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Season Review: One Game At A Time; Part 4

16 May 2014

The Clarets keep the heat on their promotion rivals as the season enters February and March

Burnley could now sense the big time as the Clarets ended March nine points clear in automatic promotion places, with just seven rounds of fixtures left to be played.

February began with arguably one of the key matches of the season when Sean Dyche’s team travelled to Loftus Road to face league favourites Queens Park Rangers. Danny Ings had volleyed home a Kieran Trippier first-half cross to cancel out Kevin Doyle’s early opener before a stunner from Richard Dunne sent the R’s back in front at the break. However, a brilliant double by Sam Vokes turned the game around after the interval only for substitute Modibo Maïga to rescue a point for Harry Redknapp’s side in the top-of-the-table clash.

Another crucial moment of the campaign arrived just a week later as Burnley went 19 league matches unbeaten at Turf Moor for the first time in the post-war era. The Clarets came from behind to beat Millwall when an Ings brace, sandwiched in between a Dean Marney left-foot strike, saw them register a convincing 3-1 victory. That win meant Burnley climbed back up into second in the Championship table. They would stay in this position for the remainder of the season!

History markers kept on coming too, as a Vokes far-post finish proved enough to hand the Clarets their first-ever triumph at the Reebok Stadium over local rivals Bolton Wanderers. 

Four days later, Burnley recorded another vital point away from home when Keith Treacy was introduced off the bench to snatch a 1-1 draw at Bournemouth. It was not the only time this season an impact from a substitute turned out to be crucial.

Nottingham Forest and Derby County were then both visitors to Turf Moor looking to strengthen their respective promotion challenges. In fact, the Reds arrived in East Lancashire on a fourteen-game unbeaten run, but they were put to the sword by a simply sensational first-half performance from the Clarets. 

Scott Arfield opened the scoring inside the opening quarter of an hour before a Vokes double saw Burnley turn their high tempo and intensity into a three-goal lead at the break. 

Forest came back in the second half, but were able to pull just a single goal back when Tom Heaton saved a penalty from Djamel Abdoun only for the Moroccan to slot in the resulting rebound.

The Clarets went eight points clear of the former European Cup winners with that victory before they cemented their second position with a commanding display against third-placed Derby. 

The Rams could have gone above Burnley with a win on the opening weekend of March. However, a brilliant strike by David Jones coupled with another goal for his centre midfield partner Marney gave the Clarets a 2-0 success.

Meanwhile, five-goal Vokes was awarded the Sky Bet Player of the Month accolade for February in a week during which he also bagged a goal for Wales in a home friendly 3-1 win against Iceland. 

The big striker headed the ball home after a great piece of work by the Real Madrid star Gareth Bale.

The real highlights of the campaign were still to follow, though and arguably none bigger than the one on a certain Sunday afternoon down the road at Ewood Park. 

A brave header by captain Jason Shackell, who would not miss a single minute of football all season, and a forever-to-be-remembered winner by Ings completed a quick second-half turnaround to give Burnley their first victory over East Lancashire rivals Blackburn Rovers since April, 1979. 
Ross Wallace, who had returned to action in February after five months out with a knee injury, and January signing Ashley Barnes made a vital impact off the bench, again demonstrating the strength of Dyche’s ‘group’.

Just three days later, the Clarets testified their resilience away at St Andrew’s only for a controversial, stoppage-time equaliser from Federico Macheda to rescue a point for Birmingham City in a six-goal thriller. 

The following weekend saw yet another history marker when Burnley completed their first league double over Leeds United in 87 years! Arfield made the difference once more with a well-struck, second-half finish into the far corner of the net after the Whites had taken the lead before the interval. The Clarets lost newly-crowned Championship Player of the Year Ings and then Trippier, to ankle and hamstring injuries respectively, in those two games, but never looked back.

Chris Baird was signed on a two-month deal until the end of the season to step in at right-back and Burnley recorded two further victories – and clean sheets – away at Charlton Athletic (3-0) and at home to Doncaster Rovers (2-0). 

Barnes bagged his first Clarets goal at the Valley, on only his second start, while Vokes converted a penalty in each match. As a result, ‘Vings’ became the first Burnley strike partnership to score at least 20 league goals each since Willie Irvine and Andy Lochhead had previously reached the milestone back in the 1964/65 season.

Burnley had gone 16 league games undefeated, and 23 at home, by the time Championship leaders Leicester City visited Turf Moor on the final weekend of March. Having won five straight matches on the home soil, the Clarets could have still had one eye on winning the division, but that was perhaps the only thing beyond the reach of Dyche’s men this season. 

The Foxes became the first away team who ran out victorious at Turf Moor since promotion-bound Hull City had registered a narrow 1-0 win just over a year before. Goals from former Claret David Nugent and Chris Wood gave Leicester 2-0 triumph after Vokes had gone off the pitch after just four minutes.

Sadly, the top-of-the-table clash marked an end of a season to remember for the 21-goal striker who suffered a serious injury to the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. However, Burnley still finished the month nine points clear ahead of third-placed Queens Park Rangers with just the final sprint of the campaign to come.

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