BURNLEY face a Reading side desperate to secure the final play-off place, but Jason Shackell insists there will be no favours. The Clarets want to finish with a flourish.
Sean Dyche’s side have already re-written the record books for points earned this season, with 92 from 45 games. There is a determination to add three more in their final fixture, regardless of the consequences for the Royals.
For a return of 95 would mean more record-breaking for the Football League’s founder members in the 125th anniversary season, marking it down as the highest tally for a team finishing second in the second tier of English football.
“The last game is just as important as the first, as crazy as it sounds,” said Shackell, who was shortlisted for the Championship player of the month prize after four clean sheets in April – taking the overall Championship tally to 19 for the season – helped clinch automatic promotion to the Premier League.
“Reading will be going hard because obviously they’ve got a lot to play for, so it should be a really good game.
“We want to go and win and get to that 95 point mark if we can. It’s been a great year and now we want to finish strong.
“Anyone that knows the gaffer knows he wouldn’t let us lose focus. His mantra has always been that we do it day-in-and-day-out, no matter what happens.”
And skipper Shackell, who has so far played every minute of every game, said the importance of ending the season with momentum cannot be under-estimated as they look forward to top flight football next term.
“As happy as we all are to get promoted, we want to win another game to finish on a high so we can look forward to going in to pre-season in good form,” said the former Wolves and Derby centre half.
Reflecting on a remarkable season for the Clarets, he added: “It’s been a real squad effort, a team effort. The players and the staff have been in it together and it’s been an incredible year.
“From being fourth favourites to go down to then getting automatic promotion, with the likes QPR, Reading and Wigan just below us, makes it an incredible achievement.
“The lads go hard every day and really work their socks off.
“They’ve been incredible from day one of pre-season and really bought in to what the gaffer wants and it is a pleasure to captain them.
“We’ll enjoy our break but obviously there’s a lot of stuff to look forward to next year and obviously it will be a challenge, but I personally can’t wait to get my teeth into it!”
But for Clarets chief Dyche there must be one last throw of the dice before his players relax completely, rounding things off with a fourth straight win.
“We’ve got to find that focus from the last game as we did against Ipswich,” said the Burnley boss.
“The way they’ve delivered performances this year I think they’ve automatically been right up for every game and I don’t see this being any different.
“All players want to sign off with a win, regardless of the position they’re in, it’s just that some are in awkward positions and some are in healthy positions.
“Reading have got a chance but they’ve got to beat us and we’re in fine form away from home – and at home for that matter.
“They’ve got to go some to best us because we'll be ready.
“I’m not trying to be arrogant with that, our stats this season prove that we’ve been ready.
“We’ll certainly look to go there and put in a performance and get three points.
“But once that last game’s out of the way it’s vital the players relax. They’ve given so much.
“In the early part of the season and when I got here last season there was a lot of changes and a lot of work gone in behind what people see.
“The players deliver that. We deliver the structure but they deliver the actual work and they’ve been absolutely tremendous in that so it’s important they rest and recuperate but also they enjoy these times because they don’t come around all the time, and particularly in such a relentless league like the Championship is.
“So they’ll have their downtime and then start refocusing on pre-season ready for the new season.”
A win for Reading will seal their place in the play-offs alongside Wigan, who the Royals could still overtake, Derby County and QPR.
Should Burnley prevail, Reading will be reliant on other results with Blackburn Rovers one of the sides who could benefit from Dyche’s side ending the season on a high although it would require an unlikely combination of results to see Gary Bowyer’s side into the play-offs.