TALKING POINTS: Sheffield United 1, Burnley 0
Burnley rounded off the season with a disappointing defeat at relegated Sheffield United.
The Clarets were off the pace in South Yorkshire, with a David McGoldrick goal the difference in the first half.
Burnley were without Nick Pope and Ben Mee, as they slipped to a third straight defeat, having secured a sixth- successive season in the Premier League.
ALL’S WELL THAT DOESN'T END WELL
There was much gnashing of teeth on social media about a third-successive defeat to end the season - and seventh in nine - at bottom side Sheffield United.
But some fans were prepared to excuse the players for easing off after securing their survival, mathematically at least, at Fulham.
In a season like no other, with not much in the way of a summer break, Sean Dyche’s squad, suffering from a string of injuries and a failure to back the manager whatsoever in the transfer window, found themselves with two points from seven games.
They went on to pick up 37 in 28 games, before taking their foot of the gas, effectively having done enough after the 1-1 draw with Leicester in early March, given. Fulham finished 11 points adrift.
It may have been a tough watch at times, but there has also been some memorable wins, at Arsenal and Liverpool - for the historical significance and in terms of upsetting the big-hitters, Crystal Palace, Everton and Wolves - for the swashbuckling nature of the performances, Villa at home, showing that famed strong jaw to come back to win...
For the last five seasons, Burnley haven’t finished the season strongly, in terms of results, but they are human beings.
And in all those seasons, they only lost their edge after essentially achieving their goals for the season - survival in 2017, 2019 and this season, qualifying for Europe in 2018, and finishing top 10 last term.
The Premier League is punishing, mentally as well as physically, and under Dyche, his team have delivered exactly what he promised when appointed, sweat on the shirt, and that the minimum requirement is maximum effort.
Job done, again, ensuring a sixth-successive Premier League season, and seventh in eight.
Defeat at Bramall Lane didn’t tell us anything we didn’t know already.
Burnley are weaker, significantly so, without Nick Pope and Ben Mee.
The Clarets haven’t won without Pope since beating Cardiff at Turf Moor two years ago, while if either Mee or James Tarkowski are absent, the side doesn’t have anywhere near the same air of dependability.
The lack of options out wide also stood out again, with Dwight McNeil and Johann Berg Gudmundsson far from their best on the final day.
We’ve all known for a long time where Burnley need to bolster their squad, and you imagine if they endure a similar summer to what we have become accustomed to at Turf Moor, their luck won’t hold another season, whether Dyche remains at the helm or not.
An ageing group requires refreshing, adding to and improving.
It is the least Dyche and the supporters deserve to see happen.
You would have to go back to the summer of 2016 for the last really enterprising recruitment drive at Burnley, when Pope and Gudmundsson arrived, while the transfer record was broken twice on Steven Defour and Jeff Hendrick, before falling again for Robbie Brady in January - on a day when Ashley Westwood also arrived.
The noises from chairman Alan Pace are encouraging, but as he has said, the proof will be in the pudding.
Sean Dyche likes nothing more than smashing a hoodoo in his time as Burnley boss, but Bramall Lane remains a graveyard for the Clarets.
Burnley have now won only once in 19 visits to the Blades, back in December 2008, against the side they would beat at Wembley to win promotion to the Premier League for the first time.
Burnley beat United three times in total that season, but they couldn’t complete the double over them for the first time since.
It was a shame that Burnley couldn’t get the win, which would have seen them match the seven away wins from 2017/18 when they finished seventh and qualified for Europe.
Much has been made of their home form, but the away form has been impressive.
Victory would have also seen them equal the club Premier League record of three successive away victories, set from March to April 2018, and they also missed out on matching the club top-flight record of three away clean sheets in a row, most recently achieved in 1955.
Sean Dyche had said after the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool on Wednesday night, after again using the 4-4-1-1 system he tried out at Manchester United: “We just played around with that look - can we be effective with it?
”The fault with that shape is can you be effective, and at times we were.
”It’s just that next step, that continuation of trying to mature is that shift in the top third of the pitch because generally we’ve been good defensively over the season, a good clean sheet number again, it’s just finding those key moments in the top third of the pitch.”
You wondered whether he would experiment again against a side outside the Big Six, but at Sheffield United, the shape was nowhere near as effective.
Josh Brownhill was peripheral at best off the front, and Matej Vydra improved Burnley after the break, although he and Chris Wood were given little in the way of good service.
Dyche said: “We went with it against some of the top teams in the division and we wanted to see it operating against, with all due respect, not the top side in the division.
“There were moments, but we didn't find key moments. A lot of play in the back third and not too much play in the attacking third, and that has been a challenge for us all season, the quality in the attacking third, and it was missing again today.
“That is certainly something we have to look at and it often comes with investment and quality of player. Some of it is what we can work with the players on the coaching side so we will look at that.”
Certainly Burnley have looked more effective as an attacking force with Wood and Vydra of late, and while Ashley Westwood has been excellent in terms of playing forward quickly and with accuracy, the side need another midfielder who can manipulate the ball and probe and prompt - maybe Dyche will be able to get one through the door this summer?
I imagine every Burnley fan will have their fingers crossed that Nick Pope’s minor knee surgery doesn’t rule him out of Euro 2020 - maybe Express Sport should print a prayer mat, like The Sun did for David Beckham in 2002?
But it doesn’t look good for the Clarets keeper.
Pope has missed five of the last eight games of the season with a shoulder and then a knee problem, and Sean Dyche had been hopeful he would return at Bramall Lane, before the player himself made the “tough decision” to get booked in for an operation, on the day Gareth Southgate names his England squad.
Dyche said: “Popey was hopeful of getting the game done today, to see how it felt, but in the end he had to make a decision, with the medical team as well, so he’ll have a minor operation this week (Tuesday) and we hope that goes well.
“He needs it (the operation), I think it’s a minor cartilage situation, he just felt a click in his knee, it settled down and he wanted to continue, but yesterday it was one of those, it was awkward and sore, and he just thought he had to get it done.
”It was quite a simple decision in the end, a tough decision, because we don’t know how long it will take to settle - it shouldn’t take long - but he’s had to make that decision.“
So, Pope’s hopes are hanging by a thread, although the increase in squad size from 23 to 26 could count in his favour.
With England’s first game three weeks away - and you would imagine Southgate will start Jordan Pickford, it could be a case of whether Southgate is prepared to take a risk with Pope.
But it would be heart breaking if he misses out on what could be a once in a lifetime experience of a ‘home’ tournament.
As he said earlier this year: “I’m hoping to be a part of it, it’s the European Championships in your own country so it’s definitely something that’s exciting and good to look at in the future.“