Look­ing good to stay up

De­spite a re­cent drop in form, Burn­ley have strong chance to re­main in top flight be­yond sin­gle sea­son for first time since mid-1970s, writes Greg Lea

The National - News - Sport - - PREMIERLEAGUE - sports@then­ational.ae

Reach­ing the mag­i­cal 40-point mark as soon as pos­si­ble is the prin­ci­pal ob­jec­tive of any club who have just been pro­moted to the Pre­mier League.

Since the di­vi­sion was re­duced to 20 teams in 1995, only three out of 63 sides – Sun­der­land in 1996/97 with 40, Bolton Wan­der­ers in 1997/98 also with 40 and West Ham United in 2002/03 with 42 – have suf­fered rel­e­ga­tion af­ter amass­ing a points to­tal that was more than that tally.

When Burn­ley beat Le­ices­ter City 1-0 in late Jan­uary, man­ager Sean Dy­che could have been for­given for think­ing have his team were on the verge of book­ing their place in the top flight for the 2017/18 cam­paign.

That vic­tory at Turf Moor took Burn­ley’s points to­tal to 29, which meant four vic­to­ries from their fi­nal 15 matches would al­most cer­tainly be suf­fi­cient to ex­tend the club’s stay in the first di­vi­sion of English foot­ball be­yond a sin­gle sea­son for the first time since the mid-1970s.

Given that Dy­che’s men were at that stage ac­cu­mu­lat­ing points at an av­er­age rate of 1.26 per game, it would not even have been un­rea­son­able to sug­gest that last year’s Cham­pi­onship win­ners could end the cam­paign closer to 50 points than 40 – a re­turn which tends to be good enough for a top-half fin­ish.

Since then, though, Burn­ley have strug­gled. A nar­row 1-0 tri­umph over Stoke City in early April re­mains the only match they have won since that Le­ices­ter suc­cess, with their other 10 en­coun­ters in that time bring­ing four draws and six de­feats.

Their points av­er­age since the start of Fe­bru­ary has fallen to just 0.64 per game, which means they are still four adrift of the tar­get of 40 head­ing into to­day’s show­down with Crys­tal Palace.

Burn­ley, or any of their rel­e­ga­tion ri­vals, will prob­a­bly not re­quire that many points this time around, and the fate of Dy­che’s side is still firmly in their own hands.

Just one win from their four re­main­ing clashes would see them over the line – and, de­pend­ing on the re­sults of Hull City and Swansea City be­low them, even that may not be nec­es­sary.

Nev­er­the­less, Burn­ley’s run in looks set to be a great deal more edgy than seemed prob­a­ble a few weeks ago.

One of the likely fac­tors for that is psy­cho­log­i­cal.

Burn­ley’s play­ers and staff were pre­sum­ably highly mo­ti­vated to prove the doubters wrong hav­ing been widely tipped for rel­e­ga­tion this term, but it is pos­si­ble that they eased off once their tar­get seemed se­cure, al­though the de­mor­al­is­ing fac­tor of their fifthround FA Cup exit at the hands of non-league Lin­coln City should also be con­sid­ered.

A lack of squad depth is an­other rea­son for their de­cline. Bournemouth and Le­ices­ter are the only teams in the bot­tom half of the ta­ble who have used fewer play­ers than Burn­ley’s 26 this sea­son, which is hardly sur­pris­ing given that the club are op­er­at­ing on one of the small­est bud­gets in the di­vi­sion.

As time has gone on and fa­tigue has kicked in, Dy­che has strug­gled to keep re­sults tick­ing over.

Above all else, though, Burn­ley have sim­ply re­gressed to the mean, with their climb into the top half of the ta­ble ear­lier this year an ex­am­ple of over­per­for­mance.

Given the squad Dy­che has at his dis­posal, it is not too much of a sur­prise to see his side in 16th place. In fact, Burn­ley have ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions to be where they are af­ter 34 games.

“When you look at the points on the board now and his­tor­i­cally with our last two ef­forts [in the Pre­mier League] we’re in good shape – against all the odds, noone gave us any chance at all,” Dy­che said af­ter last week­end’s loss to Manch­ester United.

Staying up is all that mat­ters for Burn­ley and, de­spite their re­cent down­turn, they are still on course to do ex­actly that.

Alan Martin / Getty Im­ages

Burn­ley have a small squad at their dis­posal, yet they have ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions to be where they are af­ter 34 games in the league this sea­son.

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