After a brilliant week to be a Claret, Burnley managed to wrestle four points from Stoke City and Middlesborough, pushing their total points to this season up to 36, which is three more than we achieved in 2015 when we went down on 33 points. What’s different this season?
Burnley have recorded 32 pts whilst playing at home, enough to see them sit 6th in the table on Home Results alone – that’s higher than both Manchester clubs. We hit 10 wins at home after beating Stoke 1-0 and the form we have shown at home has been a consistent part of our season, allowing us to never be sat in the relegation zone this season (despite losing our first game at home to Swansea).
A big part of this reason I believe is the addition of Burnley fans into the David Fishwick Stand, affectionately known as the Cricketfield Stand. This was done as a tester towards the end of our last PL season when we were all but relegated anyway, but it was reintroduced early last year and proved a success commercially as well as helping out on the pitch. Since we have had Burnley fans permanently in that end we have lost just 5 games spanning almost two seasons, and one of those was the defeat to Arsenal with the famous ‘not-a-corner-offside-handball-played-over-allowed-injury-time’ goal. The only games we’ve really deserved to lose are Reading back in 2015 and Swansea.
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Reducing the number of away fans is a clear outcome of splitting the stand, but it also allows more Burnley fans in the stadium, especially on sellouts. Pricing in the stand is also the cheapest in the stadium allowing fans to get season tickets who might not have considered one before.
The biggest improvement is the atmosphere however, turning most home games into an away day feeling for the Clarets inside – except we know there’s a good chance we’ll win the match!
By establishing a strong home record early on we have given ourselves a fighting chance right from the off, and prevented long droughts in form.
2. New Players
It felt as though this summer we really ‘went for it’ in terms of transfers into the club. Traditionally we have had a very modest outlay and done well to keep hold of those players who had won us promotion. This year we kept almost all the players who won us promotion and added quality to our ranks in positions we were short of. A departing Barton and Jones were replaced by Jeff Hendrick and Steven Defour for a £20m combined fee and we added more a traditional winger in Johann Berg-Gudmundsson. These players were all better than what we had already, so it ensured we had great depth as well as a stronger first eleven. Of course Barton returned to the ranks in January.
This is no doubt the strongest Burnley team i have seen and I think we did well to even get close to survival 2 years ago. The back five this time lost Kieran Trippier to Spurs, but Matt Lowton has been more than adequate as his replacement. We have Stephen Ward playing out of his skin at left back and this has allowed our central pairing to flourish. An international quality centre back like Keane alongside the ever consistent Ben Mee has made us infinitely stronger (and faster) in the middle of defence. The man standing behind these four is in the form of his life and at this rate could go down as one of the best Goalkeepers Burnley have ever had in their history.
3. Strike Force
Although 2 years ago we had Danny Ings to lead the line, we sorely missed Sam Vokes. They formed a prolific partnership in the Championship in our run up to promotion and Ings found it tough going playing off other partners.
This year we have a three-headed monster lead by Andre Gray. We have been able to rotate formations due to a more flexible squad, but generally we have seen Gray partnered by Vokes or Barnes up front. Any combination is a threat to PL defences, as Gray’s electric pace puts defenders on the back foot, allowing us to play out of the back and also make recovery clearances knowing they wont just be thumped back up to us. Gray currently has 8 goals in 26 appearances but his work rate for the team has been as big a help as his goals.
Sam Vokes struggled to regain full fitness 2 years ago and as a result failed to score in 15 appearances. This year he has 5 goals in 31 games which is more than enough for a team fighting relegation, and a player who relies more on his aerial prowess to assist others – something he has done plenty this season. Vokes’ overall game is much better than it was 2 years ago and his performance for Wales in the European Championship shows this.
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Ashley Barnes featured a lot 2 years ago due to the injuries to both Vokes and Jutkiewicz, he managed to net 5 goals in his 31 games but this year he has the same return of goals from just 21 starts. Barnes is a bruising forward who defenders will hate to come up against. If i wasn’t a Claret I would call him a dirty player and he often plays on the very edge of what is legal in football. An underrated aspect of Barnes however is his technique, and his ability to bring a ball down or offer a deft flick on to teammates is amongst the best in the squad. He also has a knack of scoring important goals and celebrating like an uncaged beast.
The season is not yet over, and we are not yet safe. There is plenty of reason to celebrate such an achievement by Dyche and the players for their part in building up such a healthy gap between the relegation spots and surely it is only a matter of time before we can start planning for a fourth season in the top flight of English football.