Charlie Austin's goals are more important
26 October ~ A manager walking out in the middle of a season is never a good thing. One doing so to drop down a division is even worse as it sends out a poor message for potential replacements. The problem is magnified further when the departed manager is personally responsible for bringing in your top player, with whom he has a great relationship. That is how the highly-rated Eddie Howe left Burnley to return to Bournemouth, muttering something about "personal reasons", and you'd think the fans would be distraught.
Those who liked him realised that he'd had to sell a lot of players and was doing his best with a young squad, that we are the highest scorers in the division and trying to get them to play the right way. However, many others thought differently. They didn't like that he was from down south (Burnley is a funny place like that), and that he didn't bark instructions and wave his arms on the touchline. Consistently throwing away leads and having the worst defence in the division didn't help either.
I was worried when Howe and his assistant Jason Tindall left. I feared a repeat of when Owen Coyle departed for Bolton mid-season almost three years ago and ripped the heart of the club, taking all the backroom staff and undermining the confidence of the players – all of which played a big part in our relegation that year. Howe has been replaced by Terry Pashley, our youth-team coach who has minimal experience of dealing with senior pros. Generally seen as being a great bloke, he's got a long history with the club but no track record and the signs weren't too good when free-scoring Blackpool turned up at Turf Moor last week.
Instead of the lilly-livered, defensively-fragile Burnley who had thrown away 13 points this year from winning positions (we'd be top of the league by five points if we'd maintained those) the visitors were met by an organised defence and Lee Grant, who pulled off a double save that was genuinely world class. We managed to keep only our second clean sheet of the season.
This year teams have needed to score at least once against Burnley to get something. For the last ten games they have had to score two for a point. That Burnley have the best attacking record in the division is only half the story – it is more accurate to say that Charlie Austin has the best attacking record. This year he has been phenomenal, scoring in the last eight games on the spin (equalling a club record), 15 goals in 11 League games, 18 in 14 for the season – he's got more goals than our neighbours Blackburn Rovers.
We knew Austin was good – he got 17 last year despite missing games and not taking penalties – but this year he has gone up at least a couple of levels. It's not just his goals, his all round play and workrate are fantastic, as is his movement which creates space for others. Just 23 and scoring at a far greater rate than David Nugent and Jay Bothroyd were when they were given England call-ups, it's a question of whether we sell him in January or this summer, unfortunately.
Cardiff on Saturday is a tough game. Despite seeming to be millions in debt and constantly on the verge of administration, they have built a very strong squad and should go up automatically this season. This is a tough time to play them, before their traditional spring wobble, so not too much is expected. A forward line that can involve Nicky Maynard, Heidar Helguson, Craig Bellamy, Joe Mason and Tommy Smith supported by a midfield of Peter Whittingham, Jordon Mutch, Kim Bo-Kyung, Don Cowie, Craig Noone, Craig Conway and Aron Gunnarsson terrifies me, frankly.
Then again the Championship is a notoriously unpredictable division so it wouldn't be a complete shock if we won. I wouldn't have believed a month ago Howe would walk out, drop down a division, be replaced by a softly-spoken stalwart who would oversee a clean sheet in his first game followed by an away win. If all of that can happen then maybe a Burnley victory at Cardiff isn't that implausible. There are no certainties at this level – with the exception, apparently, of Charlie Austin. Kevin Clarke