In the SkyBet Championship in England, Burnley have made an outstanding start to the season. After a hard-fought 1-0 win at Portman Road last weekend, the Clarets sit proudly at the top of the Championship table with an impressive 29 points off their first 12 games.
The mood wasn’t so positive at the start of the season. Burnley had lost their star striker Charlie Austin to QPR as well as the fact that Martin Paterson rejected a new contract at the club and moved to Huddersfield instead. The two men found the back of the net 33 times for the Clarets last season – a huge proportion of the 61 goals Burnley had scored throughout the entire campaign.
Manager Sean Dyche had done a solid job taking over from Eddie Howe, leading the side to a respectable 11th place finish, but it was a well justified concern that his side were too heavily reliant on their main man Austin. Where would the goals now come from? Step up Sam Vokes and Danny Ings.
Both men struggled last season, often being deployed in a deeper role or out wide to accommodate Austin. However, since his departure, both men have seized their opportunity to be Burnley’s main strikers. No longer in Austin’s shadow, they are revelling in the limelight and have thus far proved to be a key part of Dyche’s table-topping side.
Dyche’s men have also retained their solid, consistent reputation from last season. They boast the third meanest defence in the division – summer signing Tom Heaton has already kept six clean sheets this season and has only conceded more than one goal in one game so far. Michael Kightly and Ross Wallace are very good players at this level and provide great service to the front men.
Despite their blistering start, can the Clarets really maintain this form? Burnley have only played one other side in the Top 6 this season and have yet to be truly tested against the Championship’s top teams. Moreover they haven’t yet had to deal with the misfortune of injuries and suspensions to key players. Dyche has been able to field a settled side throughout the season, which has been a key ingredient to their success. The former Watford manager believes his side are capable of handling the pressure of being the Championship’s front-runners, but accepts that his team are competing against other sides with far greater resources and strength in depth.
I personally can’t see Burnley finishing in the automatic promotion places this season. Only 12 games have been played and their small squad will eventually take its toll. A playoff place is certainly attainable though. In 2008/09, they scraped into the playoffs against all the odds and eventually won promotion to the Premier League – there’s no reason why history can’t repeat itself.
They are already 11 points clear of 8th place and are therefore firmly established in the promotion race. You sense that the Clarets need to pick as many points as possible while everything is falling into place. This weekend will prove a real acid test. Are they serious promotion contenders? We will find out when they play second place QPR.