CLARETS boss Eddie Howe is keen to end a tough week on a high with a ninth away win of the season at Southampton tomorrow.
The club has been stunned with the news that chairman Barry Kilby is to stand down in May after being diagnosed with cancer.
It’s a time when everything is put into perspective, and Howe admits it came out of the blue.
Howe said: “It’s been a difficult week really because the chairman’s well respected by everybody for the job he’s done for a long period of time.
“I don’t think anyone expected that news to come and it’s very sad.
“I think it was a surprise to a lot of people and when something does hit you like that it does make you think of the bigger picture.
“Obviously I haven’t been here a long time but I can certainly appreciate the job he has done and the changes that his leadership has affected.
“He’s done such a magnificent job for the club. You compare the club now to when he took over it’s a totally different football club and that’s all credit to him and the job that he’s done.
“It’s knocked anybody who’s had dealings with him because he’s such a gentleman and you can certainly tell from the first time you meet him how passionate he is about the football club. The biggest tribute you can give to the chairman is you know he’s got the best interest of the club at heart, every decision he makes is for the benefit of that.
“The job he has done is quite remarkable really and we just wish him well with his recovery.”
And he hopes the news will help galvanise his players at St Mary’s: “When you get news like that it might have a uniting effect, for sure.
“The players have got to focus on the game.
“It doesn’t affect them directly.”
“The chairman hasn’t addressed the players. He’s a very private man and I’m sure he would want to remain that way.
“He doesn’t have a great deal of contact with the players, he’s very much a background figure and I think again that’s another tribute to him because he does his work behind the scenes, which is how I believe the job should be done, and let the players get on with their jobs.
“But the players know if they need him he’s there and someone they can talk to if and when required.”
Tomorrow’s game kick-starts a packed and pivotal time of the season, which will give everyone a clearer indication of how the campaign is to pan out.
Southampton and West Ham looked to be running away with the battle for automatic promotion, but the chasing pack have clawed them back, and Howe said: “I think the top teams have sort of come back to the rest of the group and there are a pack of top teams that have really become congested. Any one of those teams can go on a run now and really stake their claim.
“We’re certainly in that pack. You look back a couple of months and the gap between us and Southampton, and us and West Ham, and us and Middlesbrough was huge. We’ve really worked to close that gap, and if we were able to go to Southampton and get a win that gap closes again, and that’s got to be our aim.
“There are a load of clubs in between us and everyone will be thinking the same thing.
“Time wise there’s not a long way to go in the season, less than three months. It does finish a little bit earlier this season so we’ve got a lot of games to cram in and we’re going to need all the squad. Hopefully it’s going to be an exciting finish.
“These are big games for us.”
He expects a stiff test against the Saints - who offered Howe the manager’s job in September 2010, only for him to decline the post: “It’s another really tough away game.
“We’ve had a good run of a away results with a lot of them at tough grounds, so we’ve got nothing to fear at Southampton.
“They’ve had a little bit of a wobble but we know they’re quality.
“They’ve strengthened in the January transfer window and they’ve brought in some top players.
“They played a weakened side against Millwall so we can’t really read too much into that result.
“I’m sure they’ll have the big guns back for us.
“It will be a really stern test for us to show our credentials.”
But the Clarets have already won at places like West Ham and Middlesbrough, and Howe added: “It’s fantastic for the confidence and belief in the camp that we can compete with the best in the league.
“I don’t think those results were flukes and we’ve got to make sure we carry it on against Southampton.
“Their players will be well up for it, their new signings will probably give them a lift. We’ve got to make sure we start the game well, that’s crucial, and we’ve done that of late. We’ve given ourselves a platform to get into the game, and we’ll aim to do that again.”
Howe will make a late decision on Martin Paterson after his hamstring strain, and he explained: “It’s touch and go with Pato. He’s in and around it, but whether we decide he’s fit enough that will come down to the wire probably.
“The weather hasn’t helped with Danny Ings or Junior Stanislas really.
“It’s just hampered their rehab a little bit so we’ve got to take that into account.”
New signing Danny Lafferty is unlikely to be involved, however: “Danny Lafferty has had a few days training. When he signed he had an ankle injury which took a few days to clear up, so he’s still some way off.”