Things look bleak after another defeat, but Burnley are not quite dead and buried…
It's not over yet
After three straight defeats and missed opportunities to climb out of the bottom three, positives are few and far between for Burnley going into a three-week break.
As much as Sean Dyche understandably downplayed it afterwards, Saturday’s 2-0 defeat away to Brentford, a team we hoped to catch, was absolutely disastrous.
It had the stench of losses like the 3-1 defeat at Elland Road that left Burnley with so much to do… and yet we are still just a single point away from 17th place and safety.
With Brentford and Newcastle already on at least 30 points, it now increasingly looks like three of the bottom five will be waving goodbye to the Premier League come May.
Some of Burnley’s advantages have sadly disappeared. Our comparatively good goal difference now stands at -16 after losing 8-0 on aggregate in the past three matches, only slightly better than Everton on -19 (everyone else is still much worse, luckily).
The days when we had a load of games in hand are almost behind us. Everton now actually have one more game to play than us - they face Newcastle at Goodison Park in midweek. We do have two games in hand on Leeds, but we must win them as they are five points ahead. Time looks up for both Norwich and Watford, who only have nine games left to try to turn around their situations - can we consider them gone?
One of the major problems we have had this season is our results in six-pointers. We have lost away to Newcastle, Leeds, Everton and Brentford. Even if we had collected draws from half of those, our position would be far less perilous. Home 0-0 draws to Norwich and Watford seemed bad at the time - and even worse when we look back - and we also drew at home to Leeds in a game we really should have won narrowly.
As Andy Jones in the Athletic reports, Burnley are bottom of the mini-league when it comes to relegation rivals taking each other on. That is most unlike Dyche’s Burnley. Traditionally, when the chips are down and we have to beat a direct rival, we do. But not this season, with Saturday’s disappointing display just the latest in a long line.
It is a bit pointless trying to see where the wins we need can come from given not many people expected us to beat Tottenham 1-0 at home, but it is clear we now have little margin for error. The good news is that it is not just us who are in awful form.
Everton have lost four on the spin without scoring - so much for their new manager bounce. Leeds just lost six in a row and needed a last-minute winner to down Watford.
Collectively, the bottom five have been nothing short of a shambles of late, with barely a win between them. That means anyone who can string together a couple of results will find themselves bouncing up the table pretty quickly. It probably means a lower points tally than normal will be required in order to secure survival this year.
So it’s not over yet, even if it is hard not to be downbeat about our survival chances.
Is Dyche's future in doubt at all?
Normally, a team in the relegation zone without a game for a couple of weeks would be seeing a lot of speculation about the future of the manager. That doesn’t seem to be happening with Burnley. Dyche’s long-term contract offers him a lot of protection.
It could have been assumed the previous owners would have kept faith with Dyche through another relegation back to the Championship. Even though Alan Pace and ALK Capital have been in charge for 14 months or so, their intentions are murkier.
Nobody seems to be taking the prospect of Dyche being sacked seriously, however.
That in itself is quite interesting. Looking at the bottom of the table, Norwich City got rid of Daniel Farke even though everyone expected them to be relegated. Dean Smith oversaw an initial improvement but they are on another losing streak - thanks in part to the slapstick showings of Ben Gibson - and are nearly certain to be bottom.
Watford sacked whoever their manager was to bring in Roy Hodgson, Leeds United moved on from Marcelo Bielsa and Everton put faith in the hands of Frank Lampard. Newcastle are on the charge under Eddie Howe, but spending nearly £100 million of dirty war money during the January transfer window has also helped them out a bit.
Of the bottom seven, only Burnley and Brentford have kept the same manager. The Bees have arguably been rewarded for their loyalty towards Thomas Frank with a couple of crucial wins that has nudged them much closer to securing top-flight status.
Will our loyalty to Dyche pay off in the same way? For me, there are two key questions that need to be asked during this break before the game at home to Manchester City.
Could another manager get more from the same team? We know that a huge lack of investment over a series of summers has left a paucity of quality in various areas. At the moment, Kevin Long is in line to start against City, which would be funny if it was not such a depressing prospect. Aaron Lennon is the right winger by default and there is essentially no competition for places anywhere in the squad, other than right-back.
But key players like Dwight McNeil, Ashley Westwood and Maxwel Cornet have lost form and confidence. Could a new manager inject them with some belief? Perhaps.
If Burnley go down, is there a manager better qualified to get us back up next term?
Dyche’s two promotions from two full seasons with us down in the Championship is outstanding, so this certainly counts in his favour. Someone like Chris Wilder has a broadly comparable record, but if we were a Championship club looking to get promotion and Dyche was a free agent, he would surely be top of our shortlist.
The difference for me - and I’m not Dyche In, or Dyche Out, I only identify as Quite Bored Of Dyche Now - is relegation would not be following by a Last Dance thing.
With half of the squad out of contract, we face a substantial rebuild no matter what league we are in. Dyche likes his old pros and it is questionable whether he is the man to oversee such a big change in the squad, especially as there are already rumblings under the surface about disagreements with ALK Capital over transfer targets.
Dyche has done an unbelievable job at Burnley. This season… he hasn’t. There should at least be a conversation about his future, not just blind hope he can get us out of it.
Podcasts and quiz question
You have to wait a while for the answer to this week’s teaser, as it will be revealed in the preview show ahead of the Manchester City game on April 2. Thinking caps on:
Who was the last Burnley player, OTHER THAN Ben Mee, to score the winning goal with a header in a 1-0 win at Turf Moor, and who were the opposition?
An analysis show will be out in due course and I’m on this week’s EPL Round Table:
Birthdays and anniversaries
Not many birthdays here. Lee Dixon is 58 on Thursday. Micky Mellon is 50 on Friday.
We might be writing off that City game as a likely loss, but #OnThisDay in 2015 we beat them 1-0. They are champions now, they were champions then. A good omen?
Mark got in touch with his thoughts on Saturday’s defeat away to Brentford:
I don't think we played that badly Saturday against Brentford. I thought the result flattered them a bit, we had a few good chances but just couldn't buy a goal. I thought a draw would have been a fair result. I'm confused why since Westwood came back from injury he plays that donkey Westwood, Cork is a far better midfielder - he seems to be a calming influence on Brownhill as Brownhill doesn't seem to lose it when Cork plays with him. Westwood on the other hand seems to wind Brownhill up to where he will start getting gobby and booked. I've been saying we will stay up but if we can't beat the likes of Brentford then I don't know I still believe Everton and Leeds are as bad as us so hopefully we will just stay up!
Completely agree on the midfield - it looked much better with Cork and Brownhill. I’ve given up trying to understand Dyche on that one as it is a really clear call for me.
Tweet of the week
Well, thread of the week for a change. Hard to argue with any of this…
Thought of the day
Where is Jack Cork?
That’s it for this week. With a break now, I’m not sure when the next newsletter will be in your inbox. Let me know if you have any ideas for articles, or have any feedback.