Concluding the story of a remarkable season
This was the end to the season most fans could only dared to dream of.
But Burnley made dreams a reality when they sealed promotion back to the Premier League with an outstanding victory over FA Cup holders and local rivals Wigan Athletic on Easter Monday.
The Clarets began the last full month of the season with their squad stretched to the limits.
Danny Ings, Kieran Trippier, Sam Vokes, Dean Marney and Junior Stanislas were all missing through either injury or suspension when Burnley travelled to Watford on the opening weekend of April. And if a draw could ever feel like a victory, it certainly did that day!
A late, quality finish by Scott Arfield – yet another time he came up with the goods at a crucial time this campaign – handed the Clarets a precious point.
It was their 15th out of 16 points (three wins, seven draws) in the league won from losing positions this season. That draw sent Burnley 10 points clear in the automatic promotion places, although Sean Dyche’s squad still never used the ‘p-word’ and consistently stuck to the ‘one game at a time’ mantra.
Narrow away victories at Barnsley and Blackpool, courtesy of another Ashley Barnes header and a Michael Kightly curling effort respectively, followed as Dyche welcomed his key players back.
In the meantime, a 1-0 home defeat, despite a good performance, at the hands of Middlesbrough put celebrations on hold before a very special Easter Monday afternoon at Turf Moor. Wigan Athletic arrived in East Lancashire looking to secure a play-off spot, but they came across a Burnley side that was simply irresistible on the day, perhaps summing up the full season.
Barnes finished off a sensational team move that began right from goalkeeper Tom Heaton for his first home goal for the Clarets. Seven, including six first-time, passes followed and the whole sequence took merely 17 seconds as the former Brighton striker turned home Marney’s ball across the face goal on his weaker left foot.
A stunning free-kick from Kightly on the stroke of half-time was the icing on the cake in a game in which Burnley also kept their 20th clean sheet of the campaign in all competitions.
Jubilations and a pitch invasion arrived at the final whistle when the Clarets celebrated their return to big time, only the second time in the club’s history they achieved promotion at Turf Moor.
The only previous time had come way back in April, 1973 when a double from Paul Fletcher against Sunderland sent Jimmy Adamson’s side on their way to the old Second Division championship. Burnley now knew they would begin the following season in the top-flight of English football for only the second time in the last 39 years.
However, the campaign was still two matches away from finishing as Dyche set his team a target of ending the league season on 95 points. And the Clarets were well on course to achieve the objective when Kightly scored in his third consecutive game to secure a narrow 1-0 victory over play-off hopefuls Ipswich Town in the final home match of the campaign.
A post-game ceremony followed as Burnley were awarded their promotion-winning trophy before thanking fans for their outstanding support throughout the season.
The campaign was rounded off with an entertaining 2-2 draw at the Madejski Stadium where Reading’s play-offs hopes were dashed by yet another superb comeback by the Clarets. Arfield and Ings cancelled out Trippier’s unfortunate own goal inside the opening 45 minutes only for a sensational strike from Garath McCleary to bring the Royals back on level terms after the break.
Burnley finished the campaign on the club’s highest-ever tally of 93 points – and the highest-ever for a team to end the Championship season in second position.
What is more, this number of points would have seen the Clarets crowned Champions of the division in each of the previous three campaigns!
Sean Dyche’s side could also boast the best defensive record in the league having conceded just 37 goals in 46 games. Heaton kept the most clean sheets (19) in the division, too. Meanwhile, Burnley also registered 11 away league wins during the season, equalling an all-time club record.
In fact, it seems simply impossible to go through all the history markers and records the Clarets managed to achieve, beat or equal throughout a remarkable campaign which could be extremely difficult ever to be seen replicated.
ONE GAME AT A TIME...
Next week: The milestone markers in an astonishing, record-breaking season