A Riverside relegation reflection

10 April 2017 01:32

Burnley visited the Teesside based Riverside Stadium on Saturday to play Middlesbrough, following a week of contrasting fortunes in the Premier League for two of last season's newly promoted clubs.

Walking off Turf Moor last Tuesday was one of those happy occasions when the home crowd was buzzing. It hadn't been a particularly good Burnley performance against Mark Hughes' Potters but the 3 points harvested were all that mattered.

Any Claret fan's pre-match nerves about being sucked into a relegation battled seemed to have been dispelled with that one result.

Spurs' dramatic late turnaround against Swansea the following night was also warmly greeted by Burnley fans, because at that time it increased the gap with the bottom three to seven points.

While nothing is still being taken for granted, one single piece of brilliance from Jeff Hendrick, finished off brilliantly by George Boyd meant so much. While Hendrick was off his game for the most part, George Boyd topped off a typically tireless performance with that vital solitary goal.

It is hoped Burnley Football Club and George Boyd can reach a solution to their contractual difficulties and the Clarets can offer a renewed, elongated contract for the tireless Scot.

Despite one or two media pundits still having Burnley booked for a relegation place, the win against Stoke followed by a well earned draw at Middlesbrough, took Sean Dyche's team to 36 points and perhaps enough to already ensure the Claret's survival?

More heroics at the Riverside from Burnley captain Tom Heaton, ably supported by Matty Lowton, Ben Mee, Michael Keane and Stephen Ward in front of him, means it can only be a matter of time before safety is finally mathematically guaranteed for the team from Turf Moor.

A quite astonishing second half headed clearance by Matty Lowton from a Stewart Downing free kick, swiftly followed by another goal line clearance went a long way to ensure the Clarets gained another valuable point on their travels.

The point earned at Middlesbrough leaves a further six opportunities for Burnley to get the last few remaining points that will ensure Premier League football will be on the menu at Turf Moor again next season.

It was the Clarets' FA Cup win at the Riverside last January that completely turned the 2015/16 Championship season on its head and began a twenty three game unbeaten run that saw Burnley go on to win the Championship.

A fact the amassed travelling Burnley fans were more than keen to remind the relegation haunted and anxious Middlesbrough fans throughout a Claret and Blue tinted Saturday afternoon sing along at the Riverside.

Of course it is widely recognised to be a long hard battle to gain promotion from the Championship. There is on the face of it, little to separate the two newly promoted sides.

Points wise there was little difference between the top two teams up to the last game of last season.  Burnley ultimately became Champions by a winning margin of four points.

At the start of the current campaign It was widely expected that Middlesbrough would stay up quite comfortably and Sean Dyche's Clarets would struggle to survive at the top table of English football. The absolute reverse of those expectations are now true. 

Fortress Turf Moor has yielded a great return for Burnley with ten home victories. Middlesbrough on the other hand, have struggled to win either at home or away and have drawn far too many games and struggled badly to score goals.

It would be no exaggeration to say Middlesbrough when managed by Aitor Karanka and the Burnley incumbent Sean Dyche never had any love lost between the two managers.

Dyche  always seemed to have the edge in the mental mind games department and constantly rattled Karanka with comments about Middlesbrough's alleged big spending.

Despite Karanka's retaliation and taunting Dyche with claims that if he'd managed Burnley he would have got the Clarets promoted much earlier last season, Dyche has sadly had the last laugh. Karanka has now departed the Premier League, an obvious scapegoat for the Smoggies present plight.

There was great joy amongst the home fans following the 1-0 Burnley victory in the corresponding Premier League fixture on Boxing Day. Karanka stated before the game the only way Burnley could score was from a long ball. Burnley duly obliged with an Andre Gray strike from a Sam Vokes flick on and assisted by an infamous Victor Valdes fumble.

So what of Boro after Saturday? Their midweek defeat to Hull and a goalless draw with Burnley has now stretched their winless run to 14 games. This leaves them in 19th place after 31 games, 4 points behind Swansea and 6 points behind Hull who are themselves just one place above the relegation zone.

The new Boro caretaker manager and head coach, ex-Blackburn Rovers player Steve Agnew, is apparently looking to place greater emphasis on attack. On the evidence of their 4-2 defeat in midweek to Hull and no goals against Burnley, Agnew  is clearly struggling to find the balance between scoring goals and staying solid at the back.

He recently accused his team of defensive 'naivety' which won't have helped the struggling Smoggies morale one iota.

The pressure is now firmly on Middlesbrough.  Sunderland look doomed following a 3-0 reverse at home to Manchester United and Boro really needed to beat Burnley on Saturday and whilst they still have one game in hand, the Smoggies have a tough run of fixtures up to the end of the season.

Sean Dyche's Burnley are now showing good signs of improvement on their travels. After two false starts at Aintree on Saturday now would be the perfect time for his team to provide "One for Sean Dyche" on Easter Saturday at Goodison Park.

The Burnley team showed their collective relief at staving off the threat of relegation at the end of the Stoke and Middlesbrough games, a sure sign they know they are nearly at the end of their journey in completing what they set out to accomplish at the start of the season.

This article was written by Michael Donnelly, alias "The Donz". Donzy is a regular contributor to Clarets Mad and writes about all things connected to Burnley Football Club. (TEC).

Source: DSG