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Season Review Part I: The European Dream

Magic moments of the Europa League mask tardy start back at home

20 May 2019

The opening month of a marathon season was dominated by the Clarets’ European campaign as Burnley returned to the Continental stage for the first time in over half a century.

Finishing seventh in the Premier League in 2017/18 had earned Sean Dyche’s side a crack at the Europa League.

Joining at the second qualifying-round stage meant a first ever competitive game in July for the Clarets.

And while the draw did Dyche’s men no favours, they came within a whisker of making it through to the group stages during a memorable six-match run.

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It all started in the north of Scotland with a trip to Aberdeen.

Being paired with the Scottish Premier League side might not have been the draw many fans wanted as they looked forward to a European tour.

But a ‘Battle of Britain’ against a side steeped in European history made it a cracking cup tie, which just went in Burnley’s favour over two fiercely contested legs.

The first at a pumped-up Pittodrie finished all square thanks to Sam Vokes’ superb late equaliser for the Clarets, who lost the services of England international Nick Pope to a shoulder injury that was to have major ramifications for the club’s goalkeeping department.

The second leg at Turf Moor was also a tight affair which remained deadlocked at 90 minutes after Lewis Ferguson had cancelled out Chris Wood’s early opener for Burnley.

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Extra-time in the opening game of the season might not have been the ideal scenario, but the Clarets were still going strong as Jack Cork headed them in front before a late Ashley Barnes penalty wrapped up a 4-2 aggregate win.

Burnley’s reward was a meeting with Turkish outfit Istanbul Basaksehir, an emerging force in Turkish football who would go on to push Galatasaray all the way for the title before folding in the final straight.

They couldn’t find a way past the Clarets over two legs, though, as new signing Joe Hart kept successive clean sheets and a hat-trick in all – wrapped around a shut-out at Southampton on the opening day of the Premier League season.

An away goal at Turf Moor would have made life tough for Burnley after they had returned from a hot and steamy Istanbul with a goalless draw.

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But Basaksehir were kept at bay by a back line including new recruit Ben Gibson and again Cork struck in extra-time to soothe the nerves with a classy finish which put Dyche’s men one more win away from the group stages thanks to a 1-0 aggregate success.

Again, though, they would be asked to do it the hard way and this time the hurdle proved just too tough to overcome.

Record 44-time Greek champions Olympiacos were the final qualifying-round opponents as they looked to progress in their 63rd campaign in European competition.

And they used all that experience to fashion a 3-1 first-leg lead after the Clarets had been level at half-time in Athens through Chris Wood’s penalty.

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In a cauldron of colour and noise and an atmosphere the Clarets’ travelling fans will long remember, two second-half goals, a penalty and a red card for Gibson, made a for a manic finale and a two-goal advantage Olympiacos were able to bring to Turf Moor.

As it transpired, a 1-1 draw took the Greeks through 4-2 on aggregate.

But that didn’t tell the whole story as Burnley produced a fantastic performance that on another night could have completed an epic comeback.

On a magical Turf Moor evening when wingman Dwight McNeil made a memorable full debut, Dyche’s men racked up the chances to get the goals that would have had Olympiacos rocking.

But somehow the visitors survived before nicking a late away goal through Daniel Podence to seal their passage through.

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Fittingly, a first Burnley goal from summer signing Matej Vydra made sure Burnley would bow out with just one defeat from their six-game run.

And all those who were part of their journey will know a first Europa League campaign will form a special chapter in the Clarets’ history.

The downside, however, was a stuttering start to domestic duties as the combination of an early start, heavy workload and excessive air miles took their toll.

And when the Clarets followed up their European exit with a 2-0 home defeat to Manchester United to head into a welcome first international break in early September, Dyche’s side had just one point to their name and a place one from bottom of the Premier League.

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Clarets' legend Jimmy McIlroy was remembered at his beloved Turf Moor following his death in August at the age of 86


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