Burnley Football Club – Champions Once More
All title winning seasons, indeed all promotion seasons, are special. The one big difference here to some of the others is that we’ve known for so long just where we were heading, so far in front were we.
Only three games lost all season. Our previous two promotions had only seen five defeats each, in the 1972/73 season there were only four, but three, that’s an incredible achievement.
Looking back at the season, it all kicked off at Huddersfield on 29th July last year but in truth, it started earlier than that date. The rebuild needed I suppose was already in the planning stage when we lost against Newcastle on 22nd May, a defeat that condemned us to relegation.
In the aftermath, some nineteen days later, Ashley Barnes signed a new one-year deal. A couple of days later the club delivered its retained list. We knew James Tarkowski was leaving but a number of other players were released including Ben Mee, the biggest shock of all. Jack Cork and Matěj Vydra were in discussions with the club. We know now that one said yes and the other no.
He had a big job to do with the squad decimated. Cork quickly signed a new deal but three days later we lost Nick Pope to Newcastle. We needed incomings and as the end of June approached we landed Scott Twine and Luke McNally from MK and Oxford respectively.
July started with news that both CJ Egan-Riley and Taylor Harwood-Bellis had arrived from Manchester City, the latter on a season long loan. Four days later saw the arrival of Samuel Bastien from Standard Liěge as the manager turned his attentions to Belgium.
If Kompany becoming our new manager was not the best kept of secrets then him bringing Craig Bellamy with him definitely wasn’t. It took some time but he was eventually confirmed as the new assistant manager along with four other new members of the coaching team.
It was hard to keep abreast of who was and who wasn’t in the squad. We went to Portugal during which time goalkeeper Arijanet Muric came in from Manchester City and on the day before the season opener we signed Vitinho from Cercle Brugge but also lost Dwight McNeil to Everton. That departure was even closer to the start of a season than Charlie Austin had been nine years earlier.
Off we went to Huddersfield for a Friday night kick off. We’d no idea what the team would be; we’d no idea how things would go. I was there early and received a phone call from a friend of mine with the team news, some time before it was released. There were some surprises but I recall him asking me how I thought the season might go. I said I’d no idea, that we could go straight back up, straight through into League One or, more likely, somewhere in between.
When the half time whistle blew at Huddersfield we just all stood there opened mouthed at what we’d witnessed. The football was that good, it was hard to take in. How we were only 1-0 up took some believing. Admittedly, we didn’t know at the time how bad Huddersfield were going to be, but this was special although we couldn’t add to that Maatsen goal.
Huddersfield wasn’t the start of a magical opening period to the season. We won none of the next four and that included draws in each of our first three home games. We lost 1-0 at Watford. By the final whistle we shouldn’t really have been beaten but we were. It left us in 15th place in the table with six points. The early front runners were Sheffield United with Watford, Reading and Blackburn just behind them.
We won the next two. The first of those was at Wigan where we hit the home side for five. Again, as was the case at Huddersfield, we didn’t realise how poor they were but make no mistake that we were good that afternoon and things were looking better when we followed that up with our first home win of the season against Millwall. There’s one thing about an early season league table, you can quickly move up or down it. We moved up. We were now third with just Sheffield United and Norwich above us.
Our big problem in the next few games was holding on to leads. In each of the next five games we went 1-0 up and in all of them the opposition levelled. Four of them ended 1-1 but we did beat Bristol City 2-1. What was so frustrating was the times of some of those goals in the draws. West Brom equalised in the eighth minute of stoppage time, Cardiff in the ninetieth minute although the Stoke equaliser on the Turf came as early as the 87th minute. We were still in the play-off places but down to fifth and now five points behind each of the top three with QPR having climbed in to join Sheffield United and Norwich.
We hadn’t been behind in any game since the home draw against Hull, which was game number four, so it was a shock when Sunderland went in front against us at the Stadium of Light. It was more than a shock when they scored again and we trooped in at half time with a 2-0 deficit. Ashley Barnes by his own admission was poor and he was pulled at half time with Manuel Benson coming on. Only this week, the manager said the players saw an angry Vinny at half time. The second half was special, incredibly special as we stormed to a stunning 4-2 win. Even my very good friend from Sunderland, who only usually comments on his own club and the one on Tyneside, was quick to point out how good we’d played in that second half.
We were third now, just one point behind the unlikely top two of QPR and Blackburn. We had three home games to come next. The first of them against Norwich was the game previously postponed because of the Queen’s death in September. We played earlier than most teams because we were still in the League Cup; we’d beaten Shrewsbury 1-0. A 1-0-win, courtesy of a penalty given away by Grant Hanley, gave us top spot.
It was Reading and Rotherham next. Both had the audacity to take the lead and both managers whinged all the way home after we won both, beating Reading 2-1 and then recording a 3-2 win against Rotherham with the winner coming in the tenth minute of stoppage time brought about by all their time wasting.
By this time, we had a two point lead over Blackburn but Sheffield United, a further point behind, had a game in hand and a better goal difference. Surprisingly, they lost that game in hand three days later at home against Rotherham but on the Saturday thy won at Cardiff to go top ahead of our home game the next day when our opponents were coming down the road on the M65.
This was the final game before the World Cup. Although Sheffield United had gone top, they wouldn’t be by the end of the Sunday. Whoever won the East Lancs derby would take first place; a draw would see us go top.
They came to Burnley and, do you know, they hardly touched the ball. They did have one shot at goal though but this was as comprehensive a win as you are ever likely to see. The second half was full of highlights. Barnes, restored for the first time since Sunderland, scored twice and even decided to push their goalkeeper into the back of the net. He was brilliant, but this was a special team performance with Zaroury scoring the second goal. 3-0 it was; we were top and we were not to lose that position again.
We exited the League Cup at Manchester United four days before Christmas but scored three again six days later, this time Birmingham being beaten by us. A win at Stoke in the final game of 2022 saw us end the year three points clear of Sheffield United but with an astonishing fourteen point lead over Blackburn in third place.
I felt these wins would help us when the inevitable tricky spell came but, not on your life, we won at Swansea and then beat both Coventry and West Brom at home, both of those on the Turf coming with late goals. From winning 3-0, we’d started recording one goal victories but we then reverted to 3-0 wins at Norwich and then at home against Preston; the latter seeing Nathan Tella hit a hat trick.
The lead at the top was now seven points and seventeen ahead of Middlesbrough who were now in third place. They and Sheffield United were now looking the most likely to offer any sort of threat but I just couldn’t see it. I was convinced that the only way we weren’t going up was if we collapsed.
Two more wins and a draw followed before we beat Fleetwood in the cup and then we repeated the two wins and a draw before going out against Manchester City at the Etihad in round six. Huddersfield went the way of many, beaten 4-0 with their new manager Neil Warnock proclaiming us the best in this league for twenty years. He even suggested Barnes was playing like Pele. Now, as most know, I do like Barnes, but even I thought it was stretching it just a bit.
On the last day of March, Sunderland did what no one else could do, they kept a clean sheet on the Turf in a 0-0 draw. Then, it was Middlesbrough and Sheffield United over Easter. “If we lose them both, it will make it tough,” I was told by one glass half empty fan. “We won’t lose them,” I replied, knowing we were a better side than both.
That’s exactly what we were and we beat both. Apart from a short spell early in the second half at Middlesbrough, we showed both just how much of a better side we were. The Middlesbrough win came first and what a night with promotion clinched with seven games to go, a Championship record. The scenes at the final whistle were special, really special, as fans, players, manager and staff came together. No one wanted to leave.
We needed five points from those final six games to be crowned champions but we had to wait longer than expected. We could only draw at Reading and the same happened at Rotherham. Then, the shock of all shocks, QPR came to the Turf and beat us. We still needed three points and now from just three games.
Where were we heading next? Yes, Ewood Park. This horrible, pathetic, little club had opted to keep around 5,000 seats in the away end empty. If they thought it was going to do them any favours, they were sadly mistaken. We won 1-0 with a Benson goal and the title was won right in front of their very eyes. They might wish to take a look now and realise that they’d have been in the play-offs had they got a point that night. They got exactly what they deserved.
More celebrations and just for good measure, we went to Bristol City and won before beating Cardiff at home in the final game, after which the trophy and medals were presented ahead of more celebrations.
Prior to that final game, Vincent Kompany signed a new five-year deal and yesterday we made our first summer signing with the capture of Jordan Beyer on a four-year contract.
Goodness knows how many records we’ve broken this season; at times it seemed a weekly exercise, but above all that is the league table that shows us on 101 points, ten ahead of Sheffield United.
It really has been a special season and one I’m sure we will always remember, and a fourth promotion to the Premier League for this grand old club of English football as we were described by the Sky commentor as the final whistle blew at Middlesbrough.
We’ve scored more goals than anyone else in the league this season and we’ve conceded less than anyone. Incredibly, only twelve goals have been conceded in the 26 games since Bramall Lane. We have the best home record in the division with three points more than Sheffield United and the best away record, beating third place finishers Luton by six points.
We’ve beaten all but Blackpool, yes relegated Blackpool, and Watford this season and we’ve done the double over Swansea, Coventry, Norwich, Huddersfield, Wigan, Middlesbrough and Bristol City. And Blackburn, that we can’t forget, who have now failed to score against us in our last five meetings.
The only disappointment is that the season has ended. You just don’t want seasons like this to finish but we’ve got just five weeks to wait for the fixtures and we can’t wait.
It really has been special. I did say that back in July I’d no idea how this season would go. With so many changes, I never expected anything like this. I still pinch myself that it’s really happened. I’ve seen us promoted to the top flight five times now, three times as champions, but I’ve never seen a season like this when we were just so much better than anyone else in the league.
Burnley Football Club – Champions Once More
Josh Cullen 43
Connor Roberts 43 (39+4)
Josh Brownhill 41
Arijanet Muric 41
Ashley Barnes 39 (22+17)
Jack Cork 39 (26+13)
Ian Maatsen 39 (38+1)
Nathan Tella 39 (31+8)
Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson 37 (23+14)
Vitinho 35 (23+12)
Anass Zaroury 34 (27+7)
Manuel Benson 33 (14+19)
Charlie Taylor 33 (17+16)
Taylor Harwood-Bellis 32 (31+1)
Jordan Beyer 30 (29+1)
Jay Rodriguez 28 (20+8)
Samuel Bastien 18 (7+11)
Scott Twine 14 (5+9)
Michael Obafemi 12 (0+12)
Lyle Foster 11 (4+7)
Hjalmar Ekdal 9
Ameen Al-Dakhil 8 (7+1)
Halil Dervişoğlu 8 (0+8)
Bailey Peacock-Farrell 8 (5+3)
Darko Churlinov 7 (1+6)
Dara Costelloe 4 (3+1)
CJ Egan-Riley 3 (0+3)
Luke McNally 2 (0+2)
Nathan Tella 17
Manuel Benson 11
Jay Rodriguez 10
Josh Brownhill 7
Anass Zaroury 7
Ashley Barnes 6
Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson 4
Ian Maatsen 4
Connor Roberts 4
Scott Twine 3
Michael Obafemi 2
Samuel Bastien 1
Jordan Beyer 1
Josh Cullen 1
Halil Dervişoğlu 1
Hjalmar Ekdal 1
Lyle Foster 1
Taylor Harwood-Bellis 1
Own Goals 2
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