After a very mixed start to 2011/12, Burnley’s season was poised on a knife-edge and at half past four on Saturday 26th November, it seemed that the balance was tipping disastrously- two goals down at play-off contenders Hull City, on the back of four straight defeats, the Clarets were now marooned in the relegation zone and even the most faithful fans were starting to question the manager, even with recognition of the difficult circumstances he has inherited this season.
But cometh the hour, cometh the man, and step forward a very unlikely saviour. Canadian defender David Edgar, enjoying his first sustained run in the team since arriving from Newcastle at the beginning of the Premier League season, popped up with his first and second goals for the club and out of nowhere, an abject performance looked to be yielding a result. Suddenly, confidence was high, the Burnley fans were in full voice and wave after wave of attacks on the shellshocked Hull goal produced a last gasp winner from the more familiar source of Jay Rodriguez. Burnley had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, and this was not just true for the match, but for the season at large.
Since that incredible 15 minutes on Humberside, Burnley have not looked back, recording seven wins and two draws from the last eleven games to sit firmly in playoff contention, with some cracking results including away wins at high-fliers West Ham and Middlesbrough. Jay Rodriguez has also gone from strength to strength since the game, scoring seven in his last eleven and attracting attention from the likes of Newcastle and Everton. With a year left on his contract, it will be a great surprise to see him lining up for Burnley at the beginning of next season. Indeed, with the board’s track record this season, we are lucky to still have him!
But having been frequently critical of the board in this blog, it’s only fair to credit them with some excellent business in the January transfer window. Not only did we see no departures – many Burnley fans were gloomily predicting the sale of Rodriguez, amongst others – no less than four players were brought in. Danny Lafferty, a young left back from Derry City, is one for the future. Josh McQuoid on loan from Millwall looks a useful squad player, but the permanent deals concluded for Manchester City loanees Ben Mee and Kieran Trippier were the best business – Trippier especially at a million pounds was a bargain, and I would be very surprised if he is not sold for double that when he eventually moves on.
Mee and Trippier have been at the forefront of the other renaissance in the Burnley squad, the defence. With only one clean sheet before the game at Hull, they have now recorded an astounding seven in eleven games. The defensive partnership of Michael Duff and David Edgar is proving the most solid since John McGreal and Gary Cahill in 2005, ably assisted by Trippier and Mee, whose move to left back at the expense of the shaky Brian Easton has improved the team immeasurably. Goalkeeper Lee Grant has also shown his best form since signing, and it is a very refreshing change to see a Burnley team so solid at the back, as regular viewers of Match of the Day in 2009/10 will no doubt attest.
Another key problem which Eddie Howe has addressed is winning away. Owen Coyle managed two away wins in the calendar year of 2009, Brian Laws managed two in 2010, but Howe oversaw eleven in 2011, with eight so far this season. For a fan who missed very few of those away games in 2009 and 2010, this has been a very welcome change and really pays tribute to the new fortitude of the defence and the manager’s tactical nous.
Patchy home form, including defeat to Portsmouth and weather-affected draws with Derby and Peterborough, has tempered excitement somewhat, but the form Burnley have shown in the last two months has been nothing short of outstanding, and firmly tipped the balance in favour of a promotion campaign this season. The play-offs are just out of reach at present and squad depth is still a problem but if players can be kept fit, the rest of the season could be a more exciting one than any Burnley fan had dared hope for at half past four on the 26th of November 2011.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to say a big thanks and best wishes to our chairman, Barry Kilby, who announced this week that he will be stepping down at the end of the season due to health problems, In thirteen seasons at the helm, Burnley have gone from battling relegation into League Two to Premier League football, without slipping outside the top two divisions since 2000.
The ITV Digital crisis hit the club hard, like many others, but some shrewd choices of manager (Brian Laws apart, perhaps) have steered Burnley through financial problems, without spending beyond their means or putting the future of the club in serious jeopardy. We may regret the failure to really capitalise on Premier League money, but we can confidently predict that the future of the club is secure for many years to come, which many clubs would be very happy to boast. All Burnley fans will toast his sensible and successful chairmanship and he is assured of a tremendous reception at Tuesday night’s home game with Barnsley. Thanks Barry.
Written by Tom Whittaker, We Are Going Up’s Burnley Blogger
Tom tweets at @tomclaret