Burnley boss Sean Dyche can finally utter the word ‘promotion’ after the Clarets returned to the Premier League with victory over Wigan Athletic.
After being relegated in 2009/10, goals from Ashley Barnes and Michael Kightly cemented a return to England’s top tier and mark a sensational campaign for the club.
Having sold last season’s top scorer Charlie Austin to Championship rivals QPR not even the most optimistic supporters could’ve envisaged such success.
Bookmakers made Burnley as short as 4/1 to suffer relegation from the division making them fifth favourites among the 24 clubs, but the additions of Tom Heaton, David Jones, Scott Arfield, Kightly and Barnes, plus the prolific pairing of Sam Vokes and SkyBet Championship Player of the Year Danny Ings led to a term that will live long in the memory.
Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Everton and Spurs will all be included in Burnley’s fixture list for the 2014/15 season!
There was an air of expectancy at Turf Moor as a bumper crowd packed the stadium to watch the Clarets take on the FA Cup semi-finalists, who had pushed Arsenal to penalties just weeks ago.
The hosts set out on the front foot, looking to get in behind the Latics, and goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi had to be alert to claim Barnes’s pass as Ings threatened to burst past Leon Barnett.
A similar scenario emerged soon after as Kightly broke away from full back Stephen Crainey and threaded a pass across the six yard box but James Perch cut out the cross with Arfield lurking at the back post.
The away side were looking to adapt to the momentum of their hosts, but it was that press, intensity and relentlessness - that has characterised this season under Dyche - that saw the Clarets break the deadlock.
The back four pushed a high line, with Kieran Trippier claiming possession, and his pass was swept in to the path of Dean Marney first time by Ings and the midfielder’s cross was guided in to the roof of the net by Barnes.
However, the Clarets refused to rest on their laurels and continued to set the tempo. As the pressure continued to mount, Arfield lifted a volley over the bar from Jones’s headed assist before Al Habsi beat away Marney’s centre with Barnes the intended target inside the six-yard box.
The visitors failed to expose Burnley’s rearguard from open play, but Hammers loanee Jack Collison forced Heaton to save with a flicked header courtesy of Jordi Gomez’s inswinging set-piece.
Having smelt blood, Uwe Rosler’s side tried again with a set-piece from the opposite flank and they went agonisingly close to equalising. Gomez once again supplied the assist and Marc Antoine Fortune’s glancing header floated across Heaton before coming back off the bar.
That attempt served to invigorate and re-energise the Clarets who continued to pull holes in Wigan’s backline with crisp, intricate passages of play.
Al Habsi was once again called upon to palm Jones’s swinging free-kick to safety at his near post after Jean Beausejour had felled Trippier, but just before the interval the Latics stopper was a mere spectator as the home side doubled the advantage.
Arfield’s invention and close control worked the space and drew the foul from Perch, and Kightly’s free-kick from an almost impossible angle fizzed in to the far corner via a touch from Crainey’s head.
Collison pulled an effort wide from the edge of the box from Fortune’s cushioned assist as the half petered out, while Mee tested Al Habsi with a stinging left-footed drive from 20 yards which the keeper diverted wide of the upright.
Rosler made two changes at the break - switching to a 3-5-2 with Rob Kiernan and Callum McManaman replacing Crainey and Gomez respectively but despite the latter’s attempted trickery and wizardry there was still no way through.
The away side were afforded more of the ball in the second period, but the Clarets afforded them little time or space before breaking up play and countering.
Kightly’s presence and pressing saw the winger rob Perch of possession and, after cutting infield, flashed a right-footed effort across Al Habsi and narrowly wide of the far post.
Wigan did have a chance to halve the deficit from Emerson Boyce’s speculative clearance, as Michael Duff’s attempted header to Heaton fell short but the goalkeeper stood his ground to save Fortune’s stabbed attempt with his legs.
At the opposite end, Kiernan presented Ings with an opening when misjudging Mee’s headed clearance but as the 25-goal striker closed in on goal he thumped the outside of the upright from an acute angle.
While Heaton remained untested throughout the Bank Holiday Monday afternoon, it was a different story for his Omani opposite.
First the 32-year-old, signed from Bolton Wanderers, plunged to his left to turn Jones’s bending free-kick away at his near post. And moments later he beat away Barnes’s audacious 25-yard volley.
Referee Keith Stroud’s full-time whistle prompted celebration from three sides of Turf Moor as the Clarets returned to the ‘Promised Land’, inheriting a generous £120m windfall in the process.
Burnley are back!