Paul Newman: Burnley start to see the dividends from giving Howe's kids a chance
The Football League Column
It does not quite live up to the record of 30 unbeaten matches that their predecessors set in the 1920-21 season – a milestone that Arsenal eventually passed more than 80 years later – but for the moment three wins in a row will do nicely for Burnley. Eddie Howe, who at 34 is one of the youngest managers in the game, has not had the easiest of times since arriving at Turf Moor 11 months ago, but there have been signs in recent weeks that he is starting to turn his team around.
When the Clarets suffered their fourth successive defeat last month they sat in 21st place in the Championship, just two points off the relegation zone. Since then, however, Burnley have won 3-2 at Hull City, beaten Ipswich Town 4-0 at Turf Moor and on Saturday secured the best result of Howe's reign when they won 2-1 at West Ham United. The manager knows all too well how quickly fortunes can change, but with his team back up to 10th in the table, he has at least taken some of the pressure off his young shoulders.
With a population of under 90,000 and the big-city clubs of Merseyside and Manchester within easy striking distance, you might think expectations would not be too high at Burnley, but they are a club with a proud history of success and good footballing principles.
Founded in 1882, they became Football League champions in 1921 on the back of that 30-match unbeaten run. As recently as the 1950s and 1960s they were still one of the most formidable clubs in the country. In 1960 they were again crowned League champions and two years later they were runners-up in both the League and the FA Cup.
In 1976, however, Burnley were relegated from the old First Division. Nine years later they were playing in the League's bottom tier for the first time in their history, but a 33-year exile from the top flight was finally ended two years ago when they won promotion from the Championship via the play-offs. Their first season in the Premier League began in sensational style with a 1-0 win over Manchester United, but it ended in relegation, Owen Coyle having left halfway through the campaign to manage Bolton Wanderers.
Brian Laws, Coyle's replacement, was dismissed at the start of this year, when Burnley turned to Howe, who had made a fine start to his managerial career by taking Bournemouth from administration in League Two to a place among the promotion challengers in League One. He had been a managerial target for several clubs and Burnley reportedly fought off competition from both Crystal Palace and Charlton to secure his services.
Since his arrival, Howe has been trying to rebuild without destroying the team's foundations. Chris McCann and Michael Duff, who were stalwarts under his predecessors, remain key fixtures in the team and were among six players in Saturday's starting line-up who were at the club before Howe arrived.
Nevertheless, the manager has brought in plenty of new blood, including Kieran Trippier and Ben Mee, who are both on season-long loans from Manchester City. There could be more arrivals in next month's transfer window, though Howe's biggest challenge could be keeping hold of his 22-year-old striker, Jay Rodriguez, who came through the junior ranks at Turf Moor and is now one of the most coveted players outside the Premier League.
The manner of Saturday's win, when Burnley went a goal down and had to defend for long periods against opponents who had won six of their previous seven matches, is a good sign for the future. "We've come from behind a few times this season and that all bodes well for the character and spirit within the group," Howe told Burnley's club website.
"I think we are getting there and I can't speak highly enough of them as individuals. They are a pleasure to work with and they get more and more receptive to our ideas. I wouldn't say we are the finished article at all and we won't get carried away. It's during the losing periods you have to stick to your beliefs and we have tried to do that.
"It's the same during the good run. We are not suddenly going to win every game, but we think we are going in the right direction and that's the key thing to us."
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