Ten reasons why Burnley won a most unexpected promotion
Again, it’s a few years since this was written but I look back at this as almost the perfect season, maybe with rose-tinted spectacles. The story goes that in the game at Cork, pre-season, Dyche muttered to someone, maybe Woan, ‘hey I think we’re onto something here.’ No idea if it’s true or not, but it would fit the narrative. What elation we felt after the win against Wigan at Turf Moor; Coyle had won us a place in the Premier League, so it was not impossible, but how many of us probably thought that with the immediate relegation, that was it, we’d had our 15 minutes of fame, and mediocrity beckoned again?
It came out of the blue. In fact, before 2013/14 began Burnley were one of the bookies’ favourites for relegation. The season before had hardly been distinguished and with just a handful of games to go, relegation was a real possibility. So just how did it happen, that a small and unfancied club, facing real problems once the parachute money ran out, confounded the critics and achieved a modern-day football miracle. With money too tight to mention, a small squad that you’d describe as football wanderers, came together, gelled, bonded, and despite warnings from all the pundits and fellow pros that they would fall by the wayside, kept on winning and reached the target with games to spare. You can identify ten reasons:
The manager Sean Dyche
fitness and the pre-season training
Mark Howard and avoidance of injures for most of the season
team-spirit and camaraderie
players that had their best ever season
the pressing game
a miserly defence
the one game at a time philosophy and relentlessness
Vokes and Ings
If there was a Delia Smith type recipe for making a promotion season, there you have the ten ingredients in the Turf Moor kitchens.
Sean Dyche: Few people had heard of him in Burnley prior to the appointment. He’d done a brief but sterling job at Watford before being ditched by the owners in favour of someone more high profile. His view was pragmatic. It was business. He’s that kind of bloke. Down to earth, no nonsense, the same as a player when he had an incredible will to win at all his clubs notably Chesterfield where he was centre half in the legendary side that reached an FA Cup semi-final. At Watford he learned how to work within financial constraints and it was no different at Burnley. He impressed the two co-chairmen with his stand-up PowerPoint presentation at the interviews. Other candidates had slouched in their chairs recalled one of the chairmen. He has that ‘huge presence’ quality. He looks big, he commands attention. When he speaks you listen; and he oozes common sense. He attributes that to a solid upbringing where he learned values. He dispenses what he calls ‘a straightener’ when the occasion demands it. His core values were impressed on the players, good appearance, no daft haircuts (although we then got George Boyd and latterly Jay Rodriguez); no texting at lunchtimes, punctuality and smartness. He I described as a man’s man, but a man that can listen to others such as his impressive backroom staff.
Fitness and pre-season training: Ask the players and the chairmen and they look back at pre-season training as being the foundation of the success that followed. It took place in Ireland and ended with a mini tournament in Cork. It was where an incredible bond was developed between staff and players. It was of an intensity that set the bar for the whole season. Players talk of the tyre-pulling day with a smile and a chuckle. And it all ended with the players in teams when after a day of exhausting training they had to finish in groups and complete laps round the field in a certain time. Instead of willing other groups to fail and have a laugh, they willed each to succeed and complete the lap times. And they all did. Tom Heaton when I spoke to him said it was a defining moment when they all came together and realised that as a group, they had something special. As the season went on even in the final games, the stats showed they were even stronger, even fitter and covering even more ground during a game.
Mark Howard and the avoidance of injuries: In truth there were two major injuries but they were not until the final stages of the season, and Danny Ings did come back for the final games. The relatively injury-free squad was the result of the work of Mark Howard, the Head of Sports Science. He learned his trade at Bolton Wanderers under Sam Allardyce when Bolton was in the forefront of sports science. Burnley’s squad was small and therefore vulnerable and yet promotion was achieved with just 23 players of whom three made just one appearance. In effect Burnley won promotion with just 20 players and game after game had an unchanged side. They had the same starting line-up more than any other club in the top divisions. Mark Howard’s mantra was ‘any injury is too many injuries.’ It was as if he saw an injury as a personal failure. His pledge to Dyche was that he would make players available as often as possible and as fit as possible. In training the target was to work so hard that an actual match would feel easy. Nutrition played a huge part. Treatment was as much to do with prevention as cure.
Team spirit and camaraderie: It was at away games that supporters could feel and see the incredible team spirit that existed within the group. The togetherness was palpable. Tom Heaton said it was the best at any club he had ever experienced. Part of the Dyche mantra is the elimination of egos, the egos that can harm harmony and group cohesion. Heaton further explained that whilst at most clubs he had been at you would always find the slackers and shirkers in training, at Burnley there were none. Even though there was a group of players that had been at Wolves, a smaller group that had been at Man United, there were no cliques. On the occasion that supporters stayed in the same hotel as the players before one away game at Yeovil, it was easy to see at first-hand how comfortable players were with each other and how sociable they were in the company of each other. Again, there was reference to the pre-season training in Cork where the foundations were laid. On the occasions when we had seats down near the goal-line at away games it was so easy to see the way these players worked and fought for each other.
Players that had their best ever season: Someone commented that this was a Moneyball type situation where a group of journeymen players come together so that the sum is greater than the parts. It is partly true. There is a Moneyball element to the story but these were no journeymen where the term implies jobbing, very average players. What was true was that these were players most of whom had spent time at several clubs, sometimes successfully, at other times not achieving their full potential. In 2013/14 they all achieved that potential and each had a superb season. Tom Heaton for example in the previous season had been relegated at Bristol and let in a shedload of goals. At Burnley he conceded a miserly 37, part of an utterly mean defence. Sam Vokes had loan spells at several clubs and shone at none of them. Even when Eddie Howe bought him, Howe thought he would make more goals than he scored. He went on to score 20 league goals even though he missed the last 7 games and was a revelation with his work rate and coverage of the pitch. Add the word consistency to all the players and therein lay another secret of their success.
The pressing game: With superb energy and fitness levels the tools were there to adopt a style of play that never let any opposition team settle with the ball. This was never a team that passed for the fun of it, or retained the ball simply to frustrate the opposition. What they did was hustle, harry and pressure other teams so that teams ended up with a greater possession ratio, but that possession was in their own half because they couldn’t get out of it. Burnley wore down the opposition, forced them into frequent errors and then with the passing skills they possessed themselves were quickly into the other half creating scoring chances. This pressing game began from the front with both Vokes and Ings prodigiously covering acres of ground to pressure opposition defenders. If there was a game that showed all Burnley’s finest qualities it was the home game against Wigan when promotion was assured. A very fine Wigan team was simply blown away and reduced to the merely average unable to string passes together because of the constant pressure applied to them.
Great goals: At the end of season gala and awards dinner the tradition is to award a trophy to the scorer of the best goal. Screens show re-runs of those goals. Usually there are two or three stand-out candidates. This time there were so many and some didn’t even make the final cut. Whether the goals came from teamwork, curlers from the corner of the area, instances of magnificent individual skill, the impishness of Danny Ings, clever corner routines, headers, the thunderbolt against Blackburn Rovers by Junior Stanislas, another long-range missile from Danny Ings at Yeovil, the list went on and on. Supporters were spoiled the whole season by the quality of what they saw. But one indeed did stand out and again it involved the Wigan game. This was a goal of sublime quality, involving passes from the goalkeeper right to the penalty area, passes that were one-touch played at speed, passes that seemed purely instinctive, passes that involved outrageous skill, then leading to the final ball played at speed across the area where Barnes came steaming in to sweep the ball home. The whole sequence from back to front took just seconds. It belonged to Barcelona or Real Madrid.
A miserly defence: This was a back four and goalkeeper that conceded just 37 goals the tightest defence in the Championship and even some of those goals were contentious. It was augmented by a midfield that funnelled back whenever needed and the enormous work-rate of people like Marney and Arfield. It had the ever-present Jason Shackell and the evergreen Michael Duff at its heart. ‘Thou shalt not pass,’ was its motto. Such was the effectiveness of the back four that there were games when goalkeeper Heaton was seldom troubled. Brian Clough always maintained that Peter Shilton was worth ten goals a season. When needed so was Tom Heaton with his commanding stature, quick reflexes, and safe hands when dealing with crosses. There was a point in the season when Joe Hart was struggling and the pundits were asking who could take his place. They could have looked at Tom Heaton. There were so many clean sheets in all competitions. There was win after win. There were just five defeats. And within this defence there was full-back Kieran Trippier who provided an astonishing number of assists and in one of the final games prevented a certain goal with a spectacular headed clearance that involved a leap that was so balletic it left us awe-struck.
Relentlessness: It was a favourite Sean Dyche word. Be relentless. Keep at it. Don’t let up for a second. Don’t give any opposition a minute’s peace. ‘I love the relentless nature of a side that never gives up,’ said Dyche. ‘We have a relentless physicality, mentality, quality and organisation.’ Basic messages were pushed home uncompromisingly – be true to yourself, be the man that makes the difference, making sure the team was ever-ready, prepared, knowing their job and role within the team, ceaselessly motivated and primed for what game came next. This was a team that never gave up even when they went behind in a game. From games when they went behind, they still came back to win three times and draw six. The one that Dyche always pointed to as being the best example of that was the home game against Leeds United. Leeds went ahead and Burnley were struggling to get their game going. But everything kicked into place, the never-say-die spirit, the willingness to battle, the ability to keep going and not lose heart. The end result was a 2-1 win for Burnley with Arfield netting the winner. The result that day epitomised everything that was gritty and relentless about the Clarets.
Sam Vokes and Danny Ings: They were other club’s cast-offs, both of them first at Southampton as juniors and then later at Bournemouth. Big Sam had done little of note at other clubs. Danny Ings had come to Burnley and suffered injuries that hampered any real progress. Charlie Austin had been the striker that took all the plaudits. What will happen when he is inevitably sold, we all asked. Where will the goals come from? Sean Dyche was practical and calm about the sale of Austin. He told all the players that any one of them could be the man to take over the mantle of ‘star’. He told Ings and Vokes that it was up to them, it was their chance to be the next Austin, that one man’s departure is another man’s opportunity to step up to the plate. Man-management at its very best. Up stepped Ings and Vokes and the rest is history. They both hit more than 20 goals for the season, the first time this had happened since the legendary partnership of Andy Lochhead and Willie Irvine back in 1964/65.
Ten wins in the first 13 games was the best start to a season since 1897. 11 away wins in the season equalled a club record. There were 26 goals for Ings in all competitions and 21 goals for Sam Vokes. The win at Blackburn was the first win over Blackburn for 35 years. It remains probably the most talked about and best remembered result of the last decade. The Clarets kept 21 clean sheets in all competitions. The Clarets did the double over Leeds United for the first time in 87 years. Jason Shackell played 51 games and missed not one minute of the season. Scored first in 27 league games and went on to win 22 of them. Trippier made 14 assists from full-back. The season ended with 93 points. There were just 5 defeats in the league. Ings was the Championship player of the year. Only 37 goals were conceded, the tightest defence in the division. Tom Heaton was the masterstroke signing. Dyche was the first ever manager to be named manager of the month three times.Follow UpTheClarets:
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