Sean Dyche could not have picked two better words to sum up Burnley on Saturday than “real authenticity”. Turf Moor, with its press-box view of tightly packed terraced houses and Lancashire moorland, is a proper old-fashioned northern football outpost – and Dyche’s team are something of a throwback too.
In this era of multi-national Premier League squads, Burnley did not feature a single player from outside the British Isles against Southampton but their hard-earned success suggested that an unheralded squad are finding their feet on the big stage.
If the main talking point afterwards was Southampton’s slide, Burnley are a team moving in the other direction, having climbed out of the bottom three with 11 points from their last six games.
Where Southampton could not stop winning in the autumn, Burnley had to wait until 8 November for their first Premier League victory. Yet goalkeeper Tom Heaton, who made a vital contribution with a 60th-minute penalty save from Dusan Tadic, said there was now a growing confidence within the group.
“Even when we didn’t win for the first 10 games, we always had the belief to turn things around [but] once we got one, it has opened the floodgates and given us a bit of freedom,” Heaton said. “I think you’ve seen that in recent games. We’ve got back to what we’re all about.”
What Burnley are all about is organisation, spirit and teamwork. “Right from back to front we’ve got a very good framework,” added Heaton, whose five clean sheets are as many as the two other promoted sides, Queen’s Park Rangers and Leicester, have between them.
Burnley’s work rate was typified on Saturday by the tireless pressing of leading scorer Danny Ings, who, playing against the club who released him as a 10-year-old, charged down a Nathaniel Clyne clearance to set up Ashley Barnes’s 73rd-minute winner.
It was still a victory by the narrowest of margins, and Heaton acknowledged the “turning point” of his penalty save at a time Southampton were dominating. The fact Tadic was the first Southampton player to fail from the penalty spot in the Premier League since Jim Magilton in 1997 summed up the way things are going for Ronald Koeman’s side.
Fifteen days ago they sat second in the table as they prepared to host Manchester City. Now they are down to fifth, having lost four in a row. As against Manchester United last Monday, they had twice as many efforts on target as their opponents but suddenly shots are going wide and mistakes at the other end are proving costly.
If form and confidence levels are not quite what they were, luck plays a part too and Saints, beaten by a deflected goal, are out of it right now.
The return of striker Jay Rodriguez cannot come soon enough. On the bright side, Morgan Schneiderlin, absent for the last three games, should be back for tomorrow’s Capital One Cup quarter-final at Sheffield United. Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse hopes victory at Bramall Lane could provide a springboard.
“At this time of year there is always a game around the corner to change the fortunes around and I don’t think there is any better opportunity than a cup quarter-final,” he said.
“[The confidence] is definitely still there. We know we are all good players and a good team. It’s just one of those runs in the season where you get one or two bad results and it’s up to us to turn it round.”
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