BURNLEY boss Sean Dyche has called for his players to deliver a knockout blow to the Championship’s heavyweights by making a move into the top six.
The Clarets have made ground on the play-off positions thanks to a run of three straight wins and clean sheets, leaving last season’s Premier League clubs in their wake with 18 games to go.
Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers and Wolves were all tipped to make a play for an immediate return to the Premier League, but are so far all struggling in the bottom half of the table and have all experienced at least one managerial change.
Blackpool were also tipped to challenge in their second season following relegation, but the loss of Ian Holloway, then his replacement Michael Appleton, has hit them hard.
Burnley, who climbed to seventh following last weekend’s win at Millwall, were overtaken in midweek as Brighton earned a late draw at Ewood Park.
But with a number of Championship teams embroiled in FA Cup action this weekend, Dyche is urging the Clarets to use this afternoon’s visit of Birmingham City to capitalise on rivals’ struggles by putting even more distance between them and the big guns, and close the gap further still on the promotion pack.
“There’s always an incentive obviously, particularly from within. We want to get as many wins and points on the table as we can,” said the Clarets boss (pictured below).
“But the nature of the division is different. The way it’s panning out at the moment.
“With 18 games to go it can all re-adjust but I don’t think anyone expected some of the teams to be where they are this season, particularly the bigger teams, who aren’t necessarily struggling by any means but they’re not right at the top really pushing.
“They’re kind of having to work hard to get ground to then go to the top.
“It makes it a good prospect for anyone who’s in the division this year to really challenge themselves to go hard.
“We’re certainly going hard for it and that won’t be stopping because we believe in the team going hard for every game that comes our way.
“It’s not set in stone. We’re mindful of the consistency of performance and raising the minimum performance, and we have been doing that – raising our minimum performance.
“We’re in every game, we’ve won plenty recently.
“Even the one that got away against Leicester we were in it until the end with a really good chance with a couple of minutes to go.
“The players are playing hard for the full 95-ish, or whatever the referee plays, minutes. That’s something I spoke about when I first came here.”
Dyche admitted it had come as a surprise to find the three relegated teams in the bottom half of the table at this stage of the season.
“It’s a rare season this year where the so-called bigger names and budgets are not necessarily at the top of the league and are kind of bobbling around the middle of the table,” said the Clarets boss.
“Usually, but not always, with teams coming out of the Premier League you normally get a minimum of one or two out of the three right back up there again.
“This season has a different feel to it so it’s going to be interesting how it pans out over the next 18 games.”
It has been a quick turnaround from Burnley’s last game with Birmingham, in which the Clarets came back from behind to lead 2-1 until the final minute, when Nikola Zigic snatched a draw.
But Dyche does not believe he has unfinished business with the Blues today.
“It’s the nature of the Championship and how games can twist and turn,” he said.
“I thought we did more than enough to win it there with a very good performance.
“The fact is we got a point. It’s not about revenge or any of that, it’s about being ready to go again and take on a good side.
“We believe in what we’re doing here and will be focusing on ourselves to go into that game in good confidence and good spirit.”