LONDON, May 2 – Burnley returned to the Premier League at the first attempt as a 1-0 win over QPR at jubilant Turf Moor sealed promotion from the Championship on Monday.
Sean Dyche’s side kicked off knowing a lucrative place in the top-flight was within touching distance after promotion rivals Brighton were held to a draw by Derby earlier in the day.
With Middlesbrough, the other of the three teams battling for automatic promotion, having drawn at Birmingham on Friday, the path to promotion was clear for Burnley and Sam Vokes ensured they completed the journey with his 61st minute winner.
Burnley are now two points clear at the top and, because second placed Middlesbrough play third placed Brighton on the final day of the season next Saturday, it is impossible for the Lancashire club to miss out on promotion.
Just 12 months after they were relegated from the Premier League, there can be little doubt Burnley deserve to once again be rubbing shoulders with the elite after a tense victory against QPR extended their unbeaten run in the second tier to 22 matches.
The Clarets have now been promoted to the top-flight three times in the Premier League era and will hope to stay up for longer this time after being relegated after one season in 2010 and 2015.
Once news of Brighton’s 1-1 draw with Derby had filtered through, there was an expectant atmosphere at Turf Moor as Burnley fans arrived in anticipation of a promotion party.
The celebratory mood went a little flat as Dyche’s men struggled to establish control and it took good saves from Tom Heaton to stop Matt Phillips and then Junior Hoilett giving QPR a shock lead.
– Raucous celebrations –
But those first half nerves were erased by a more convincing display after the interval and Burnley threatened when Scott Arfield looped a volley narrowly wide.
Not for the first time this season, former Manchester City and Newcastle midfielder Joey Barton was an influential presence for Burnley as he underlined his status as one the Championship’s best players.
The hosts’ pressure was rewarded just after the hour mark when Wales forward Vokes timed his run perfectly to meet David Jones’ free-kick with a glancing header into the far corner.
Vokes’ 15th goal of the season was extra special for the 26-year-old, who missed the finale to Burnley’s promotion two years ago after suffering a knee ligament injury that also ruled him out for five months of their top-flight campaign.
The raucous celebrations were nearly silenced when QPR’s Alejandro Faurlin hit a post in the 68th minute, but Burnley held on through the anxious final minutes before supporters flooded the pitch in delight.
With promotion sealed, Burnley will travel to relegated Charlton for their final match on Saturday knowing a win would secure the Championship title.
The second automatic promotion place will be decided in a dramatic shoot-out at the Riverside Stadium when Middlesbrough host Brighton.
Middlesbrough, level on points with Brighton but with a superior goal difference, will go up with a draw or win, while only a victory will be enough for the Seagulls.