A real season of two halves - Chris Boden's verdict

Sean Dyche described it as a “strangely enjoyable season”.

Monday, 13th May 2019, 11:44 am
Burnley's Dwight McNeil battles with Arsenal's Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Stephan Lichtsteiner

And you could see where he was coming from.

The campaign started with European football for the first time in 51 years – and memorable trips to Aberdeen, Istanbul and Athens.

And it also took in a third-successive draw at Old Trafford, a Turf Moor victory over Champions League finalists Spurs, a draw at Stamford Bridge, and a double over former boss Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth.

Burnley also scored 45 goals, more than ever before in the Premier League, while the emergence of 19-year-old winger Dwight McNeil was one of the most positive aspects of the campaign.

Over the second half of the season, the Clarets would, eventually, have finished ninth, after taking one point from their tricky last four fixtures, four points fewer than Arsenal, who were fourth on form.

And only Manchester City, Liverpool, the Gunners, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth scored more in that period, after Palace beat the Cherries 5-3 on the final day.

However, the ‘strange’ part of Dyche’s comment largely lies with that first half of the season.

Only 12 points from the opening 19 games was a huge concern, and led to genuine fears Burnley could lose their Premier League status.

Overall, they have also conceded 68 goals – only Bournemouth, Fulham and Huddersfield shipped more.

That tally was 29 more than last season, when only the top five had a better defensive record.

Arsenal’s win here on Sunday also made it a club record of 10 home league defeats in a season.

Turf Moor is often referred to as a fortress, but since the 10 wins in 2016/17, which effectively kept Burnley up, given their away record, has slipped to seven last term and this.

And the injury situation has also been a worry to Dyche, with more soft tissue problems that usual, on top of frustrating campaigns for Steven Defour, Robbie Brady and then Aaron Lennon, who missed the second half of the campaign.

All told though, Dyche and his players deserve huge credit for coming through a grave situation on Boxing Day, to effectively seal their survival with three games to spare.

And while they have lost their last three, they have, for the most part, looked more like the Clarets of old in doing so, rather than the somewhat lacklustre Burnley of the first half of the season.

They are back to being hard to beat, as champions City will certainly attest.

Burnley end the season with that clarity – one of Dyche’s buzz words, which sums up his sids during his reign.

Invariably, his teams know their jobs to the nth degree, are wonderfully well organised, run hard, play to the final whistle, and also find a way of being effective – despite some of the “anti-football” nonsense levelled at them at times.

Burnley will start next season with a clean slate again, but, given a ‘normal’ pre-season, and absence of European commitments, you would like to think we will again see the traits of the second half of the campaign.

Much, of course, will depend on the club’s summer business, and Dyche has already wondered out loud how far the budget will stretch.

No one wants to see a Bolton Wanderers/Portsmouth/Leeds United-type scenario at the club, but Burnley won’t just stand still if they continue to struggle in the market, they will go backwards.

Of the three summer signings, only Joe Hart made an semblance of impact on the first team, starting the first 19 Premier League games, before one of the turning points of the season, the return of skipper Tom Heaton, and the lift that gave the supporters, and the team.

Ben Gibson started one league game, the 5-1 reverse to Everton on Boxing Day, although he could cite the form, certainly over the second half of the campaign, of England international James Tarkkowski, and a man who is hard done to not to be an England international, in Ben Mee, who has ended the term playing arguably the best football of his career.

Matej Vydra is another who endured a frustrating year, making only 17 appearances in all competitions.

Dyche hopes the time spent adapting to the club and the league will benefit him moving forward, but you wonder whether he will dislodge the twin strikeforce of Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood, who ended with an impressive combined tally of 26 goals, 13 each.

Barnes claimed his 12th Premier League goal of the season against the Gunners, more than any other Burnley forward has managed in the modern era, topping more-vaunted strikers such as Danny Ings and Steven Fletcher.

Even taking Peter Crouch’s decision over his future into account, Burnley will certainly have to replace Sam Vokes in the summer, with a number of other positions also needing work.

But, ever pragmatic, that would just be telling Dyche how to suck eggs.

He and his staff and players will get a well-deserved break now.

But the work is already underway to maintain the remarkable success at the club.

Next season will be a fourth-successive Premier League campaign – Burnley’s best sequence in the top-flight since the 1970s – and a fifth in six years.

That shouldn’t be overlooked or taken for granted.

These are special times at this football club, and long may they continue.