The challenges for which all Burnley fans longed just over a year ago proved to be too much for the squad this season.
While there were moments of inspiration and pure magic, the learning curve that Premier League football presented this season was just too steep and has immediately dispatched the Clarets back to Championship football in August. The players that return next season will undoubtedly be stronger and much improved for having experienced Premier League football this year.
Here are my final Burnley FC player grades for the 2014-15 season:
Manager – Sean Dyche (A-)
The ultimate pragmatist, Dyche possibly did better than anyone else could have, given the size of the club and budget. As expected, he won many admirers and much respect this season. Rarely uses his allocation of substitutes and often makes those changes too late in the match. Despite this, Sean is clearly the man for the job and the club should do all it can to extend his contract.
GK – Tom Heaton (B+)
Impressively, Tom played every single minute in the league this season, while earning a very respectable 10 clean sheets, deservedly earning himself an England call-up. Conceded 53 goals this season, the same number as 5th-placed Tottenham Hotspur. Awarded Players’ Player of the year honors this week. Heaton is a very consistent goalkeeper and not prone to making spectacular saves, but he is very composed and rarely makes mistakes. This results in a calm and settled back five for Burnley.
CB – Jason Shackell (A-)
Player of the year last season for many and my player of the season for this. Averaged over 11 clearances a match this campaign. A true warrior and general for the club on the park and played nearly every minute this season. The Clarets developed a reputation of being difficult to break down this season and tirelessly throw themselves in front of shots, seeking a block; Jason Shackell embodies this mentality. With one year left on his contract and no financial need to sell, Burnley would do well to retain the captain’s services. Former manager Eddie Howe and AFC Bournemouth may have their eye on Shacks as the second tier winners look to bolster their squad for Premier League football in August.
CB – Michael Duff (B-)
Missed a portion of the winter months due to injury and added stability at the back and a stronger aerial presence upon his return. Burnley’s longest serving player and the only member of the squad from both Premier League seasons. Duff’s veteran legs often lack pace, but he serves as an important veteran head along the back line as young Michael Keane waits as Burnley’s centre half of the future.
LB – Ben Mee (C+)
Much improved from the start of this season to the finish. Excellent in the air and does well bombing forward to swing in crosses. Can often be found wanting defensively and lacks pace. Lost his job mid-season to Stephen Ward until an ankle injury forced Ward out of the side again. Burnley have two very capable left-backs at Championship level as they look ahead to next season.
RB – Kieran Trippier (B+)
A truly gifted player and up to Premier League standard, many consider Kieran a future right back for England. Does very well defensively and has improved in his defensive duties this season. A massive threat bombing forward on the wing and pinging in balls from the run of play or on set pieces. Provider for many of Burnley’s goals and scoring opportunities and ranks high among defenders in the league’s Player Performance Index week in and week out as well. While Kieran is a local lad and under a longer-term contract, the Clarets will have to fend off the wolves this summer to retain his services for a return to the Football League.
CM – David Jones (C+)
Ever-present for the Clarets at the centre of the park and Burnley’s metronome. Most activity is distributed through Dave and he is one of the best passers of the ball on the team. Jones lacks pace though and is prone to making mistakes and turning over the ball at the centre of the park. Has not been up to Premier League standard for much of the season and has not been clinical enough in his finishing whilst going forward.
CM – Scott Arfield (B-)
A vital piece in the puzzle for seasons to come for the Clarets. Scotty is under a long-term contract and at 26 still has years left on his legs. Traditionally plays on the wing but was forced to centre after the untimely injury to Dean Marney. Only contributed two goals this season from midfield and seems to have lost confidence to attempt long-range efforts on goal. Can be found missing in matches and has lost his legs near the tail of the last two seasons.
LM – Matt Taylor (B)
Unlucky to miss most of the season due to an Achilles injury. Matty has been instrumental when appearing for the club though and is often Burnley’s best player when he steps on the park. By far, he possesses the most Premier League experience of the starting XI and oozes quality and composure in a side that lacks established top-flight football. Has seen promotion twice in his long career and would be key for the Clarets to hold on to him as they attempt to yo-yo across the top two divisions.
RM – George Boyd (B+)
The best signing for Burnley this season and many fans’ player of the season. The club equaled their record signing amount to secure his services and he has been excellent, scoring five goals from the wing. Lacks searing pace, but on a weekly basis leads the league in distance run. His effort and commitment to the cause is second-to-none. Burnley may face a challenge to retain him this summer.
ST – Ashley Barnes (B-)
Another workmanlike season for Ashley and actually started the year off the bench as the third-choice striker. Much like last season, he has not scored many goals, but they are often very timely in helping the Clarets capture points. Scrappy and relentless off the ball, holds up play well for teammates, but has not been clinical enough in his finishing to meet Premier League standard. Will be a better player next season for having gained the experience from this year.
As we have now received confirmation of our worst fears, that Ashley Barnes will spend a majority of next season injured due to damaged knee ligaments. A true blow to the Clarets, meaning they must be buyers over the summer in the striker department. Aye aye Ashley, here’s to a swift recovery.
ST – Danny Ings (B+)
Most talented player in the squad. Despite much criticism and controversy this season, he still scored 11 goals and had a hand (scored or assisted) in over half of Burnley’s league goals this season. Could have been far more clinical in his finishing, but has given his all to the cause this season. Out of contract this summer and likely ready for a move to a different Premier League club.
SUB – Dean Marney (B+)
Unfortunate to suffer a season-ending injury just after the January transfer window closed. Vital for Burnley’s creativity driving forward from midfield. The club had great difficulty capturing much-needed points after his season ended early in February. Has signed a new contract through next season and will be an important factor upon his return as the Clarets seek promotion (albeit after his rehabilitation).
SUB – Michael Kightly (B-)
Has been ousted from the side by the likes of George Boyd, Scott Arfield, and Matt Taylor and has appeared infrequently this season. When on the park, he has played well and delivered creativity and a spark going forward.
SUB – Lukas Jutkiewicz (D)
Began the season as the second-choice striker and has failed to impress. Held the ball up well at times for his strike partner, but is prone to giving away the ball as well. Failed to score a single goal this season after his £1.5m move this summer and lost his starting role as well as his confidence as the season progressed. Lacks composure and quality in his finishing. Would do well to return to the Championship to find a bit of form, as he has not been up to Premier League standard by any definition.
Note: Ryan has picked out a first XI and three subs – bit-part players have not been graded deliberately.
Do you agree with these grades or should they be higher or lower? Comment below.