Clarets in a stronger position to compete in Premier League than previous promotions
2 May ~ By the time Burnley take to the field against Queens Park Rangers at Turf Moor later today they will know whether a victory will secure them an immediate return to the Premier League.
After promotion rivals Middlesbrough were held to a 2-2 draw at Birmingham City on Friday, the path became a little easier for the Clarets. Should Brighton fail to win against Derby County earlier this afternoon then three points will be enough for Burnley regardless of the outcome of their trip to Charlton or the result of the meeting of their two challengers on the final day.
This would be Burnley’s third promotion in seven years but there is a very different feel about this side and the manner in which they have brought themselves to the brink of the Premier League. In 2009, with Owen Coyle in charge, Burnley found a run of form at the end of the season to finish fifth and they maintained that confidence through the play-offs, defeating Sheffield United at Wembley.
There was an excitement and verve about Coyle’s team but it never appeared good enough to hold its own over a season in the Premier League and after the manager walked out with his staff mid-season to move to Bolton Wanderers, the chances of a miracle evaporated.
Last time around, Sean Dyche led a much-better team, inspired by the talent of forward Danny Ings, to automatic promotion but once again, lacking the ability to invest heavily in improvements, Burnley tried to stay in the top flight with a Championship-level squad.
There was no disgrace in the way that Burnley performed during their relegation season but while there was frustration at the lack of spending on new faces, many fans understood that the club could not risk massive debt through the transfer market.
The now familiar Dyche approach is clearly evident in the current Burnley team – 4-4-2, high-pressing, impressive levels of fitness and a focus and self-belief that has shown itself in several late comebacks. The weaknesses of the Dyche formula are still there though – a lack of finesse at times makes Burnley’s approach a little predictable, while playing with two wide-men and two strikers leaves no room for a playmaker or a creative player in the No 10 role.
All the foundations are there however with a solid defence and a pair of strikers in Sam Vokes and Andre Gray who have 35 league goals for the club between them this season. Joey Barton, who faces his former club today, has proved to be an inspired signing, charging around midfield winning tackles (without ever losing his head) and providing the quality of passing that his previous reputation had so long obscured.
For the first time in their history Burnley have a “full squad” in the modern sense, with at least two players for every position and seasoned professionals unable to make the bench. But if Burnley do make it back to the top, what will truly be different this time is the fact that last year the carefully run club made a record £30.1 million in profit and can look forward to the record share of television income next season.
That should allow Burnley to invest in a way that was unthinkable after their last two promotions. With work already underway on an impressively expanded Gawthorpe training complex, the Clarets are beginning to operate like a smaller Premier League club and not just a fleeting intruder into the top tier.
But there is only so much sensible planning and prudent financial management can produce – fail against QPR on Monday and slip up at Charlton and the uncertainty of the play-offs looms, meaning the millions could slip out of the club’s grasp. However, a run of 21 games unbeaten and three wins from their last four outings, along with the mediocre season for Rangers, suggests the Clarets should have the resilience to make it over the finish line. Simon Evans @sgevans
Photo by Colin McPherson/WSC Photography: The exterior of the Bob Lord Stand at Turf Moor, Burnley