That was the year that was
The plan was to take a look back at 2016 just as the New Year firework displays were dying down. That wasn’t possible in the aftermath of the Sunderland game although today is probably an appropriate date to take that look back because it was the date of the year’s first league win.
We’d ended 2015 with Andre Gray scoring a hat trick in a 4-0 home win against Bristol City and started 2016 with a 0-0 stalemate, also at home, against Ipswich. That was followed up by a real rarity; an FA Cup win at Middlesbrough, our first win in that competition since 2011.
Our position in the league was a comfortable fifth but we were a way behind the top two and certainly my thinking was that a good second half of the season would ensure us a play-off place.
That thinking sort of changed in a dramatic couple of weeks in January. On this day a year ago we travelled to the franchise in Milton Keynes where Joey Barton’s first Burnley goal gave us a 1-0 half time lead. Little did we know what was going to happen in our next 90 minutes of football.
Four more goals in the second half gave us our biggest away league win since a promotion clinching victory at West Ham in 1947 and just three days later we turned in a mesmerising first half performance at Brentford in front of the television cameras to lead 3-0.
Was that the best we’d played under Sean Dyche’s management? He suggested so and it might have been, although my mind always thinks back to the 2014 demolition of Nottingham Forest on the Turf.
The Sky cameras were there for our next game when promotion rivals Derby were hit for four. What a night. It was the first match after the launch of Up the Clarets and we were delighted with our Ram-Shackelled headline as former captain Jason Shackell returned on a nightmare night for him and his team.
Two draws and a win in the next three games followed, the win, again at home, another crucial one against a promotion rival, this time Hull. By the time those three games had been played we’d moved up to third. We were level on points with Brighton, one place below us, a point behind Middlesbrough and three points behind Hull. All three had at least one game in hand but we were going well and were unbeaten in eight successive league games.
Barton had long since spoken about the need to finish the season in first place. When he first said it, at a time when a play-off place looked likely, I thought he’d lost his marbles. Now, at least, I thought we were in with a chance of challenging for a top two place.
Home wins followed against Neil Warnock’s Rotherham and Nottingham Forest and then February came to an end with a trip to Bolton. I think it is fair to say we weren’t very good that day and I remain convinced that the game would have headed for a 0-0 draw had League One bound Bolton not had the audacity to take the lead with just over 20 minutes remaining.
That sparked us into life and two Gray goals later we were bouncing behind the goals with: “We are top of the league”, as we went a point clear of Hull and Middlesbrough, although they were still with games in hand. We’d no idea how long we would stay in that lofty position but it was undoubtedly a good day at the Macron with some real post match celebrations.
On Boxing Day 1978 we beat Blackburn Rovers at home. As we moved into March 2016 we beat Blackburn Rovers at home. Another long and overdue wait was over. It wasn’t a classic by any stretch but an early Gray penalty awarded for a foul by Shane Duffy on George Boyd was enough to give us the points.
It was a third successive win against our fierce local rivals, all of which had been screened by Sky. My only concern was over Sky’s choice of guest and what happened next. When we won at Ewood in March 2014 they had Steven Reid in the studio and we went on to sign him and when we won at Ewood in October 2015 it was Paul Robinson who, by the time of this home game, had been signed by the Clarets. For this one they had David Dunn in the studio – that was a serious concern.
It was four wins on the bounce and within a week that became six. We came from behind at Fulham to win 3-2; Gray again scoring the winner after two Sam Vokes goals, and then we turned in another good performance at Huddersfield to win 3-1. Vokes scored the second that day but the other two came from defenders Stephen Ward and Ben Mee.
Ward had scored our first game of the year in the cup win at Middlesbrough, but this was his first league goal for the Clarets while for Mee it was a second goal in the season having previously netted at Bristol City.
Even those with their glass three quarters empty must have had some confidence by this time. As we made our way home from Huddersfield the league table was looking good. We had 74 points from 37 games; then came Middlesbrough with 67 from 35, Hull 65 from 35 and Brighton 65 from 36. And when Middlesbrough lost on the following day at Charlton with Aitor Karanka having been told to stay away, things really were looking good.
Surely Mr Barton wasn’t going to be right was he with his first place finish suggestion?
Six wins in six and now we were 14 games undefeated. And six wins was so, so close to becoming seven when we led Wolves at home going into stoppage time only for them to grab an equaliser. Still, eight games to go, we were in a very healthy position.
It was after the Wolves game that Barry Kilby was asked to predict the remaining eight games. The vice-chairman is often referred to as the club pessimist but he was in bullish mood and predicted five more wins and three draws for a 93 point finish. He even believed that would be enough to win the title by nine points.
He was spot on with his final total. The only results he got wrong were to predict a home win against Cardiff and a draw at Birmingham.
Of the three games we did draw in the last five, two of them will be remembered for a long time simply because in both we equalised deep into stoppage time against promotions rivals through Michael Keane, both times converting Matt Taylor corners.
The one at Brighton was incredible given he’d wrongly had a goal ruled out just a few minutes earlier when it was adjudged, very wrongly, not to have crossed the line. The second of them, at home to Middlesbrough, shook the whole town let alone Turf Moor as the home crowd went wild.
A defeat that night might psychologically have cost us but we went on to win our last three games while Middlesbrough didn’t win any. We won at Preston on a nervous Friday night, beat QPR 1-0 at home after the others had played to clinch promotion and then won 3-0 at Charlton to ensure we were champions.
Vokes it was who got the promotion winning goal against QPR. How fitting given he’d missed the run in two seasons earlier because of injury. But what a way to finish the season. No defeats since Boxing Day. A run of 23, 23 undefeated, our best post-war run and second only to the incredible thirty game run in our first championship season of 1920/21. We were back in the Premier League.
As is always the case, we said goodbye to a few players and they are all worthy of mention. Matt Taylor and Lloyd Dyer were released and both had played their part when called upon. Taylor scored crucial goals to add to his equally crucial assists and Dyer, whilst only used three times as a substitute, was a valuable signing for his performance at Birmingham alone.
Michael Duff retired after a wonderful twelve years and Barton opted to play the Penny Arcade in Glasgow, signing a two year contract with Rangers that was not to be the success he hoped for.
Tom Heaton got his first England cap ahead of the Euros. It might have only been a late substitute appearance but my word, how the hairs stood up on the back of my neck as I watched a Burnley player take his place on the pitch for England. What a wonderful moment.
Things didn’t go too well for England in France but it was fantastic to see Vokes and Ward doing well. Little did we know that we should also have been keeping an eye on Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Jeff Hendrick who would join us by the time the summer transfer window closed.
With the Euros over, it was back to the domestic game and we were about to kick off with two home games. Swansea, as they always seem to do, came and beat us but then we had one of those magical days when one of the big boys came and went home with their tails between their legs.
In our first Premier League season it was Manchester United, then it was Manchester City but this time it was Liverpool. The experts came up with all the statistical nonsense, about possession and shots at goal, but the one stat that mattered was that we scored twice and they didn’t score at all. Vokes and Gray got the goals and this time our season was up and running a bit quicker than had been the case two years earlier.
It was certainly a strange first half of the season up to the end of the year. Our home form remained good but we continued to struggle away from home. By the time the year ended we’d won only one point on our travels and that from what was a back to the walls display at Manchester United when we defended for our lives and when Tom Heaton had a superb ninety minutes at his old club.
At home it has been a different story. Since Swansea we’ve lost twice more. Arsenal beat us with a goal that should not have stood right at the end of stoppage time and Manchester City could count themselves very fortunate to have beaten us 2-1.
Hull got a draw in our third home game but, apart from that, it’s been a superb end to 2016 at Turf Moor with further wins to add to Liverpool against Watford, Everton, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Middlesbrough and finally Sunderland when Gray did what he did a year earlier, and ended it with a hat trick.
Having completed the previous season with 23 games undefeated, we were going into 2017 with 23 points and I think we’d have all taken that before the season kicked off.
The home record in 2016 really has been remarkable. We played 22 games on the Turf throughout the year. We won 14 of them, drew five and lost just the three. We only conceded 14 goals at home and when Manchester City scored their first it was the first time we’d conceded a goal at the Jimmy Mac end since December 2015.
Overall, it really was a fantastic year with so many highlights and it was interesting a couple of weeks ago seeing which of them got the most votes on the message board poll.
Charlton was a wonderful day, but it came second only to Keane’s late equaliser against Middlesbrough. Beating Blackburn at home came only third, and that in itself shows what a good year it was when beating Blackburn was no longer the be all and end all.
Other memories to finish high in that voting were Keane’s goal at Brighton, the fantastic win against Liverpool and the home wins against Palace and Derby.
My choice? It has to be the clinching of promotion and then that fantastic couple of days out we had for the Charlton game. It’s all about competing and winning and we very definitely winners at the end of last season.
I don’t know what 2017 has in store for us. We’ve already had a narrow defeat at Manchester City and a cup draw at Sunderland. I do think that if we were able to stay in the Premier League it would make it an even better year than 2016. We can’t possibly ask for more than that.Follow UpTheClarets:
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