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2016 - A Season To Remember: Part III

Continuing our look-back at the Clarets' memorable Premier League campaign

1 June 2017

Mid-winter arrived but there was no gloom around Turf Moor as vital goals were scored and the points continued to rack up.

December

The Clarets played six games in December and with three wins gave some real momentum to their efforts to retain their top-flight status.

The month started in low-key style away to Stoke City, where a 2-0 loss meant the Clarets would suffer a third successive league defeat for the only time during the campaign.

Boss Sean Dyche made four changes to his starting side to try and kick-start things and went back to a 4-4-2 formation.

But first-half goals from Jon Walters and Marc Muniesa put the points out of reach before the Clarets really hit their straps.

A return to Turf Moor for former boss Eddie Howe was therefore a key date for the Clarets as they looked to stop the rot.

And Dyche’s men did it in style as they came out on top in five-goal thriller.

Jeff Hendrick lit the touch paper with his goal of the season to put Burnley 1-0 up, superbly controlling Matt Lowton’s ball forward before lashing a volley into the top corner from 25 yards.

It was one of the great Turf Moor goals and the Clarets quickly doubled their lead through Stephen Ward’s first of the season.

Benik Afobe’s injury-time strike at the end of the first half put the game in the balance.

But another classy finish from George Boyd 15 minutes from time gave Burnley the breathing space to survive Charlie Daniels’ late reply as Dyche’s men hung on to secure a 3-2 win and a huge three points.

Back-to-back trips to the capital brought no reward, despite improved away-day showings, as West Ham and Tottenham both won by as single goal in the run-up to Christmas.

Ashley Barnes at least ended Burnley’s wait for a first goal from open play away from Turf Moor when he gave the Clarets the lead on their last visit to White Hart Lane.

But goals from Dele Alli and Danny Rose completed a Tottenham comeback which had the Clarets heading into the festive programme just two places above the bottom three.

That made back-to-back home games against Middlesbrough and Sunderland absolutely massive.

And the Clarets handled the occasions superbly to take maximum points and hand out damaging defeats that nudged both North-East opponents to their ultimate fate of relegation.

Middlesbrough were the first to be put to the sword on Boxing Day as Andre Gray made it a merry Christmas at a sold-out Turf Moor.

Andre Gray had been short of goals but repaid Dyche’s faith in giving the striker a run of games to rediscover his scoring touch.

And it was his late strike that was too hot for Boro keeper Victor Valdes to hold which proved the difference between the two sides that had fought out the Championship title the season before.

Again it was Burnley who came out on top with Gray’s second goal of the season giving his side a sixth home win.

And suddenly there was no stopping the striker as he then claimed his first Premier League hat-trick to bury sorry Sunderland in a 4-1 win on old year’s night as the Clarets signed off a memorable 2016 in fitting fashion.

Gray had bagged a treble 12 months earlier against Bristol City to spark Burnley’s promotion run and he repeated the feat to become the first Burnley player in 41 years to score a top-flight hat-trick, following in the footsteps of the great Peter Noble, who would sadly pass away before the end of the campaign.

All three of his goals came in a spectacular 22-minute burst either side of half-time, Barnes completing the rout from the penalty spot as the Clarets soared up to 11th place – nine points above the Wearsiders who occupied the final relegation berth.

January

With little time for a breather, the Clarets started 2017 with a trip to the Etihad Stadium to face a Manchester City side unbeaten at home to Burnley in a run stretching back to 1963.

And despite playing for almost an hour with 10 men after Fernandinho was sent off for a rash challenge on Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Pep Guardiola’s side hung on to extend that record with a 2-1 win.

Goals from Gael Clichy and substitute Sergio Aguero in the space of five minutes early in the second half gave City control and despite a Ben Mee-led fightback – the ex-City youngster scoring his first goal of the season – the Clarets came up just short.

The FA Cup then took centre stage and the Clarets took full advantage of some low-key draws to dip into their squad and still have the strength to get past Sunderland  - after a replay – and Bristol City, when Steven Defour lit up Turf Moor with a beautiful goal to wrap up a 2-0 win.

But the Premier League was where it was at and despite a heart-breaking late defeat to Arsenal - for the second time – it was another big month.

The Gunners scraped to a 2-1 win, with an Alexis Sanchez penalty coming even later in injury time than Andre Gray’s own spot-kick as Sean Dyche’s 200th game in charge of the Clarets ended in disappointment.

More agonising still, though, was a season-ending injury to Dean Marney, who had again given everything for the cause.

But either side of the Arsenal defeat were two more home wins which were key to the Clarets’ bid to remain clear of the relegation scramble.

Southampton were beaten 1-0 as Joey Barton announced his return as only he can.

Barton had signed a deal until the end of the season after cutting short an unsuccessful stay in Scotland with Rangers.

And the midfielder picked up where he left off in helping win the Championship title the season before by coming off the bench to score with a deflected free-kick which secured the win that lifted Sean Dyche’s side into the top half of the table.

Every point felt priceless and so it proved again on the final night of January when Leicester City were beaten 1-0 to give the Clarets a fifth successive home league win.

They became the first Burnley side to achieve the feat in the top tier since 1966 on a day the club also broke their transfer record to sign Robbie Brady from Norwich City.

And Brady was watching from the stands as Sam Vokes came off the bench to force home the late winner which took the Clarets to a season-high position of ninth.


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