Burnley 1, Huddersfield Town 2: Chris Boden's thoughts on a dismal FA Cup exit
Was this the ghost of a Championship future?
If so, there would appear few chinks of light on the horizon for the Clarets.
With Burnley’s Premier League status very much under threat, they were turfed out of the FA Cup by Championship play-off chasing Huddersfield Town, who deserved their comeback win.
And for anyone pondering what sort of challenge may lie in wait should the Clarets suffer the drop, they found out as the Terriers delivered a harsh lesson.
The Clarets had a week severely disrupted by Covid, with manager Sean Dyche and Steve Stone absent, as well as two analysts, two physios and the kit man, while a string of players were added to last week’s casualty list.
Throw in a few injuries and Burnley were down to the bare bones, naming a squad of 12 senior outfield players, two keepers and four youngsters.
Dyche and assistant Ian Woan, who took charge, therefore could only make five changes from the loss at Leeds, but were sent packing by the Terriers, who changed seven players from the goalless draw at Blackburn Rovers last time out.
And Woan, as he said before the game, was not making any excuses for the disrupted preparations, feeling the players on duty had more than enough to advance.
However, they failed to “smell it a bit more and show more belief.”
Woan, as he suggested of Huddersfield before the game: “They’re going well, a confident side, they have a nice, fluid style, good on the counter-attack."
And so it proved, particularly in the second half.
The Clarets were desperate for a win, any sort of win, to lift the gloom, after one victory in 17 league games so far this term.
After taking the lead in the first half through Jay Rodriguez, with his fifth cup goal of the season, they looked on track to get it.
But two late goals, in a second half where the Clarets failed to test a 19-year-old debutant substitute keeper, were coming, and added to the storm clouds above Turf Moor, with little to cheer so far this term.
Like this time two years ago, some sections of the support are beginning to lose faith, even in the manager, after a dismal 2021, in which the club were bottom of the 92 clubs in terms of wins and points.
Survival was the name of the game last term, and that was earned with three games and 11 points to spare.
That looks a tough ask this season, however, with the football served up often laboured and lacking any creativity, with the only real spark supplied by summer signing Maxwel Cornet.
That was certainly the case second half against Huddersfield, with four central midfielders leaving the side very narrow, and any attacks ponderous and predictable.
It all leaves us in a similar position to January 2020, when there was last any real dissent aimed towards Dyche from supporters, after a 3-0 reverse at Chelsea left things looking bleak.
Back then, just two defeats in the last 16 games saw the Clarets finish 10th.
However, after another challenging season last term, and testing start this, it’s no surprise that, again, with the Clarets slipping towards the trap door, concerns are being raised.
Dyche has worked his magic time and again, whether that be achieving highs the like of which the club hasn’t seen since the 1970s, or staving off the drop.
But you do wonder where the next win is coming from, and the football has been far from aesthetically pleasing.
He has been hamstrung by the lack of investment after reaching the Europa League, under the old board, hampering any hopes of building on a move towards a more progressive brand of football in the process.
And this is a predicament that has been predictable, given a patched up, ageing squad has had to go into battle for him time and again.
As he said in 2018: “I’m well thought of by the board and by the fans, but it changes.
“Eventually my rhetoric will get boring, what we go on about will get boring, and the model of the club will get boring.”
I asked two years ago, are we reaching that crossroads?
Dyche and his players responded positively then.
You wonder though, whether his rhetoric is wearing thin with not only some fans, but some of the players, many of them lieutenants he has relied upon for years.
There simply doesn’t seem the same spirit about the team, the framework is not as reliable, the strong jaw is fading from memory, and they are just not hard to beat at present.
Social media will always bring knee jerk reactions and frustration, but it has always been a case of ‘In Dyche we trust’, and deservedly so, given what the manager has achieved in over nine years at the helm.
He has turned water into wine time and again, and with three and a half years remaining of a lucrative contract, it is hard to see the club spending what it rarely would on a new signing, to pay up a manager.
Where do we go from here though?
As in 2015, even if the club is relegated, could you think of anyone better to help bounce back?
Dyche has been promoted in his last two Championship campaigns and lost just 10 of his last 95 games at that level - remarkable.
Before it comes to that, could anyone else get what he has got out of this group of players?
It’s extremely doubtful.
But, as he accepted at Leeds last week, that ‘edge’ or ‘eye of the tiger’ as Dyche likes to say has been missing.
Can it be recaptured again?
Time is running out in that respect, even with 21 league games to play, and Burnley only two points from safety currently.
As it is, it is another week for those patient Burnley supporters left kicking the cat, or wandering around like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders.
What they would give for a shaft of light at present.