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Renewed confidence for Burnley fans

There is nothing like a couple of good results to have supporters - who just a few weeks earlier were predicting relegation for their side - getting optimistic about a play-off push.

That was the scenario facing supporters of Burnley prior to the international break this month, as seven points from nine lifted the club from the fringes of the relegation zone to within reasonable reach of the play-off zone.

A solid 1-1 home draw with early pacesetters Southampton was followed by the 5-1 crushing of Nottingham Forest and then a 1-0 win at Millwall, the club’s first victory in London since the 2009 Play-Off Final.

Yet this optimism was quickly nipped in the bud as domestic football resumed, as a 1-0 home defeat to Reading was followed by a 2-0 reverse at Barnsley, reviving memories of a tame start to the season, characterised by the dire 2-0 defeat at home to Middlesbrough and the 2-1 loss at Peterborough that left the club on the edge of the drop zone.

The last two years or so have been hectic for Burnley, with the joy of promotion to the Premier League in 2009 swiftly followed by the defection of Owen Coyle to Bolton, the uninspiring appointment of Brian Laws and relegation back to the Championship at the first time of asking.

Quietly hopeful

With Laws finally disposed of last December, the club made a bold move in appointing Eddie Howe (pictured), the 33-year-old manager of Bournemouth. Though he arrived too late to mastermind a return to the top division, many were quietly hopeful that he could assemble a team that could push the top sides in the division this season.

A terrible summer seemed to put an end to those hopes. For the most part, it was not of Howe’s doing.

There must have come a point, perhaps when the board informed him that Danny Fox was to be sold to Southampton, that he began to dread his mobile phone ringing, with this nonsensical departure following quick on the heels of the departures of Chris Eagles and Tyrone Mears to Bolton.

Howe, who had released experienced professionals such as Graham Alexander, Wade Elliott and Clarke Carlisle with the intention of putting together a younger, more dynamic squad, was understandably disappointed by the board’s decision to sell Fox, particularly as the fee they “could not refuse” was in fact just £300,000 more than Burnley had paid for a first team player with two years left on his contract.

“To lose another player at this stage of the season is a big blow to us,” he said. "But the board received an offer they felt they could not turn down. So we have to accept that, although it’s far from ideal.”

Understatement

Far from ideal must be seen as a bit of an understatement in this case. The concern shared by many fans was that the club were letting players go here, there and everywhere without having adequate replacements lined up.

The departure of Mears and Eagles, though not a pleasant thing to swallow, had to be expected given that both had refused new deals.

To move them on now made good financial sense for Burnley Football Club as they could, and no doubt would, both walk away for free next summer.

Yet in other cases the club seemed to be shipping players out before we had replacements in place, and there seemed little sign of the board being prepared to reinvest the money received.

This prompted many fans to ask where the Premier League money, still being received in the form of parachute payments, had gone.

Fitted the bill

Howe was eventually able to bring some players in, and players that fitted the bill as young and hungry players who could represent Burnley for the foreseeable future. Kieran Trippier and Ben Mee arrived on loan from Manchester City, joined by Preston’s Keith Treacy and Bournemouth youngster Danny Ings.

West Ham pair Junior Stanislas and Zavon Hines were snapped up towards the end of the transfer window. On the pitch, however, the early signs have been far from encouraging.

Starting the season with a disappointing home draw with Watford, Burnley managed only one win from their first six fixtures, with defeats against Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough and Peterborough so poor that many began to wonder if Howe was in fact the man for the job.

Laboured progress in the Carling Cup against poor lower league opposition only added to the impression of a club in crisis.

Though a handful of good results temporarily saw the pessimistic atmosphere around Turf Moor lift, the last two defeats have resulted in an inevitable souring of mood.

Generic and predictable

Fans have been quick to get on the back of the manager, players and board. Normally fairly generic and predictable in his post-match interviews, Howe’s comments immediately after the Barnsley defeat for the first time gave an indication that the manager is aware that things are going wrong and that certain sections of the Burnley support are starting to lose patience.

In fairness, he would have to have some form of extreme hearing condition to miss the cries of “Eddie, sort it out!” that came from the away section during the game or the boos that followed the final whistle.

“There are extreme reactions and that’s football! People do have extremes as supporters and I can understand that. It’s my job to try and stay on a level footing, aware of the results and the need to improve them.

“I would only ask the fans to stick with me and my players and see if we can come through this together. I think I am an honest guy and if it’s not then I’d be the first to put my hand up and say it’s not going to work.”

Burnley fans are always quick to get on the back of a manager. Some particularly impatient fans do it after just a single defeat, posting over-dramatic posts on message boards calling for the manager’s head. Back in 1996, manager Jimmy Mullen resigned after some idiotic Burnley fans tried to set fire to his wife’s dress in a chip shop.

Criticism

The type of criticism Brian Laws was subjected to almost from his appointment as boss was unprecedented in my time watching Burnley, and he departed with the club in the relatively lofty position of eighth.

However Laws had, in fairness, taken over when the side was mid-table in the Premier League. Howe took over a squad suffering a hangover from relegation and the effects of Laws’ style of play and mistakes in the transfer market.

But most importantly, Laws failed to deliver upon the expectations of Burnley fans in spite of the fact that he had been given not insignificant backing in the transfer market.

He wasted good money on substandard performers like Leon Cort and Chris Iwelumo, players that failed to deliver either the results or the style of play that the supporters crave.

Howe has not had the same backing. Expected to replace seasoned performers like Eagles and Mears with inadequate funds, and then having the rug pulled from underneath him with the nonsensical sale of Fox to Southampton, he is being expected to deliver results with resources that are just not being provided.

Chopping and changing managers has never been a positive thing for any club, and it is unlikely a change of management staff would aid Burnley here.

What is needed is for the board to back Howe, give him the funds to implement his strategy and restore a sense of dignity on the pitch. Burnley’s avid fans won’t settle for less.

By Tom Jackson 


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