Burnley boss Eddie Howe admits play-off defeat

ADMITTING DEFEAT ON PLAY-OFFS: Manager Eddie Howe
ADMITTING DEFEAT ON PLAY-OFFS: Manager Eddie Howe

LONG-SERVING defender Michael Duff was cut from the same cloth as former Claret Graham Alexander, according to boss Eddie Howe.

The 33-year-old, signed from Cheltenham Town in July 2004, was rewarded for an outstanding season at Turf Moor with a new 12-month contract prior to the weekend stalemate with Coventry City.

Duff has played 264 games for the Clarets since joining for £30,000 and was recalled to the Northern Ireland squad, winning his 23rd cap, following a near four-year absence from the international fold.

And Howe believes that Duff has the same qualities and desire as ‘Grezza’ in being a role model, leader and educator for his young squad.

“He’s been excellent this season,” said Howe. “He’s deserved his year. A consistent performer, leader, been really good off the pitch and on the pitch, I can’t speak highly enough of him as a professional so a good reward for him. He’s been a real loyal servant to the football club and it’s good to have him for another season.”

He added: “I think he’s that type, he’s a really good role model for the younger professionals, and we do have a young group. We need the old heads to look up to and Michael is the ultimate professional and does things right, as you would need to have the career he’s had and the length of career he’s had.

“He’s going to be very important. Whether he’s playing or not playing he’s important to us as an example for everyone else to follow.

“He’s a winner. He wants to win everything he does. That’s rare these days. He does everything right in terms of his preparation for training and games, and when he’s on the pitch he wants to win so that’s a good start.”

Meanwhile, Howe has conceded that any hopes of a Championship play-off spot have evaporated after the disappointment and emptiness left by Saturday’s 1-1 draw.

The Clarets sit 11th in the table, eight points behind sixth place Cardiff City with just three fixtures remaining. But Howe is now focusing on maintaining his current crop of players, and making additions, in a bid to assemble a side capable of making a top six push next term.

“I’d imagine it’s pretty much all over now,” Howe said. “We needed to win all of our games and we haven’t done that, so it’s pretty remote.

“I thought with the summer we had, a very difficult summer as everyone knows, we were very late in recruiting our players and it was incredibly frustrating and I think that probably made for a slow start to the season.

“The difficulty is, and I’ve said it before, that we’re not the richest club in the league, other clubs are now looking at our best players so it will be a constant battle to keep the squad together and keep our best players. That’s how we are at the moment.”

Howe added: “We all want to get into the top six but it’s incredibly difficult and we’ve got to try to find some good players from outside and try to improve the squad.

“It is all in place, it is difficult keeping your best players when you’ve got richer clubs willing to pay your players more money. That’s the battle that we have and we will have until such time when we come into some money. It’s going to be difficult.”

The Burnley boss is also intent on improving his side’s fortunes on home soil next campaign. A total of 13 points have been surrendered this season from winning positions at Turf Moor, while more points have been accumulated on their travels.

“You look at the games at home that we haven’t won and you’d probably say that’s been a huge frustration to us,” Howe claimed. “Games on paper that we should win.

“We haven’t performed perhaps against the lower sides as well as we should have done at stages this season and that’s something for us to look at for next year.

“We know we need to do better. Home form is the most important thing that we need to address. Our record shows that. We’ve got more points away from home, which is unusual. The balance is trying to keep the away form as good as it is and try to improve our home form.

“We’ve certainly slipped at home, there’s plenty of points you could count up that we’ve let slip, today being another example. That’s something we need to look at.”