Chris Boden’s verdict on Burnley’s big win against Watford
At the time of writing, only the top five have won more Premier League games than Burnley so far this season.
But not many will have been more pleasing than Thursday night’s 1-0 victory over Watford.
It has been a hellish week for the club and its fans.
It started badly, with the airplane stunt which sullied the club and town’s name on Monday night just as the players were showing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter cause.
The club and supporters couldn’t have done much more since to try and change perceptions, to re-emphasise that they stand together against all forms of discrimination, but unfortunately, the coverage worldwide hasn’t put Burnley in a good light.
There followed the 5-0 mauling at the hands of Manchester City, with Sean Dyche unable to field a full substitutes’ bench, with five of the seven on duty yet to play a minute for the first team at that stage.
Dyche’s frustration was apparent after the game, unable to call upon four key players through injury, and another four regular squad members, with the manager at loggerheads with the chairman over a number of contract situations.
That saw the departure of the one-time record signing Jeff Hendrick, with the club unable to persuade him to stay after an offer which was too little, too late.
Phil Bardsley committing himself to the club for another year was a rare shaft of light, but tensions remain between manager and chairman, with genuine fears that Dyche could leave the club in the summer.
The game against Watford was almost a side issue.
Many wondered whether the speculation over Dyche’s future, and some dressing room disappointment over the departure of some of their teammates, would sidetrack the players, that they could down tools.
That simply isn’t in the DNA of this group, or the culture Dyche has created during an unforgettable spell at the club.
Although his options remain limited on the bench - even with a full compliment, with Bardsley back in the fold and Mace Goodridge fit again - Burnley looked like the side that entered lockdown in such good shape, which seems an eternity ago.
Let us not forget, the Clarets were unbeaten in seven games before the pandemic, with Dyche manager of the month for February.
City could have done what they did to Burnley against pretty much anyone in the Premier League, probably bar their kryptonite, champions Liverpool.
I don’t think the Clarets performed as badly as some people made out - yes they could have defended better for some of the goals, particularly the two from short corners, but considering they hadn’t played for three and a half months, the shape and organisation was decent, and the work rate typical of Dyche’s teams.
And while they didn’t register a shot on target, and only one shot all night, they actually played some good pockets of football, with Dwight McNeil and Jack Cork impressing.
Thursday night was a huge test again, against a side fighting for their Premier League status.
But Burnley laid down a marker, that they aren’t going to let their good work pre-pandemic go to waste.
Worries about slipping back towards the wrong end of the table, despite being effectively safe, were well and truly put to bed.
So much so that, all of a sudden, Burnley are only two points behind Sheffield United - who have still to come to Turf Moor - in eighth, which could be a European slot come the end of the season.
Arsenal’s win over Southampton the same night prompted stories asking whether the Gunners could make a late run for the Champions League places.
Now, Mikel Arteta undoubtedly has a stronger and deeper squad to call upon, but Arsenal are only a point better off than Burnley, with seven games to play!
I’m not suggesting Burnley could finish in the top five at all, and despite an encouraging run in, on paper, it will be a tough ask to keep a stretched squad fit, with the games coming thick and fast.
Is top 10 out of the question though?
To do that twice in three seasons would be a staggering achievement for Dyche and his players.
Either way, Burnley will again be a Premier League side next season, for a fifth-successive season, and sixth in seven.
And much of that lies at the door of Dyche.
His relationship with the chairman may be strained, but is it beyond repair?
We can only hope that there are some olive branches extended before the end of the campaign.
One thing is for sure, Burnley fans are unanimous that they want Dyche to stay, all too wary that his good work, that culture he has created, could swiftly unravel.
So, Mr Chairman, I hope I speak for the vast majority of Clarets supporters, in saying, please, please, do all you can to give the manager the tools he needs to continue his remarkable legacy.
Losing him is simply unfathomable, especially if it was from a self-inflicted wound.