Playing well with little pressure
19 October ~ Burnley travel to Ipswich today in an unexpected lofty position at the top of the Championship. I had approached this season with a great deal of trepidation. We'd lost our top scorer (Charlie Austin), mainstay of our midfield and former captain (Chris McCann) and our first choice goalkeeper (Lee Grant) and replaced them with free transfers. Meanwhile our team featured two strikers who hadn't scored ten league goals between them last year.
I don't know what's changed but it's working. Under manager Sean Dyche we looked poor for a while last year. Now we are playing as a team, defending well and attacking with vigour and outplaying some decent teams. Some of it has to go down to the new signings. Goalkeeper Tom Heaton, from Bristol City, has looked very steady and organises the defence well. Michael Kightly, on loan from Stoke, is approaching full fitness and is a very good player at this level.
Perhaps the best new signing has been David Jones, signed on a free after being released by Wigan. I don't believe we've had a box-to-box midfielder like him for years. To think that we effectively swapped him for McCann, who has spent most of the season on Wigan's bench, is very pleasing. Scott Arfield, signed on trial initially, has been a real boon cropping up with important goals from either flank.
Last year's players have raised their game too. Our skipper, Jason Shackell, is an outstanding footballing centre-half and a leader. Kieran Trippier was in the Championship Team of the Year last season and has continued his excellent form, creating numerous chances from full-back – and it's the taking of chances which has been key. Last year the side relied mainly on Austin for goals, but this season Danny Ings and Sam Vokes have seven and eight each respectively.
The classic big man/little man pairing has been a joy to watch. Ings has been with us two years and had two bad injuries; he deserved his first England Under-21s cap against San Marino, and provides us with pace and an instinctive goal threat. Vokes, just 23 but already a veteran of several loan spells, came back from pre-season having lost some weight and looking a lot sharper. A target man who appears to have grown into his role, he is dominant in the air and links very well with Ings.
Dyche is taking the credit for the new signings being of a decent quality and old players performing better but his backroom team of Ian Woan and Tony Loughlan, plus head of recruitment Lee Darnbrough, also deserve praise. In terms of where we go, it's very tough to say.
We are already a decent way ahead of seventh place but I have seen us mess up spectacularly from better positions. The concern is whether we have strength in depth but if nothing else it seems the vast majority of Burnley fans are at least enjoying watch us again. And after being shafted by Owen Coyle and the dark days of Brian Laws, we will all settle for that. Kevin Clarke