CLARETS stalwart Michael Duff feels Burnley are finally getting the balance right under new boss Sean Dyche.
Under Eddie Howe, the side were the top scorers in the Championship, but had also conceded the most goals.
In the six games since Howe returned to Bournemouth, the Clarets have recorded three clean sheets and four wins, and tomorrow they go in search of a third-straight home victory and shutout against Charlton Athletic.
Duff, in his ninth season at Turf Moor, under his fifth manager, believes the tweaks Dyche has made already have made a big impact: “It’s a slight change. It’s the way it should be played.
“Every team wants to be hard to beat, and with the goals we’ve got in the team we’ve always got a chance to win a game.
“It became silly when Charlie (Austin) was having to score more than two or three goals to get a point. It just can’t carry on like that.
“Hopefully we’ve recognised as a team that we need to be a little bit harder to beat and that will in turn help people like Charlie, that one goal might win a game.”
In Howe’s last two games in charge, Austin netted a hat-trick against Sheffield Wednesday, which ultimately only earned a point in a 3-3 draw, and he was on target at Crystal Palace in a 4-3 defeat. and Duff admitted: “It’s disheartening because you know we’ve not become bad players overnight, and from a player’s point of view because people write you off.
“It was pretty much the same group of defenders that after Christmas last year sorted it out and had the second or third best record after Christmas.
“I don’t think it was a case that we were making individual errors every week. It wasn’t one of those things that you could go ‘he made a mistake and that cost a goal’ every week, it was more teams playing through us.
“You can’t really train or cater for individual mistakes but you can make it a lot harder for teams to score against you.”
The players have embraced the change in tack, and encouraged it in a questionaire issued by Dyche upon his arrival, as the Northern Ireland international explained: “The gaffer asked the lads to anonymously fill out three or four questions.
“I won’t say what they were, but it wasn’t all to do with football, it was things in and around the training ground and things.
“It was the lads telling him things as well, that we wanted to improve ourselves.
“Everyone wants to improve. Everyone here wants to go on and achieve things whether it’s at Burnley or individually – everyone’s got their own goals.
“Hopefully we can kick on up the table now.”
After three games in his first full week in charge, Dyche has had more time in training to bed in his methods, which can only reinforce what he has already put in place: “This is the first time we’ve had a week’s proper training, with the games it’s been hard to work on shape and things, but the gaffer’s put across his ideas pretty quickly and I think the lads have taken it on board quite quickly as well.
“You didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that we were too open.
“From a supporter’s point of view when you’re seeing plenty of goals it’s great, but from a centre half’s point of view it’s not great when people keep looking at the goals against column.
“We’ve proved it can be done and obviously the more we work at it hopefully the more second nature, the more habit it will become.
“We know we’ve got goals in the team, that’s not a problem. I don’t think he’s taken away too much from the goalscoring exploits.”
That balance between attack and defence is the holy grail, and those that achieve it take some stopping: “It’s why Manchester United have won the Premier League as often as they have because they score the most and concede the least.
“Some teams go about it and try to nick 1-0 wins, some teams try to score more than the opposition.
“There are very few teams that score a lot more than they concede, and the ones that do win leagues.”
A former central defensive partner, Leon Cort, makes his first return to Turf Moor tomorrow, since an ill-fated £1.5m move from Stoke City turned sour.
The 33-year-old was one of Brian Laws’ first signings, but played only 20 games for the club before being released in January, when he joined Charlton permanently after a loan spell.
But Duff said: “Sometimes it happens. For some reason it didn’t sort of work out, but he’s gone down there and by all accounts he’s done really well and played every game.
“He’s a threat from set plays as well.
“He was a good lad.
“He never moaned or never said a bad word about anyone. It will be nice to see him again.
“He’s not a bad player. You don’t get sold by two or three clubs for over £1m as a centre half and be a bad player.
“It didn’t quite work out for him here.
“He’s gone to Charlton, won promotion with them and played every game for them this season.
“He’s a good player and he’ll be one to watch.
“They’ve obviously got goals in them, so it will be a tough game.
“We’ve had three wins on the bounce at home, added to the clean sheets.
“A clean sheet would be nice, a win would be even better!”