shots at goal and the likes. I did my own stats – BURNLEY 2 LIVERPOOL 0.
By the end of the month we’d gone out of the League Cup at Accrington and been hammered by Chelsea. A lot of players left on loan while we signed Jeff Hendrick from Derby and brought in Patrick Bamford on loan from Chelsea with rumours that we had to provide him with Sky television and a box of tissues that he kept in his car.
This is not meant to be a game by game account of the season and won’t be, but generally over the next few months it was good at home and not so good away. We didn’t always win at home; Arsenal and an appalling referee cost us a point and we were unlucky to lose against Manchester City.
We didn’t always lose away either; we got a draw at Manchester United when Tom Heaton provided an afternoon of heroics to keep out his former club. It was all too much for Jose Mourinho who cleared off at half time. As for Tom and that one memorable save, I still don’t think it was as good as the one that kept out Charlie Austin in the previous away game at Southampton.
Either side of that game we got late winners against Everton and Crystal Palace. Scott Arfield took his goal so well to beat Everton but for sheer excitement the Ashley Barnes goal took some beating. It was his first goal too since recovering from his cruciate injury.
The last month of 2016 saw is forced in to a route march from Stratford station to the London Stadium (and I agree with most who suggest it’s not a football ground), I made my last ever visit to White Hart Lane but then it all ended with two big, big wins.
We beat Middlesbrough 1-0 on Boxing Day. We didn’t deserve to; we were second best by some considerable distance and all we did was play long balls all afternoon. That’s not my view by the way, that was the view of the rather strange bloke by the name of Aitor Karanka. Just a few days later we followed it up with a 4-1 hammering of Sunderland and I have to give a special mention to their central defender Papy Djilibodji. I’m told he isn’t that bad every week but I’m not so sure. They paid £8 million to Chelsea for the Senegalese. I’d be demanding my money back.
That was half way and we had 23 points, albeit we’d played 11 of the 19 games at home. That was more points than my pre-season prediction and by now I was beginning to believe that we could actually stay up. By the end of the next month I was convinced and I never, ever wavered from that belief.
We might have lost at Manchester City and Arsenal, when yet again we were shafted by a poor decision, but 1-0 wins against Southampton and Leicester had taken us to 29 points. At this stage I was convinced that 35 points would be enough so considered another two wins would do it.
The Southampton win was almost fairy tale stuff. Joey Barton, who had departed in the summer to go and play the penny arcade, returned, came on as a substitute and scored the only goal. Vokes got the goal against Leicester with just a hint of handball although the photograph featured certainly does show one handball just before the ball goes into the net.
The next home game brought eventual champions Chelsea to Turf Moor. Chelsea will be delighted we’ve stayed up given they’ve won the league every time we’ve been in it. What a game this was. Ashley Westwood and Robbie Brady had signed on the day of the Leicester game and here they both got their first starts.
Chelsea were slicing through us like potential champions. They went 1-0 up and you wondered whether we might need to borrow the scoreboard from the cricket club next door. Then it all changed. Maybe they didn’t like the snow but we gave them one hell of a game. Brady scored with a superb free kick and we might have even won it. It ended 1-1 and I think that was the best game we saw on the Turf all season.
We still only had the one away point but things improved on the road and I suppose they had to with four successive away games. We got fully deserved draws at Hull and Sunderland while surely deserving more than a 2-1 defeat at Liverpool. Despite the controversies at Swansea we could have no complaints over the result and it was likewise when Spurs came to the Turf.
By now, 35 points wasn’t looking as if it would be enough but a win against Stoke and a draw at Middlesbrough took us to 36 with six still to play. I don’t know what it is with Merseyside but we played just as well at Everton, particularly in the first half, as we’d done at Liverpool just a few weeks previously. It ended in defeat though as did the home game against Manchester United. We still had 36 points but now with only four to play.
“We’ll win today,” was my somewhat wild prediction just before we got our trip to Palace on the road. I’m not sure why I said it other than probably the law of averages suggests you will win one on the road. We’d drawn three of the previous six away games so things were getting better. I was right, as Big Sam chewed away at his gum we did win, and we played so, so well. Barnes scored the first with Gray coming on as a substitute to get a late second to calm the nerves. It was a fantastic day out and surely 39 points would be enough.
A late Vokes goal, his second of the game, gave us a point against West Brom a week later and as news came through of Sunderland winning 2-0 at Hull (Djilibodji was no longer playing by now) it was all done and dusted.
If only we could have gone out on a high. Sean Dyche said we’d go hard in the last two games but we didn’t really. We were nowhere near our best at Bournemouth but a Vokes equaliser should have got us a point, and had we taken our first half chances against West Ham we’d have won the last game.
It wasn’t to be unfortunately but no one should allow those last two games to take anything away from what has been an incredible season.
Ahead of that recent West Brom game I was grabbed by Tony Livesey for a Match of the Day 2 interview, my appearance guaranteeing it was shown after the watershed. He told me that Barry Kilby had said our achievement in staying up was even bigger than winning the league in 1960.
Far be it for me to disagree with our vice-chairman but on this occasion I have to. I agree that staying in the Premier League is the club’s greatest achievement since that title winning season of 1960 but I can’t place it higher. You can’t realistically place the 2016/17 season ahead of us being champions of England and going to represent our country in the European Cup.
Compared to a year ago, we haven’t had the excitement of a promotion chase, of winning a league or of going 23 games without defeat, but this has been a special season with some special performances particularly, in fact almost exclusively, at home.
It doesn’t mean next season will come any easier; it will probably be, in all honesty, more difficult than this season has been. But this team of ours has earned the right to have another season at English football’s top table.
For years and years I never thought I’d see Burnley play top flight football again. To have seen three Premier League seasons already is very special and to get a second successive season is beyond that.
Forget the last two games, they were dead rubbers, let’s hail this Burnley team who really are playing in a golden era for the club. Let’s hail this Burnley team, it’s the best we’ve had in certainly more than forty years.
It has been a wonderful season and I do get things right sometimes – 35 points was enough.Follow UpTheClarets:
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