PHOTOS: Burnley FC 1, Cardiff City 1

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AN undeserved last-minute Cardiff equaliser summed up a frustrating season for the Clarets.

But despite failing to achieve the minimum aim – a top-six finish – there appears much to be optimistic about at Turf Moor.

Although boss Eddie Howe wasn’t taking an eighth-place finish as consolation, a little perspective is necessary.

For only the fifth time in 35 years, Burnley have finished in the top-30 clubs in the country.

And the team Howe fielded against the Bluebirds was a tantalising window into what may lie in store.

Chris McCann, on his 150th start for the club, was captain for first time, and how he suited the armband.

He led a side, blessed with youthful potential, by example against Cardiff, who still have a chance of reaching the Premier League via the play-offs.

McCann, still only 23, joined 21-year-olds Jay Rodriguez and Jack Cork, Chris Eagles, 25, Danny Fox, 24, David Edgar, 23, Ross Wallace, 25 and Andre Bikey, 26, in a side that could well be the future of the club.

Second-half substitute Brian Easton, 23, added to the youthful feel, sprinkled with the quality and experience of relative veterans Wade Elliott, Tyrone Mears and Brian Jensen.

There may be a changing of the guard at Turf Moor, with Howe looking to place his stamp on the squad over the summer, but with this base – and Martin Paterson, Charlie Austin and Marvin Bartley to return next season after injury – exciting times could lie ahead.

It is hard to overlook the fact that a great opportunity to return to the Premier League has been squandered, and hopes were high coming into the campaign, keeping the bulk of the squad together and adding to it.

But consistency has been an issue throughout the season, even within the same 90 minutes, and, ultimately, Burnley have finished well short.

It has been another turbulent year, however, with another change of manager midway through, and whatever the whys and wherefores – yes, Burnley were two points adrift of the play-offs when Brian Laws was relieved of his duties – there is no doubt the atmosphere and mood around the club is much improved.

Progress has been made, and this half-season will only have benefited Howe as he goes into a critical summer.

Players who have performed heroics in the shirt will leave, and new ones brought in, but, importantly, Howe will get the time to drill home his ideas and way he wants to play, having been thrown in at the deep end in January.

But as he prepares his plans, he can look at the return of McCann as a massive plus.

And as he looks to shore up a porous defence, he handed Edgar only a fourth start of the season – and his first start in his preferred position of centre-back since Old Trafford last January.

He laid down a marker with a man-of-the-match display, leaving the ground proudly clutching his champagne after a display of discipline, decisive reading of the game and calm under pressure.

And in goalscorer Rodriguez, who signed off with a 15th of the season, he has one of the country’s brightest prospects – emphasised by his call into an elite group of 40 England Under-21 players ahead of the summer’s European Championships.

One of Howe’s biggest tasks will be trying to make Cork a permanent Claret, and what a lift that would give the club if he can pull that off.

There is sure to be competition for the classy midfielder, but if Chelsea want a realistic fee, maybe the lure of returning to Turf Moor would be hard to resist.

All four were at the hub of a display that deserved more against the Bluebirds, who arrived without a win at Burnley in 20 years, but boasting 11 away wins this season.

As Howe lamented, the one thing missing was creating more clear-cut openings to round off the bright, inventive football they played.

Wallace had an early opening as he cut inside Paul Quinn from McCann’s pass, but his fierce shot from a tight angle came back off the bar.

Jensen had to be alert to come out to deny a somewhat bad-tempered Craig Bellamy from Edgar’s back-pass, before bravely saving from Jason Koumas.

But Burnley were ahead on 13 minutes when Bikey fed a lovely pass into the right channel, and Rodriguez made a run from inside left, before angling his finish inside the far post.

The Clarets crafted a two-on-one as Rodriguez and Eagles combined to craft space for Wallace, but his shot was blocked by Mark Hudson, whose last-ditch tackle prevented Rodriguez making it 2-0 from Eagles’ pass.

Burnley’s trademark corner routine almost created a second, as Fox’s flag-kick was dummied by Eagles, but Rodriguez side footed wide.

Koumas had another sight of goal from former Clarets loan man Whittingham’s pass, but a heavy touch saw Jensen out to smother.

And after a scuffed Whittingham free-kick found its way to Jay Bothroyd, the England cap’s tame shot was easily saved.

After the break, Easton came on for Bikey, surprisingly at centre-back – but he also took plaudits for his display in another pointer to next season.

Chances for either side were at a premium as the game looked set to peter out to a 1-0 win for Burnley, although Eagles had a shot blocked by Keinan after Rodriguez and Elliott combined down the right, while Cork beat four men before Kevin McNaughton cleared with the midfielder ready to pull the trigger.

However, in the last minute of normal time, substitute Stephen McPhail’s pass gave Jensen a decision to make, and Bellamy got there ahead of him and lobbed in the equaliser – which still didn’t put a smile on his face.

Cork headed over from Elliott’s cross right at the death, but a point secured eighth place.

And while the summer break is welcome, next season can’t come soon enough for many players, who are keen to make up for lost time.