Another top half finish in the strangest of seasons
When looking back at the 2018/19 season I dared to suggest it had been a long one due to the early start with our commitments in the Europa League qualifiers but this season has surpassed that with us playing the final six Premier League games in July, over a year after the pre-season had kicked off in the previous year.
It was a season that ended, yet again, with a disappointing final day defeat, this time against Brighton, but, overall, a season we can look back on with real delight after we equalled the Premier League points total we’d set two years earlier although there had been some worrying moments.
New signings were in short supply. Erik Pieters made the well trodden journey from Stoke while Jay Rodriguez returned having spent the previous two seasons at West Brom. Goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell moved from Leeds and Danny Drinkwater arrived from Chelsea on loan but he didn’t feature much due to reasons in the main away from football. He spent the second half of the season at Aston Villa where he had a similar impact. Tom Heaton, the club captain, left for Villa while Stephen Ward moved on to Stoke having been released. Early in the season we saw Steven Defour return to Belgium having still not reached a level of fitness where he could play. When fit, brilliant, but he left after three largely frustrating years that had restricted his appearances due to the injuries.
After three pre-season games behind closed doors, we played games against Crewe and Port Vale with the squad split. Then went to Fleetwood and Wigan where we bumped into a couple of former and very popular players in the opposition technical areas before returning home for friendlies against OGC Nice and Parma.
Then it was opening day and for the second season in succession our opponents were Southampton although on this occasion it was at home. After a goalless first hour we scored three times in twelve minutes to win the game comfortably; Ashley Barnes got a couple with Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson getting a third.
We then had two home games in a few days and we lost them both. I don’t think either defeat was too much of a surprise. Liverpool became the first team to take all three points at the Turf but they weren’t dropping points against anyone. Even so, they had some real good fortune with a fortuitous Chris Wood own goal opening the scoring for them.
The other home defeat, three days prior, was no surprise at all really given it was in the League Cup. For some 35 minutes we’d played League One Sunderland off the park and led 1-0, but an equaliser from Will Grigg, who was anything but on fire, turned the whole game on its head and five minutes into the second half we were well and truly beaten as we went 3-1 down. We don’t do cup runs.
It was soon put behind us. Jeff Hendrick scored a late equaliser at Brighton, we beat Norwich and Everton at home and between those two wins we drew, perhaps somewhat fortunately, at Aston Villa. We actually moved into fourth place after the Everton win before dropping down to fifth a day later, almost made you feel like the proudest man in Proudsville.
We are not one of the super powers in this league and definitely not market leaders. There will be hiccups and one came. We played well, I thought, at Leicester. We were 1-0 up and then, having gone behind, equalised to earn what should have been a point. Incredibly, ridiculously, with Jon Moss having given the goal, the decision was reversed by VAR or should I say Andy Madley who was on duty that day. Jonny Evans had scored an own goal. Quite how Madley believed he’d been fouled by Chris Wood, only he will ever know.
By this point we’d dropped to within four points of the drop zone. Southampton were in there along with Norwich and Watford who were bottom and without a win. Bournemouth, for interest, were riding high in seventh place at the time.
We needed to break this run and we did with two very comfortable 3-0 wins. The first came at home against West Ham who performed no better on the Turf than they’d done in the previous season. We repeated the scoreline at Watford. They were still on manager number two for the season at the time; they went on to make more managerial changes than Sean Dyche makes substitutions.
So we all felt good again and then the wheels loosened with three more defeats. The first was disappointing, beaten by Crystal Palace but the second was Manchester City. They don’t often win by big scores on the Turf to be fair but when they are in that mood it is difficult to stop them.
Then it was the big day out in the whole season. We were off on our first ever visit to the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. I don’t think too many Burnley fans will have happy memories. We were downright shocking and lost 5-0. Son Heung-min scored what proved to be Match of the Day’s goal of the season but why on earth did no one do anything about it as he run from not far outside his own penalty box?
That win took us into the top half for Christmas but then we had a bit of a disaster although we did enjoy the rare sight of a cup win when we beat Peterborough in the FA Cup. Before that cup tie we lost at Everton and followed that up with home defeats against Manchester United and Aston Villa. If Sheffield United and Spurs had been bad on the road, the first half performance against Villa was as bad as anything we saw at home all season.
As daft as it sounds we should probably have won it in the second half despite being 2-0 down at half time. We scored one, and missed enough chances after that to have got something on what was not a good return for Tom Heaton who was stretchered off with a serious injury sustained trying to keep out our goal.
The Peterborough win was next and then a 3-0 defeat at Chelsea when I thought we were again hampered by VAR. It didn’t always work against us; Villa had a clearly perfect goal ruled out at Burnley in that previous league game. The new technology was causing ructions right across the league.
By the end of that weekend we were just three points above the bottom three. Southampton had, by then, moved ahead of us, Watford had climbed out. Villa were in that bottom three now along with Bournemouth who were dropping like the proverbial stone.
Had we lost those three games, and that would not have been a surprise, we’d have been third from bottom in the table. It was a concern. Just to get the cup out of the way, having beaten Peterborough we did revert to type and lose in the next round against Norwich.
Leicester was first. They scored just past the half hour through Harvey Barnes with his former Claret dad Paul watching. Nick Pope made a good save just into the second half. It looked vital when Wood equalised for us. Pope then saved a Jamie Vardy penalty before Ashley Westwood won it for us.
What came next just three days later was a bit special. Wood scored again to give us the lead at Manchester United before Jay Rod scored a stunner in the second half. This time, unlike the previous two seasons, 2-0 did not become 2-1 and then 2-2 and what scenes in the away section when that final whistle blew on our first win there since 1962. We’d been just about the only people left in there for the final ten minutes or so as the home fans departed along with the tourists.
Those two wins, those six points might have only lifted us two places in the table but they really transformed the season and it could so easily have been three wins out of three when Arsenal arrived at Turf Moor but at least we got our first point against them since 2009 in a 0-0 draw. By then the January transfer window had closed. It hadn’t been busy. Nahki Wells was recalled from a loan at QPR and sold to Bristol City which enabled us to sign their captain and midfielder Josh Brownhill.
We scored in the second minute with Ashley Westwood’s corner going straight in thanks to some benevolent near post defending from Danny Ings. Our former striker scored a really good goal to draw his side level at which point Wood was forced off with an injury. That saw Matěj Vydra come on as a substitute. This was very much a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man. Vydra scored a stunning winner in the second half.
He was on the mark again a week later when Bournemouth succumbed with us running out 3-0 winners although they weren’t too pleased with the VAR decisions, particularly the award of a penalty to us when they thought they’d just equalised. It was always going to happen somewhere, it happened at the Turf, it was handball by Adam Smith and ultimately the correct decision but I bet we’d have been fuming had it gone the other way.
A somewhat tedious 0-0 draw followed at Newcastle and then a home draw against Spurs that could have gone either way. By then, all the talk was about a virus that had reached parts of Europe with some cases in the UK. By the time of the Spurs game there were some concerns but even then I don’t think many would have expected our game at Manchester City a week later to be called off.
Called off it was. The game was scheduled to be played on Saturday 14th March but it finally went ahead on 22nd June as part of project restart. That was exactly 100 days after the scheduled start.
In 2018/19 we twice lost at the Etihad against Manchester City, once in the league and then in the FA Cup. Both ended 0-5 and we didn’t damage that reputation with yet another defeat by the same score. The only positive from that night was Max Thompson getting on for the final few minutes and grabbing himself some kind words from the brilliant David Silva at the final whistle.
Who would have thought that we wouldn’t lose again until the final day of the season? We beat Watford 1-0, our only home win, but victories at Crystal Palace, West Ham and Norwich were added to three more draws. Two of those draws were at home against Sheffield United and Wolves, where we benefited from a stoppage time penalty that left them unhappy.
The away draw was amazing. It came at Anfield, it came against all conquering Liverpool and left us as the only team all season to take a point from the place of which Tommy Docherty once said that the only thing you ever got there was a cup of tea. And we almost won it with a late chance. That would seriously have wiped the smile of Jürgen Klopp’s face. As it happened, he and his captain Andrew Robertson behaved like spoilt children at the end.
We hovered around ninth and tenth places in the table over the past few games. A win against Brighton would have seen us finish eighth but defeat meant we had to settle for tenth, a second top half finish in three seasons.
It was probably the strangest of seasons we are ever going to witness with the virus issues bringing a halt for over three months and then having to play the remaining nine games behind closed doors and goodness knows when we will ever get back inside Turf Moor with a full crowd roaring on the Clarets.
It was another fantastic team effort and our thanks again must go to Sean Dyche, his staff and all of the players for once again giving us a season we can so rightly feel proud of.
We know some of those players will no longer be with us when we start next season in September, they weren’t with us at the end, but our thanks to Joe Hart, Jeff Hendrick and Aaron Lennon for their contributions to our club.
Up the Clarets.
Nick Pope 38
Matt Lowton 17
Charlie Taylor 22+2
Jack Cork 30
James Tarkowski 38
Ben Mee 32
Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson 6+6
Danny Drinkwater 1
Josh Brownhill 9+1
Chris Wood 29+3
Ashley Barnes 17+2
Dwight McNeil 38
Robbie Brady 5+12
Jeff Hendrick 22+2
Ashley Westwood 35
Jay Rodriguez 20+16
Erik Pieters 21+3
Aaron Lennon 4+12
Phil Bardsley 21
Matěj Vydra 7+12
Kevin Long 6+2
Max Thompson 0+1
14: Chris Wood
8: Jay Rodriguez
6: Ashley Barnes
2: Jeff Hendrick, Dwight McNeil, James Tarkowski, Matěj Vydra & Ashley Westwood
1: Robbie Brady, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson & Ben Mee
and two own goals scored by Roberto (West Ham) and Ben Godfrey (Norwich)