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Four-midable!

The road to Europe: Season review part II

23 May 2018

What a season that was. Seventh place in the Premier League gave the Clarets their highest league finish since 1974, with Europa League qualification taking Burnley into European competition for only the third time in their history and the first for 51 years. We continue to recount how the glorious journey unfolded.

November-December

The Clarets’ outstanding away form provided the impetus to the push for Europe in the first half of the season and they were at it again with a first win at Southampton in nine attempts.

And it was a local lad made good as Sam Vokes scored the winner against the team he grew up supporting.

Born in the city, the striker had friends and family in the stands and split opinion amongst them when he came off the bench to head a brilliant late goal as the manager’s bold substitution and switch to 4-4-2 paid off.

A fourth clean sheet in six games continued the Clarets’ miserly approach and another shut-out followed in a 1-0 win over Swansea City as Burnley chalked up three successive Premier League wins for the first time.

Jack Cork, fresh from winning his first England cap, headed Sean Dyche’s side in front before Ashley Barnes effectively made the game safe before half-time as Burnley also recorded three straight wins in the top tier since 1975.

A certain generation of fans had never had it so good, although with Arsenal around there’s always likely to be a sting in the tail and the Gunners’ jinx struck again as the Londoners escaped from Turf Moor with another one-goal win thanks to a controversial late goal.

This time Aaron Ramsey was the beneficiary of a soft penalty awarded for a push by James Tarkowski, Alexis Sanchez slotting home to hand Burnley a first home defeat since their opening game at Turf Moor.

But that disappointment was partially forgotten as the Clarets hit the road again and racked up a fourth away win to snuff out the candles on former manager Eddie Howe’s 40th birthday cake.

Chris Wood and Robbie Brady got the goals in a 2-1 win which ended an 18-year wait for a win at Bournemouth and lifted Burnley into the top six as December approached.

The win at the Vitality Stadium had brought a first defensive change as Phil Bardsley replaced Matt Lowton and injuries started to bite with the onset of winter.

Brady sadly suffered a season-ending knee injury in a 1-0 defeat at Leicester when the Irishman was at the top of his game, but it wasn’t all bad news as back-to-back home wins brought one of the high points of the campaign.

Scott Arfield replaced Brady as the Clarets beat Watford 1-0 and what turned out to be a last goal for the club from Arfield proved to be enough thanks to another clean sheet.

And things got even better three days later when Dyche’s men repeated the scoreline with a victory over Stoke City which lifted them into fourth place in the table on a heady night at Turf Moor.

Charlie Taylor made his Premier League debut as a replacement for the injured Stephen Ward as the Clarets’ squad strength was tested.

And when super-sub Barnes came off the bench to crash home a late winner, Burnley went through the 30-point total to secure a highest league position since March, 1975 thanks to a fourth win in five home games.

In terms of league positions, it wouldn’t get better than that. But Burnley had laid their European credentials firmly on the line.

And while the wins were about to run dry, vital points were added to the tally before the turn of the year with just one defeat in the next four games.

Glenn Murray’s missed penalty helped contribute to a 0-0 draw at Brighton, where James Tarkowski picked up a retrospective red card and a three-match ban but where Ben Mee returned from injury to help secure a third successive clean sheet and ninth in all.

And while Tottenham showed their class with a 3-0 win at Turf Moor just before Christmas, the Clarets again held their own against lofty opposition with a famous 2-2 Boxing Day draw at Manchester United.

An early strike from Barnes and Steven Defour’s goal-of-the-season from a long-range free-kick hinted at even better as Burnley led 2-0 at the break.

But a first win at Old Trafford since 1962 was cruelly taken from the Clarets’ grasp as a second-half double from substitute Jesse Lingard – including an injury-time leveller – meant a share of the spoils.

A memorable year then ended in low-key fashion with a 0-0 draw at Huddersfield Town as the two sides failed to produce a goal for the second time.

But bar the lack of a penalty – again – when Jeff Hendrick had his legs taken away by Terriers goalkeeper Jonas Lossl, Dyche’s side could have no complaints at the progress they had made in 2018 as they rung out the old and prepared to bring in the new.


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