CLARETS boss Eddie Howe accepts it will be a tall order to reach the play-offs after a third-successive defeat.
But he remains convinced his young squad is heading in the right direction, and is determined to maintain their challenge for the top six as long as they can.
Saturday’s 3-2 loss at Watford, having been 2-0 up, leaves Burnley eight points outside the play-offs, having played a game more than rivals Cardiff and Birmingham.
However, while there is little margin for error, Howe has urged his players to try to match, or better, their run of eight wins in 11 games between November and January to keep their hopes alive.
He said: “It’s going to be difficult, we’re some way off and have to win a number of games back to back, to go on a run like we did a couple of months ago.
“But we’re running out of games and we don’t want our season to fizzle out, we’ve got to start moving quickly.”
Howe retains his faith and trust in a blossoming group, and feels setbacks such as Saturday’s will serve them well in the long-term: “I believe in the players I have, I really do. I believe we have a really talented young squad, and these games and experiences will make them better and serve the club well in the future. But this is the here and now and we want to win games, and desperately wanted to beat Watford, so that’s the disappointing thing.
“Long-term the plan doesn’t change and we still feel we’re going the right way.”
The club lost vast experience from within the squad over the summer – players with international experience who helped the side into the Premier League – and Howe accepts that short-term loss for long-term gain: “The lads are developing that experience all the time, and this will be invaluable to a lot of players who’ve never been in that situation before, but there comes a time where they have to learn from previous experiences and bring that on to the pitch.
“Leadership has been an issue for us, just in terms of having a young team, and that’s the delicate battle you have.
“It’s the way we’ve gone, and we take responsibility for that, but we’ll try and help educate the players and make sure we react differently when that situation arises again.”
Howe has called for his players to stand up and be counted, to take more responsibility. “There’s some strong characters, some big characters, and they are a really honest group – I couldn’t criticise any of my players – they’re extremely hurt, very disappointed and down and care deeply about playing for the club.
“There’s no criticism in terms of attitude and mentality, it’s just in terms of making sure we’re more vocal, we stick together and become harder to beat, and don’t concede so many soft goals.”