Burnley rightly attracted much praise throughout their lone season in the top echelon even if the plaudits were directed more towards the way the club was run than any on pitch achievements (that never to be forgotten win over Manchester United notwithstanding).
Having recouped more than the money they paid for their only serious investment, Steven Fletcher and retained the kernel of the squad that had gotten them to the Premier League in the first place, the Lancashire club were installed among the favourites back in August. Record profits of £14.4 million were posted and proven Championship talent in Chris Iwelumo, Ross Wallace and Lee Grant brought in.
The widely scorned managerial appointment of Brian Laws and his subsequent dismissal wer harsh on a dignified man. However, on the evidence of the recent 4-2 victory over Sheffield United and much of this afternoon’s tight 2-1 loss at Reading, there is much to be optimistic about for the Clarets.
I was especially impressed with a five man midfield. Wallace and talisman Chris Eagles patrolled the flanks and were ever dangerous, with the former drilling in a low opener amidst a crowd of players and almost tying the piece with a late crossbar-scraping free kick. If Eagles can be inconsistent, as well as comfortably the most scruffy Burnley player to emerge from the dressing room afterwards, his skills are always going to cause bother for opponents.
With these flank berths reserved, Wade Elliott was forced into central midfield but looked as buoyant as ever and Jack Cork, still a Chelsea Football Club employee, was as good as I’ve seen him at the base of the quintet, gliding forward elegantly to set up a number of first half attacks.
Dean Marney, however, suffered one of those days when the banjo singularly failed to connect with the cow’s posterior. He missed three total sitters and the grumbling from the Clarets’ faithful was audible, as was the rejoicing when he made way for the homegrown Jay Rodriguez. 1 goal in 18 matches for the battling Marney perhaps tells a story.
If the midfield was Burnley’s motor today, there was also cause for hope at full back, with Brian Easton doing as well as could be expected against one of the best players in the division in Jimmy Kébé and Tyrone Mears largely snuffing out the threat of Jobi McAnuff. But Clarke Carlisle and Michael Duff struggled for pace against the in form Shane Long and Stephen Thompson failed to impose himself as the lone striker, even if the support from that flexible midfield was constant.
So the Clarets looked more than accomplished in phases, and whosoever their new manager might be, he’ll have a good raw materials to work with. Chris McCann, arguably Burnley’s most effective player in their promotion season has suffered from a debilitating long term injury and once he returns, the midfield will have a more tough minded feel to it – although Cork is going a long way to making up for his absence and that of Graham Alexander. This is still one of the npower league’s most attractive squads.