Eddie Howe is closing in on two years in charge at Turf Moor. NNN writers assess his progress.
A month ago, we said there were ten questions Burnley FC needed to answer after a poor start to the season. Many concerned manager Eddie Howe, who has lost the support of a chunk of Burnley fans following a string of under par performance and bad results despite the Clarets taking the lead.
There are a number of issues that need to be addressed by Eddie and we’ve looked at some below.
The main problem has to be one of mentality. Yes there are of course problems with setup and personnel, but losing the lead five times in just over a week – twice within seconds – can’t be attributed to anything but issues of belief. To happen once is football, twice unfortunate – any more than that and it becomes a major, major issue. Unfortunately there is no quick fix – you can’t just adopt a new tactical approach or bring in reinforcements – it won’t go away overnight. The more we suffer, the more the problem grows. It needs to be shrunk. And fast.
Burnley fans will always be split on how they want the side to play. Eddie Howe has made it clear he favours a patient, passing style, but this can only be a success with a quick tempo in the final third, which the Clarets have lacked. It also needs a prompter in midfield, which we do not have. Howe’s tactics mid-game also need to be questioned as we keep failing to win from losing positions. Has he got the nous and flexibility to change things on the pitch and close out wins?
Protection from midfield
Individually, each of Kieran Trippier, David Edgar, Ben Mee and Jason Shackell have proven themselves to be good Championship players in the last couple of years. But at the moment, they are a porous unit. One of the reasons for this is a lack of protection from midfield. Howe has deployed Dean Marney at the base of midfield regularly and it simply doesn’t work. Marney has many attributes but awareness and positioning are not among them. His continued selection in front of the back four remains a puzzle when Howe chased Brian Stock for so long and now leaves him sat on the bench. We are told Stock is fit to play, so why doesn’t he get on the pitch?
Publicly apportioning blame
Now, I know it’s not always right to come out after the game and blame individuals for their performance BUT sometimes it just needs to happen. It shows the fans that the manager knows what is going wrong on the pitch and most importantly it shows the players that the manager isn’t afraid to throw them under the bus if they simply aren’t playing well enough. It wasn’t even really until after the Palace game that Howe really spoke of even the defensive unit being to blame for results and that is grossly unfair on Lee Grant who looks poor on paper because we have a 2.2 GAA (goals against average), despite him being a contender for player of the season so far.
Perceived lack of passion
Clarets fans pay good money to watch Eddie’s team. So when we keep throwing away more leads than Barbara Woodhouse, is it really any wonder that more than a few are annoyed? He keeps asking the crowd to get behind the players. This is not a chicken and egg situation; the chicken must come first in my opinion. Good performances motivate the crowd, not necessarily wins or goals. We can lose and still perform well. However, standing on the edge of the technical area with skin tight tracksuit bottoms and arms folded like an indignant teenager doesn’t really come across as though he is a man of passion. Neither does he show much emotion when being interviewed. He looks more like a character from a Gerry Anderson production with a painted smile than he does a manager who has just witnessed his team seriously underperforming. I’m not saying he needs to be nasty or throw chicken wings everywhere, but when he is in full view of the fans he must start articulating and gesticulating a little better in my view. Oh and maybe change those pants.
Ever since the Middlesbrough game, similar individual mistakes have happened time and time again and nothing has been done to address these that is having any sort of tangible effect on the pitch. Quick, tricky wingers are causing problems for Trippier especially in most games and players are frequently given too long to pick out crosses or shots in dangerous areas, in the full back positions and central midfield. Marking in the penalty area has often been abysmal and there seems to be a lack of communication between the centre halves in particular allowing opposition players to attack the ball unmarked in the box (Mackail-Smith 2nd goal for Brighton, Nugent for Leicester).
Retention of possession in central midfield is also an issue that continues to be problematic. When we can get the ball forward to Charlie Austin or Junior Stanislas quickly we create chances. When the opposition get on top in games we need to get a foothold in the game by retaining the ball for a period of time and we seem unable to do it. This cost us the game at Middlesbrough and it simply hasn’t improved since then. Eddie needs to change things to address these three things and we should become more solid. It won’t happen overnight, but we need to start showing signs of improvement very soon.
Use of substitutes
Although once the players cross the white line and the whistle goes, they have to take a lot of the responsibility for their performance, that’s not to say there are no tools for the manager to use. Substitutions are a prime example and the occasions Howe’s changes have won us points can be counted on one hand. He seems to be reactive rather than proactive in this area, often waiting to see what his opposition number does before acting. Even then, his switches are predictable. Vokes on for Paterson after about 65 minutes is as regular as clockwork. Palace was a fine example. With the match slipping away, Howe waited and waited to make his changes. As soon as Palace took the lead he acted, but by then it was too late. Thinking on your feet is vital in this business and with Howe’s strengths seeming to be in long-term planning, its questionable whether he has it in him to be brave, innovative and bold with his subs.
Lack of contacts
Eddie’s lack of contacts in the game is one of the main sticks his critics beat him with. They point to the fact he’s worked with many of his signings before and they often have a link to his only other club as manager, Bournemouth. Although it’s not strictly true – we’ve signed players from Villa, City, Vancouver Whitecaps – the perception that he lacks contacts in the game is growing. On deadline day, we brought in Cameron Stewart from Hull City, who has had minimal impact so far. A box office loan deal during the international break would raise spirits on the pitch and in the stands – can Eddie get one?