SEAN Dyche has heaped special praise on Turf Moor kingpins Michael Duff and Jason Shackell as the Clarets continue to plot a steady course for a Premier League return this season.

Captain fantastic Shackell and defensive partner Duff have kept the Championship at bay this term, with only pre-season title favourites Queens Park Rangers having leaked fewer than goal misers Burnley.

The Clarets stretched their unbeaten record to nine games in last weekend’s hard fought 1-1 draw at Bournemouth.

Duff and Shackell, though, have provided the foundation stone for Burnley’s unbeaten start to 2014 and while Dyche admitted his side were well below par on the South Coast, they returned north with a precious point that could prove invaluable in the final reckoning.

The Burnley boss said: “The centre halves were fantastic at Bournemouth – they have proved it consistently this season and they’ve been in really good form.

“The framework of the team is there for a reason and they kept Bournemouth’s chances to a minimum – they were absolutely excellent.

“They headed it, they kicked it, and they dealt with anything in the channel and on a very difficult pitch to play on.

“The tough surface, I think, is why we were off it last weekend, not because of the team’s framework or the energy of the side.

“We are really trying to find those pockets of quality to go and play and hurt the opposition.”

The Clarets were given a further boost as 10-man Reading earned a fifth win in seven league games as they dealt a giant setback to Harry Redknapp’s automatic promotion hopes with a 3-1 win at Loftus Road on Sunday.

Now, with Derby County in action at fast improving Sheffield Wednesday tonight and Nottingham Forest hosting top dogs Leicester City at the City Ground tomorrow, the topsy-turvy promotion picture could change again before Billy Davies’ side come to Turf Moor in five days time.

Dyche is expected to return to his old club to run the rule over over Forest, who were surprisingly dumped out of the FA Cup by League One strugglers Sheffield United.

Dyche added: “We are back at home on Saturday and while it was a strange disappointment only to pick up a point in our last match, we came away from Bolton with a win in midweek and that’s two very good away performances.”