Small Progress But Progress Nonetheless
And we’ve been here before.
The last couple of weeks have given off a somewhat cautiously optimistic outlook at Burnley. After picking up their first point of the season away at West Brom, the Clarets gave their best performance of the season at home to Tottenham under the idyllic Turf Moor lights on Monday night; but cheaply fell victim to an in-form Son Heung-min header.
It is a far cry from the outlook of the majority of Clarets’ fans just two weeks ago; having lost 3-1 away on the River Tyne without posing any real threat, Burnley went into the international break on zero points from three games, an injury hit squad and no new signings to show for the frantic transfer window. Many fans – admittedly including myself – already saw the doom and gloom of a long treacherous season ahead of them, and let their frustrations be known as they wanted to avoid a repeat of the 2014-15 season, which ultimately ended in heartbreak.
However, the past fortnight has given us all reason to be hopeful. We were by far the dominant side against a particularly poor West Brom side at the Hawthorns last Monday evening, and really should have come away from the Second City with all three points. Yet, when Chris Wood spurned *that* chance in the second half – which admittedly could be a huge two points lost to relegation rivals – Burnley fans could have taken the failed opportunity to win a lot worse than they did. The game also marked the return of Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson and gave Ashley Barnes more match sharpness, giving Sean Dyche two major boosts to what was an incredibly injury-savaged squad: and with the first point on the board, it has no doubt kickstarted the season.
The only obstacle awaiting the Clarets’ return to a fully fit starting XI now is the awaited return of Ben Mee; the Burnley stalwart completed seventy minutes on the pitch for the under-23’s on Tuesday, and despite Kevin Long stepping in, he has only been adequate in the first five games – and the return of the skipper should put an end to that. One of Dyche’s main mantras is his commitment to not changing a squad no matter the result, and with the continuity of our best starting XI being implemented, it should push the Clarets’ on to greater things.
In a sense, it peculiarly feels as though the drastically erratic form that Burnley usually endure year upon year could start to change course once again.
Take the 2019/20 season for example; having endured a terrible Christmas period – picking up just 12 points from a possible 42 in October to January – the Clarets’ lingered just four points above the drop. Our misfortunes looked to be in even more turmoil as their next three fixtures were high-flying Leicester alongside the typically resolute Manchester United and Arsenal. However, the Clarets took seven points from those three fixtures and if you started the league from the Leicester game until the end of the season, the Clarets would’ve finished third with just two more losses throughout the lockdown period.
Then, there is the curious case of the 2018/19 season. Granted, our mini venture into European football had a vastly negative impact on the dismal start to Burnley’s season, but having only taken twelve points by the time Boxing Day arrived, it felt as though the Clarets’ stint in the Premier League was soon to be over. However, Burnley rallied around this, as they do so well; and with the return of Tom Heaton and introduction of golden boy Dwight McNeil, the Clarets accrued 28 points in just 16 games to ensure safety again via the abysmal form of Huddersfield, Cardiff and Fulham.
Bizarrely, I feel as though the same may happen again this season – there is no real catalyst that fans can pinpoint their finger on yet, but the Turf Moor outfit always seem to drag themselves out of the mire. This year, I believe that survival may not only happen due to Burnley’s form inevitably taking a turn for the best – but because of the sheer lack in quality of the teams around us. We’ve only taken one point from five, yet astonishingly are still only third from bottom.
Sheffield United seem to have been tagged with the ‘second season syndrome’; they were incredibly resolute last year, racking up a ninth-placed finish in their debut season – however, having taken just one point from six games this season with just three goals along the way, they look up against it and bereft of ideas. Equally, Fulham have been even worse – they’ve scored just five, however three came against an erratic Leeds side and the other two were in the form of an equaliser at Sheffield United and a consolation last weekend at home to Crystal Palace. Yet, it is their defence that is the main problem – they’ve conceded fourteen goals so far. Scott Parker’s men signed quite well over the summer; however, they are almost mirroring their performances from the 2018-19 season in terms of major signings not having any sort of input on the pitch whatsoever. This leaves us with West Brom, who have started the best of the candidates; they’ve taken three draws from six games, but having also conceded fourteen goals in that spell, they will need to shore their defence up if they are to make any sort of progress and survive. Our performance at the Hawthorns’ pays testament to that; on paper, it was a game that West Brom should have won if they were to stake a real claim for survival, but having endured the first 0-0 of the season as the second best side, they will be rightfully disappointed.
Perhaps the Clarets’ best asset in battles like this are their many former experiences of survival, which give them the little edge ahead of their rivals. It is largely the same core squad that arrived from the Championship in 2016 – especially the back five – and they have been down this road many a time with one another. Alternatively, Fulham’s mismatched squad mainly holds a lack of chemistry – alongside Sheffield United’s lack of relegation knowhow under Wilder and West Brom’s inconsistency – and these will play a vital part in the season’s forthcomings.
It has been a rocky road so far – and this is without the entire takeover saga looming largely over the club – but with the right mentality, a bit of luck in the seemingly always full injury room, and hopefully a bit of backing for the gaffer over the coming months, we will more than likely see a staggering sixth consecutive season in the Premier League.Follow UpTheClarets:
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