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The Long Wait...

The road to Europe: Season review part III

24 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. Today, we continue to recount how the glorious journey unfolded.

January-February
 
The new Year brought little in the way of cheer as, despite a thrilling fightback against free-scoring Liverpool, the Reds stole victory in the dying seconds,
 
Johann Berg Gudmundsson had stooped to conquer with minutes to go, to cancel out Sadio Mane’s first half opener, but there was a sting in the tail deep into stoppage time, courtesy of Ragnar Klavan’s close-range finish.
 
 
A tough start to 2018 continued as, despite taking a first half lead through Ashley Barnes, the Clarets were put to the sword in the second half the Etihad Stadium in the FA Cup third round, as Manchester City continued their four-pronged assault on all fronts.
 
And a trip to south London the following week also proved fruitless, as an improving Crystal Palace extended Burnley’s winless run to six games, despite the addition to the ranks of winger Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, on loan from Spurs.
 
 
That had failed to make a dent in their secure, seventh placed spot, and next up was the visit of Manchester United, as manager Sean Dyche celebrated his 100th Premier League game in charge.
 
Again, it would prove to be a chastening afternoon, as Anthony Martial’s one moment of quality ultimately proved the difference.
 
Johann Berg Gudmundsson came closest to earning a share of the spoils with a free kick that clipped David De Gea’s crossbar, but a 14th clean sheet of the season for the Spaniard was enough to see off Burnley’s battling display.
 
 
It was now just three points in seven league games for the luckless Clarets, who at last saw signs of a transformation in fortunes on transfer deadline day at Newcastle.
 
Aaron Lennon had joined the fray, from Everton, and his introduction, along with striker Sam Vokes, helped Burnley earn a battling point, despite a growing injury list that saw Ashley Westwood handed a first league start of the season, following the news that Steven Defour was ruled out for the season.
 
 
Goalkeeper Nick Pope had earlier added to his growing reputation with a penalty save from Joselu, before being beaten by Jamaal Lascelles’ second half flick header from a corner.
 
 
But with the clock ticking and just five minutes remaining, Vokes headed home via a helping hand from goalkeeper Karl Darlow to seal the fightback and deservedly stop the rot.
 
It wasn’t lost on the Clarets hierarchy that, despite encountering a tough run, just one defeat in five away league games was proof of a healthy pulse.
 
And the Clarets were back in rude health when they earned their first point on four home games by holding champions-elect Manchester City to a draw.
 
Danilo’s first half strike meant it looked like business as usual for Pep Guardiola’s side, but after defending for their lives to stay in the hunt, Sean Dyche’s men mounted a storming late fightback which brought them a top-class equaliser from Johann Berg Gudmundsson eight minutes from time.
 
 
A disappointing day in Wales followed, as Swansea extended the Clarets’ winless streak in the Premier League into double figures with a late strike from Ki.
 
And the long wait was cruelly extended a week later, after Southampton struck in the last minute in bizarre fashion through the unwitting intervention of referee Bobby Madley.
 
Ashley Barnes’ close-range header mid-way through the second half looked as though it had finally ended an 11-game wait for an elusive victory.
 
 
But with seconds remaining, Madley blocked off Burnley midfielder Ashley Westwood and handed possession back to the Saints, who pounced to level through substitute Manolo Gabbiadini and leave the Clarets rueing their collective bad luck.
 
A winter of mild discontent was proving irritating.
 
March would, however, provide the shoots of a Spring-board into Europe.
 

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