- in Science
Just when defeat looked inevitable, Burnley rescued a point on Wednesday through Chris Wood’s penalty in the last-minute of injury-time against Wolves at Turf Moor.
The result means they are unbeaten at home since New Year’s Day and consolidates their position in the top-half of the table – a successful season given the size of the clubs they are competing against.
But with two games of the campaign remaining, the big question around Burnley centres on whether they will be the last two matches Sean Dyche spends in the manager’s dugout.
He is the third longest-serving manager in England’s top four divisions, behind Wycombe’s Gareth Ainsworth and Eddie Howe, the man the 49-year-old replaced at Burnley in 2012. He has a contract to 2022 and has the kind of authority not afforded to every Premier League manager.
Yet the feeling persists he might be coming to the end of the line at Turf Moor.
‘Dyche is a totalitarian manager’
When football restarted a month ago, Dyche talked round intense speculation about his future but at no stage did he say he would be staying.
Dyche pointed out that there have been plenty of rumours about him before and he stayed put.
But uncertainty persists as he comes to the end of another positive season which has been made all the more impressive by a series of results this month – 12 points from seven games including a 1-1 draw at Liverpool – that were achieved after Burnley released a number of experienced players, including Jeff Hendrick and Joe Hart, against Dyche’s will.
West Ham and Aston Villa have been rumoured as potential destinations but if those clubs remain in the top flight, David Moyes and Dean Smith would expect to stay where they are. And if either club went down, would Dyche be happy to drop down a league?
If other options became known, would they offer as much freedom as he has at Burnley?
“Dyche is a totalitarian manager,” said Jonathan Walters, who spent the last two injury-plagued years of his career under Dyche at Burnley before he retired in March 2019.
“He has it at Burnley and it works. It is a small tight-knit squad. At Burnley he has complete control and if he is to go over to a bigger club would he get that control?”
Serious decisions to be made for Clarets
There is a major risk for Burnley too.
Five of Dyche’s seven full seasons in charge have been in the Premier League. In the other two, Burnley were promoted to it. The club has not enjoyed a sustained period like that since their glory days in the 1960s.
Burnley could still eclipse their highest Premier League points total of 54 from two seasons ago. Indeed, victories over Norwich City and Brighton would lead to the second-highest total in their history – although many of their best seasons came under the two-points-for-a-win system.
In an era where big city clubs dominate the Premier League, Burnley are one of English football’s modern-day success stories.
With the sight of another smaller club, Bournemouth, teetering on the brink of relegation, and one of the giants, Leeds United, preparing to return to the top flight, Burnley’s battle against the odds is clear.
With Dyche at the helm, they do seem to have a chance of beating them. Would someone new be able to lead the fight as successfully?
The answer, it seems, revolves around money. Chairman Mike Garlick has never overspent and is rumoured to be looking for a buyer for the club, but Dyche continues to push for more.
“Outside of the market where the biggest clubs go, is the market going to soften this summer? I don’t know but it is unlikely to soften to the point of getting Nick Pope for £1m,” he said.
“But we have moved on enough to not just be looking in that market. We should be looking beyond those markets and be looking at a more rounded style of player rather than possibly always looking at ones that just have a chance of growing into the job. But that does take finance and it is not an exact science. We have done well on taking a risk on players others weren’t sure about. Money or no money, it is very difficult.”
On a gloomy July evening, Dyche cut an impressive figure in the Burnley technical area, watching proceedings alone in his bright, white shirt with his arms folded. The longer the game went on, the more involved he got, to the point where he turned and shouted to his coaches in exasperation as Wood failed to turn home the injury-time header that looked to have cost his team a point.
A couple of minutes later, he was celebrating an equaliser before he faced the media to reflect on the damage injuries to Charlie Taylor and Jay Rodriguez would do to his threadbare squad and to joke that assistant Ian Woan might need to dig his boots out for the weekend.
It was knockout stuff and typical of Dyche. But soon, serious decisions will have to be made and no-one can be entirely certain how it will go.