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Burnley have ended 2020 with a 1-0 home win against bottom of the table Sheffield United and in doing so we move into the New Year in 16th place in the Premier League.

Last night’s game I suppose should have been considered the easiest possible game as you would expect from a home fixture against the team languishing at the bottom of the league. It wasn’t quite that for me. Although their record is shocking, they aren’t getting hammered and they’ve come very close to getting more points only for late goals to cost them.

Just six seasons ago we failed to win any of our first ten games of the season and game number eleven was against Hull but their manager Steve Bruce warned: “The expectation is that we go there and get a result, but if people think it’s going to be easy then they are very much mistaken. If we turn up and think we just have to jog around to get a result, then we’ve had it and Burnley will turn us over.”

We beat them 1-0 with Ashley Barnes scoring his first Premier League goal. “We guarded against it. We knew we didn’t want to be the first one,” Bruce said about them being the first team to lose against us.

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Sheffield United arrived at Burnley with no wins in any of their first fifteen Premier League games this season. To add to that, they went nowhere in the League Cup, losing on penalties at the Turf. They had also lost their final three games of last season to take it to eighteen league games without a win, reaching the Cotterill figure and closing in on the Harry Potts total without a win in 1979 that only ended when Harry left.

“I think there’s a bit of pressure on us to win tonight,” the words on a text I received yesterday afternoon which sort of made me a bit nervous ahead of the game. One thing we didn’t want to be was the first team to lose against them although I’m still not sure how they’ve got from where they were last season to where they are now.

Ahead of the game there was some good and some not so good news. We had to play at Leeds without both Robbie Brady and Dwight McNeil. There had been suggestions that both would be fit for last night. As it happened, Brady was in, McNeil wasn’t. How things have changed in a few weeks with Brady, now supporters are pleased to see him back rather than wondering if he would come back given the injuries he’s had. Matěj Vydra was still ruled out while Jay Rodriguez was also out of the squad after jarring his knee at Leeds which left us with just as Joel Mumbongo as a forward option on the bench.

Sheffield United, because of the current health situation, were down in numbers and Chris Wilder was only able to name seven substitutes although their starting eleven and bench did look strong.

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We almost got off to the perfect start in the very first minute with the two strikers combining well. Matt Lowton played the ball up for Chris Wood whose header down for Ashley Barnes was perfect. Sean Dyche described it as a golden chance but I’m not sure what else Barnes could have done, he took the shot well only to be denied by an outstanding save from Blades’ keeper Aaron Ramsdale.

Nothing’s ever perfect these days at Burnley and just when you think the injury list might be shortening, we get another. This time it was Charlie Taylor. With just nine minutes gone his night was over because of a hamstring injury. That meant a move to his more natural position of left-back for Erik Pieters with Josh Benson coming on.

We looked the better of the two sides with not too much happening to be honest and, that first minute effort apart, the two goalkeepers were having a quiet night. That was until around the half hour mark when first Sheffield United thought they might have won a penalty and then found themselves falling behind.

It’s not a penalty. VAR quickly cleared it up when Josh Brownhill cleared off the line with the ball striking his shoulder but soon afterwards we won a free kick in our own half. James Tarkowski played it out to the left for Brady. Now we know about Brady’s wand of a left foot, second only in the club to Ian Woan’s apparently. His cross was wonderful. Wood got there but like Barnes before him was denied by a good Ramsdale save that got us a corner.

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Brady took it, it was perfect and there was Ben Mee to head us into the lead with incredibly his first Turf Moor goal since January 2015 when he scored against Crystal Palace.

If anything, for the remainder of the first half, we had the upper hand and might have even added a second goal, but not to be, we went in 1-0 up and against a Sheffield United team who have struggled for goals every bit as much as us, you wondered whether we’d already done enough.

Not quite, and Nick Pope was forced into an early save in the second half, denying David McGoldrick with a nonchalant push away with his right hand. It was the start of a half that wasn’t the easiest of watches for Burnley fans. We didn’t see too much of the ball, we didn’t create much and for long periods it was a matter of defending the lead.

“Burnley love defending,” that’s something you hear quite often. Maybe we do, but if we do it’s because we are damn good at it and at no time during that second half was I ever really worried that Sheffield United might equalise although I admit to some relief when Chris Kavanagh, who resembled a referee compared to what we were lumbered with at Leeds, blew his final whistle.

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Wilder thought his team didn’t have enough quality but he praised us and rightly so. I thought that second half was fantastic and left Pope with precious little to do. The back four were magnificent but let’s not forget the six players in front of them, seven when you include substitute Dale Stephens. Never has defending as a team been more appropriate.

And so, a win to end the year, another clean sheet and a goal from one of the stars in captain Mee. I really couldn’t have chosen anyone better to have scored our final goal of the year to win us our last three points of the year.

Remember back during lockdown when he led our players alongside the other nineteen Premier League captains with some wonderful fundraising? He then stepped up on behalf of the club after the incident at the Etihad when football resumed before revealing, after scoring the winner at Crystal Palace a week later, what an extremely difficult time he’d had with the premature birth of his daughter Olive Grace.

Last night, on Match of the Day, Micah Richards, who came through the academy with him at Manchester City said that he was proud of him having a Premier League player and added: “He’s one of the nicest people you could meet.” I can’t add to that. It just makes you so proud that we have someone like that captaining our team.

This is the final match report on Up the Clarets for this year. Let us all hope that 2021 can be a better year and that we can all get back to a more normal and healthy life. It’s certainly looking as though it is going to be one of big change both at our football club and beyond.

My best wishes to everyone connected to our football club and my special wishes to our captain, his wife Sarah, son Jacson and even more so his daughter Olive Grace.

The teams were;

Burnley: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor (Josh Benson 9), Robbie Brady, Josh Brownhill, Ashley Westwood, Erik Pieters, Chris Wood, Ashley Barnes (Dale Stephens 79). Subs not used: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Will Norris, Phil Bardsley, Kevin Long, Jimmy Dunne, Anthony Gomez Mancini, Joel Mumbongo.
Yellow Card: Matt Lowton.

Sheffield United: Aaron Ramsdale, Chris Basham, John Egan, Jack Robinson (John Fleck 56), George Baldock, Ethan Ampadu (Oliver Norwood 66), Ben Osborn, Enda Stevens, David McGoldrick, Rhian Brewster, Lys Mousset (Oliver Burke 63). Subs not used: Michael Verrips, Jayden Bogle, Max Lowe, Kean Bryan.
Yellow Cards: Enda Stevens, Oliver Burke.

Referee: Chris Kavanagh (Manchester).

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