It all started last July in Scotland
It’s difficult to know where to start when reviewing the 2018/19. It started with the fun of the Europa League but by Christmas we feared that we were heading back to the Championship only to resurrect our season with a superb run that all but ensured our safety with four games to go.
“We’re all going on a European Tour,” the Burnley fans sang in the latter stages of the 2017/18 season. A seventh place finish saw us go into the qualifiers for the Europa League and it all started at Aberdeen in July, the first time we’d ever played a competitive game in that particular month.
We got through that one with extra time needed at the Turf in the second leg and it was just the same in the next qualifying round with Jack Cork netting the winner against Turkish side and that led to a tie against Olympiacos of Greece, They controversially beat us courtesy of some strange refereeing decisions in the first leg.
Five weeks after we’d made the trip the North East Scotland coast, it was all over and we were left with just the Premier League and the domestic cups. It had been a strange start to the season; we played friendly games after both Aberdeen games but then got underway in the league. A 0-0 draw at Southampton on opening day largely suggested a decent season and, despite Andre Gray scoring an early goal, the first half against Watford in the first home game was every bit as good.
Then the wheels came off. Watford went on to beat us as did Fulham, Manchester United and Wolves and there we were, bottom of the league with just one point from five games. We’d only lost at Wolves by one goal but in all honesty it could have been a battering.
During that period, just days before our trip to Greece, Burnley Football Club suffered the loss of its greatest ever player when Jimmy McIlroy passed away at the age of 86. It was so emotional to hear the chanting of his name at Olympiacos, particularly for those of us who saw the great man play. It was even more so in the following week when his funeral cortege passed Turf Moor ahead of the funeral. Two days later Turf Moor stood as one in silence as we remembered our greatest ever player. No review of the season could be complete without reference to the wonderful Jimmy McIlroy.
When you need a bit of help I suppose a Bournemouth defence is not a bad start. The scoreline at Wolves had probably flattered us and the 4-0 victory against Bournemouth was similar, probably because of two late goals from Ashley Barnes after early first Burnley league goals from Matěj Vydra and Aaron Lennon (shown above). Nevertheless it was a much needed win.
Three days later we witnessed the return of Steven Defour at Burton. That was a night to forget as we made our annual soft exit from the League Cup, beaten 2-1 by the League One side but at least it was another win in the next league game at Cardiff. Did we play well? No we didn’t, but the points lifted us to 12th in the table and I think many of us thought that the poor start was behind us.
We led in the next game against Huddersfield but they deserved their equaliser and point. Then it went horribly wrong again. We won just once more in the first half of the season; that was a 1-0 home victory against Brighton played in horrendous conditions. This was a win we definitely deserved, but following Huddersfield there was only one more point in the first half of the season and that had come in a 0-0 draw at an emotional Leicester in November.
There were some better performances. We deserved better than a 3-1 home defeat against Liverpool and our five man defence were so unfortunate to concede a stoppage time goal against Spurs at Wembley.
Defeat at Arsenal in the final game before Christmas saw us drop back into the bottom three and then came Boxing Day. There were more than 19,000 home fans at the Turf that day to witness and awful 5-1 defeat against Everton. It could have been worse; we were three behind in the first quarter of the game. I’m not sure many of the 19,000 could have left that day confident of survival.
Four days later, West Ham were at the Turf. What exactly happened between those two games we can’t be sure. There was talk of meetings between the players, manager and coaching staff. Maybe they called in the Fleetwood manager to give them a dressing down; we know that’s worked before.
What we do know is Sean Dyche abandoned the five man defence he’d used in the previous three games and he made five changes. Out went Joe Hart, Matt Lowton, he was suspended, Ben Gibson, after just one Premier League game, Jeff Hendrick and Sam Vokes, who wouldn’t start another league game for us. Their replacements were Tom Heaton, Phil Bardsley, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Dwight McNeil and Chris Wood.
McNeil had featured earlier in the season, getting starts at home against Olympiacos and Manchester United, and he had a real impact in our 2-0 win, scoring the second goal too (pictured), his first ever goal in the first team. Wood, whose only goal previously had come in the 4-2 defeat against the same team, opened the scoring on his return.
Bardsley and Guðmundsson also played well but when Heaton led the team out that day it was his name on everyone’s lips. Hart had turned in a number of man of the match performances but there had been a clamour for change after his Boxing Day performance. “HEATON” was the cry from the home stands from the second he came into view ahead of his first league appearances since September 2017 when he suffered his shoulder injury against Crystal Palace.
While we turned in an outstanding performance, the other two teams in the bottom two, Fulham and Huddersfield, met with Fulham getting the points. They were our next opponents either side of the FA Cup tie against Barnsley. Both Huddersfield and Fulham went in front against us, but we beat both 2-1 and deservedly so. In between we got a first VAR game at the Turf; we can only hope it runs more smoothly than it did that day when it is used next season in the Premier League.
Three wins in three and this Burnley side was never to drop into the bottom three again although there were still some concerns to come.
We were sent to Manchester City for a second successive season in the FA Cup, so that was our hopes of a first final since 1962 dashed, but surrounding that, and following on from those three league wins, we picked up three draws which all had, shall we say, interesting stoppage time incidents.
It was goalless at Watford but we played really well and should have won when Wood scored in stoppage time only to see it wrongly ruled out for offside. Then it was Manchester United at Old Trafford. We were 2-0 up with three minutes to go through Barnes and Wood (pictured) when Jon Moss, who had already tried once, gave them a soft penalty. Did Hendrick put his hand on Jesse Lingard? Yes. Was it enough to see him go down as if he’d been shot by some sniper? No. Would we have got it? Absolutely not. Worse still, they scored a stoppage time equaliser that was offside.
On the subject of penalties, the things we never got. We had the most blatant of them refused by Anthony Taylor in the home game against Southampton when Barnes was hauled down by the keeper. Even Dermot Gallagher was bemused when asked to comment on it in Ref Watch. But Taylor gave us one for handball in stoppage time after debutant Peter Crouch caused mayhem in the box, and Barnes stepped up to equalise an earlier Southampton goal.
Six games undefeated. I know it’s not quite 23 but this is the Premier League and we did extend it to eight with two outstanding wins. We scored three times at Brighton to win 3-1. If that was a good performance, there was much better to come in the next game when we left Mauricio Pochettino in a rage after we beat his Spurs side 2-1.
I think our strike pair of Barnes and Wood are worthy of mention here. We’d just won five and drawn three in those eight games and they’d scored an incredible eleven goals between them.
By then there was a real belief we were safe but football has this ability to knock you down far too quickly and a disappointing performance at Newcastle saw us lose 2-0 just three days after the Spurs game. It was the first of four successive defeats with the two home losses against Crystal Palace and Leicester particularly disappointing.
Wolves were next and, worryingly, they have a good record at Burnley. Conor Coady scored an own goal in only the second minute as a Wood effort came off the post. We were better than Wolves that day but it was much later in the day when McNeil scored as superb second to calm the nerves.
A week later and the celebrating Burnley fans were singing: “We are staying up,” after a 3-1 win at Bournemouth. We’d done the double over the Cherries and had scored seven goals against a team in a Premier League season for the first time.
Cardiff were now the team most likely to go with Fulham and Huddersfield who had both all but collapsed and they were our visitors in the next game. The Wolves and Bournemouth wins had left us knowing that a draw against Cardiff would be a good result but two Wood goals (2nd one pictured) gave us a 2-0 win on a day that had some refereeing controversy, just for Neil Warnock.
We were all but there and we’d known all along that we might need to be with the last four games to come being against Chelsea, Manchester City, Everton and Arsenal.
Chelsea on Easter Monday. That was the day we were accused of anti-football by David Luiz. It’s not the first time we’ve been to Stamford Bridge and got a result only to hear all the nonsense about how we played. We are not the first team to suffer this either from this classless club.
Hendrick scored our goal of the season and then Chelsea scored twice to go in front before Barnes equalised to give us a 2-2 draw and mathematically we were safe. Hendrick’s goal had taken our total to 43, beating our previous best of 42 in a Premier League season, that in 2009/10.
We did lose the last three. Manchester City beat us by a few millimetres on goal line technology, Everton beat us and fully deserved to and then Arsenal beat us without having to get a dodgy decision from the referee.
This surely was our best recovery in a season since Harry Potts’ team in 1977/78 but what brought it about? It was surely not one thing. Dyche will tell you we went back to basics and that is surely the case, but there are so many other things to consider. The return of Heaton as previously mentioned, the impact of McNeil, the goals plundered by our two strikers; they all played their part. We’ve also seen players such as Bardsley and Ashley Westwood produce their best form in a Burnley shirt and there’s also been the emergence of Charlie Taylor at left-back.
Overall, it has been what it always is at Burnley, a team effort and our team can now look forward to a fourth successive season in the Premier League.
Tom Heaton 19
Matt Lowton 19+2
Charlie Taylor 35+3
Jack Cork 37
James Tarkowski 35
Ben Mee 38
Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson 19+10
Sam Vokes 10+10
Ashley Barnes 26+11
Chris Wood 29+9
Robbie Brady 6+10
Jeff Hendrick 25+7
Ben Gibson 1
Peter Crouch 0+6
Steven Defour 6
Ashley Westwood 31+3
Joe Hart 19
Stephen Ward 3
Aaron Lennon 14+2
Phil Bardsley 19
Matěj Vydra 3+10
Kevin Long 5+1
Dwight McNeil 19+2
12: Ashley Barnes
10: Chris Wood
3: Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Jeff Hendrick, Dwight McNeil, James Tarkowski, Sam Vokes
2: Ashley Westwood
1: Jack Cork, Ben Gibson, Aaron Lennon, Matěj Vydra
and 2 own goals scored by Denis Odoi (Fulham) and Conor Coady (Wolves)
Scott Arfield and Dean Marney were released at the end of the previous season.
Anders Lindegaard, Nick Pope and Jonathan Walters also appeared in the Europa League while Pope also played in the FA Cup.
Sam Vokes was sold during January. Anders Lindegaard, Jonathan Walters (retired) and Stephen Ward were released at the end of the season.