Managerial mixologist Sean Dyche has found the perfect blend for Championship success, explains Tom Simmonds.
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Burnley secured one of the two spots up for grabs in the Championship’s three way tug-of-war on Monday evening by virtue of an ugly 1-0 home win over Queens Park Rangers. This means an immediate return to the Premier League for Sean Dyche’s team, who will look to secure the title next week as Middlesbrough and Brighton engage in a winner-takes-all contest on Teeside for the remaining automatic place.
When Burnley were stuck in the middle of a six-match winless run stretching across November and December, the first strong murmurings of discontent began to emanate from the Clarets faithful on social media. But this did not affect Dyche.
The chapter dedicated to him in Michael Calvin’s Living on the Volcano contains a single phrase which best sums up the way Dyche goes about his business: “seeing through the noise”. That is exactly what Burnley have done all season – whether it was playing through that blip with the conviction things would come right again, or ignoring the sceptical choruses who baulked at the fee paid for striker Andre Gray.
How things did come right, for both Dyche and Gray.
Burnley have driven with a heavy right foot since Boxing Day, when a 3-0 reverse at Hull saw them suffer their last league defeat. The Turf Moor outfit have not lost any of the 22 league games that have followed.
The games in which Gray and his team-mates have run up the score have ceased of late – the last four wins have been by the odd goal and the last eight games have seen four draws, including two against Brighton and Middlesbrough in which the Clarets have scored late equalisers to deny their promotion rivals season-defining wins. That tells you something about the character of this side as well as their ability to bend events to their will.
Another of Dyche’s methods, which he also revealed in his conversation with Calvin, is something which goes against conventional wisdom. He is not afraid to take players with less than Corinthian motivations and turn these to his advantage rather than consign them to the ‘wrong-uns’ bin.
He said of this: “I’m now not afraid of money being somebody’s key driver. It’s not mine, but if it’s someone else’s, fine… As long as you’re giving everything to me, the team and the cause, you go for your life. Get that right and everything else will come anyway.”
There must be something in Dyche’s words, as he has succeeded in only using 25 players all season. Luck with injuries notwithstanding, you do not achieve what Burnley have if your group of players, particularly such a small group, is a disparate rabble. Dyche clearly makes sure that his players feel valued, no matter what their motivations.
There is a popular alcoholic drink in Burnley known as a Benny ‘n’ Hot, which is a combination of Benedictine, a French spirit and boiling water. A regiment from Burnley posted to France in the First World War got a taste for Benedictine and brought it back to the Lancashire mill towns when hostilities ceased. The water enlivens the honey tones of the neat spirit and gives the drinker a sweet, comforting warmth that is not dissimilar in taste to a hot toddy. It serves as a neat metaphor for Dyche’s team and his work at the Turf in general.
While they have the crowd-pleasing weapons of Gray’s extreme pace and goals, Sam Vokes’ Lofthousian robustness and George Boyd’s bohemian insouciance, they are allowed to flourish by something a little more functional. Keeper Tom Heaton and centre-back Ben Mee are veterans of their last promotion and have helped provide the backbone. The midfield industry of Joey Barton, Dean Marney and dead-ball specialist David Jones augment this solidity, and all have been combined to create a unique alchemy.
Looking at how Bournemouth – under Dyche’s predecessor Eddie Howe – have gone about surviving in the Premier League this season, it would be reasonable to assume that Dyche will be able to guide Burnley to a similar finish in the 2016/17 season. Especially as he has a previous relegation to learn from.
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