MANAGER Eddie Howe has praised his defence for their role in turning the Clarets into play-off contenders.

It is only two months since Burnley were fighting at the wrong end of the table. But their season was revived by a remarkable late comeback against Hull City in November, and they have been looking up ever since.

Although a goalless draw at home to Derby County on Saturday forced them to drop two places in the Championship to 12th, they remain only three points off the top six having lost only twice in their last 10 league games.

And Howe credits an increasingly steely rearguard with their turnaround.

“They’re getting better and better,” said the Clarets boss, whose side boast five clean sheets from their last six Championship games.

“They’re really well-drilled and organised and Michael Duff has made a huge impact in that respect, talking and leading the group.

“He’ll put his body and face in front of anything for you. That’s the type of character he is.

“We’re really pleased with him.”

And Howe believes that attitude has rubbed off on the players around him, including midfield men Dean Marney and captain Chris McCann.

“All of the defenders have played their part,” he continued.

“Not just that but the two central midfielders as well who protect them; they’ve done a really good job of late as well.”

And right back Kieran Trippier is confident they can keep improving and enhance their new-found status as shut-out specialists.

“We have made a lot of progress and are defending as a unit very well,” he said.

“We might be disappointed (not to get three points against Derby) but if that game had been at the start of the season we would have been shaky and they would probably have scored late on.

“The main thing was getting the point and the clean sheet.

“Now we need to learn to score the scrappy goals that have been scored against us.”

Meanwhile, Richard Eckersley is set to leave Burnley and make his move to Toronto FC permanent.

The former Manchester United right back has been on loan with the Major League Soccer side since April and was set to return to Turf Moor this month.

But the 22-year-old, who cost the Clarets £500,000 at a tribunal, is expected to stay in Canada, with his Burnley contract likely to be cancelled by mutual consent.

Eckersley made only four appearances, all in cup competitions, after Owen Coyle signed him ahead of the Premier League season.