Football: Ternent happy to lead the charge of comatose giant

After a dire start, Burnley's manager is proof of how players' pride can make the difference. By Guy Hodgson
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The Independent Online
YOU COULD not place a bet on Stan Ternent getting the sack last March. Burnley were wretched, had lost 5-0 to Gillingham and 6-0 to Manchester City - both at home - and it seemed a matter of when the manager would go rather than if.

Six months on and the people who were calling for Ternent's head are looking more than a little foolish. Instead of sinking further, Burnley revived, avoided relegation with something to spare and this afternoon will travel to Bristol City as leaders of the Second Division. It is a tale to warm a stricken manager's heart, perhaps even Sheffield Wednesday's Danny Wilson.

One defeat in 19 League matches has east Lancashire awash with anticipation and the fans' websites are already packed with thoughts concerning derbies with First Division Blackburn next season, assuming Rovers stay up of course. But Ternent, having nearly been run over by a bandwagon going in the opposite direction last spring, is not going to hitch a ride now.

"It's a start but that's all it is," he said. "To get to the top is difficult, but to stay there is harder, and mentally our lads will have to come to terms with it because everyone will want to beat the leaders. We were no different when we played and beat Fulham last year, we wanted to prove we were as good as them.

"You haven't got to be frightened to be first because a lot of people are. It's easier to come second. You need the will and the desire and not a little skill."

Ternent, 53, is, like John Rudge and Dario Gradi, one of those managers who is rarely mentioned when Premiership jobs crop up yet his CV is as good as anyone's in the lower divisions. He should have been manager of the year when he guided Bury from the Third to the First Division in successive seasons and kept them there on gates of around 5,000, and before that he had success with Bradford, Hull and, as assistant to Steve Coppell, at Crystal Palace.

Having taken Bury as far as he could, he left Gigg Lane 15 months ago and returned to the town which he first lived in as a 15-year-old apprentice professional. "My wife's from Burnley," he said. "I have many friends here and, as my first club, it means a lot to me."

There was also the incentive of potential to compensate for dropping a division to go to Turf Moor, although that carrot has been dangling rather limply for many years now and it was indicative of the state of the club that Ternent was the fourth manager in two years after Jimmy Mullen, Adrian Heath and Chris Waddle. Even the prospect of 20,000 gates cannot wholly compensate for a long spell of uncertainty and Burnley, the comatose giant of repute, were struggling.

Ternent - "I thought it would be difficult but not that difficult" - has got rid of more than 20 players, but it appeared that his rebuilding plans would barely get above the first level of bricks last spring. "Two games back to back, five and six," Ternent reflected, "so people were entitled to wonder what was going on. But in retrospect it was a blessing in disguise because that was the bottom point.

"On the night of the City game I asked to meet the new chairman, Barry Kilby, and I said `You didn't employ me and I'll understand if you want to change managers. I don't want to lose my job but I feel it's only fair I say this.' We had a chat, he went away, and he came back to ask me to carry on."

Burnley chose stability and, in a sense, so did Ternent, because he went for proven qualities, bringing Dean West, Gordon Armstrong, Lenny Johnrose and Ronnie Jepson from Bury. "They are no-riskers," he said. "I know them. I know what they're capable of and I know what they're like around the club and in the dressing-room. Sometimes you need a bit of help and they have provided that. I felt it's my team now rather than one I inherited."

A helping hand is what Ternent believes Wilson needs now as Wednesday prop up the Premiership with one point from eight matches. Help from the people who have got them in that position. "I've always maintained that I have yet to see a non-playing manager kick a ball off the line or head a goal at the other end. In my view the Sheffield Wednesday players are having a laugh, a jolly-up.

"That isn't right. Danny Wilson doesn't become a bad manager overnight. I think it's about time some of them looked in the mirror and said I have a responsibility here. If Danny goes they'll still have to get out of the position they're in for the new man, but some players are always looking for an excuse. The best ones don't."

Burnley and Ternent are living proof that success can be drawn from the direst of circumstances.