Jose Mourinho recently described his Chelsea side as a “little horse” in the race for the Premier League title. The analogy was met with varying levels of scorn from around the game, but Burnley’s answer to the Special One must have read the description with a wryer smile than most. Sean Dyche, known to Clarets fans as the “Ginger Mourinho”, has spent a little over £700,000 during his tenure as Clarets boss, this spent over a year after he became boss, and yet he has guided one of the pre-season relegation favourites into the top two of the Championship for almost the entire season. Compared to the thoroughbreds of Leicester, QPR, Derby and Nottingham Forest, with foreign owners, big crowds and bigger budgets, Burnley are a mere pony, and yet the Clarets have been taking hurdles at blistering pace and look set, against all predictions, to stay the course.
Dyche himself deserves a huge slice of the credit for Burnley’s league position. His position at the end of last season was, and it seems strange to reflect on this now, slightly shaky – the Clarets only secured Championship football with 7 points from the last 3 league games at the end of last season, and the months preceding it had been marked by inconsistency, some mind-numbingly boring games (the 0-0 bore draw with Middlesbrough a particular lowlight), and an over-reliance on the goals of Charlie Austin that saw the Clarets limp to a flattering 11th place finish. Dyche was not well liked by a sizable minority of supporters (some of whom nicknamed him “Yawn Dyche”), and when the manager attributed poor home form to the over-expectation of Clarets fans, there was a noticeable tension between the two camps, which is still in evidence on occasion this season- “They weren’t calling me that last season!” was Dyche’s reaction to a recent question about the “Ginger Mourinho” moniker. This is perhaps, in part, a reaction from Burnley supporters to the devastating way Owen Coyle went from hero to zero in one fell swoop, but an atmosphere of mutual respect with the odd outpouring of love seems to have developed, and it has been fairly impossible for Clarets fans to resist Dyche’s charm offensive in the form of results since the start of the season. Dyche has the players well-drilled, super fit, and playing a terrific mix of long and short passing, flair and panache in the attack with a rock solid defence, and has brought the best out of some old favourites while bringing in some terrific new additions.
While these new additions have been low price and yet high quality (Tom Heaton and David Jones, solid top-end Championship performers on free transfers, were steals, and Scott Arfield, released by lowly Huddersfield last year, has been an all-action revelation), some praise must be given to previous manager Eddie Howe, who when given money spent it, for the most part, extremely wisely. Danny Ings and Sam Vokes, at £1.4m between them, are the only strike partnership in the country to rival Liverpool’s SAS for goals, and both have become sterling performers from bit-part players under Dyche’s management- Ings is supremely talented and has added goals, goals and more goals to his game, while Vokes has been transformed from a slow, lumbering, Grant-Holt-without-the-goals to a lean, powerful heading machine who has already chipped in with more goals than his most prolific ever season, that achieved at third-tier Bournemouth. Dean Marney, signed for £500,000 by the much-maligned Brian Laws, looks a new man, a box-to-box ballwinner and sprayer nicknamed “Deaniesta” by the same fans who grumbled when Dyche handed him a new contract in the summer. £1m a piece full-backs Ben Mee and Kieran Trippier rarely look troubled by opposing wingers and Trippier has continued his scintillating attacking form from last season, already achieving double figures in assists from the right-back berth. £1m captain Jason Shackell looks a class above in every department and he is assisted ably by 36 year old Michael Duff- an incredible performer in his testimonial year, and a steal 10 years ago for £30,000.
Dyche didn’t inherit as bad a squad as the pre-season doom mongers would have you believe, then, but the credit for adding to it and moulding it into the team which has only lost 3 games this season, has an unbeaten home record stretching back to March of last year, and has kept much larger clubs with frankly obscene squads (QPR reserve keeper Julio Cesar could probably rival Dyche’s transfer budget with the spare change down the back of his sofa) at arm’s length with a mixture of superb attacking football, a miserly defence, and a winning mentality belongs squarely at his door. It would take a collapse of Devon Loch proportions for the littlest horse to finish outside the top 6 now. Don’t bet against them pipping the favourites to the finishing post.
Written by Tom Whittaker, We Are Going Up’s Burnley Blogger
Tom tweets at @tomclaret