Clarets midfielder Joey Barton believes Burnley’s destiny is in their own hands, going into the final 11 games of the season.
The Clarets returned to the top of the Championship on Saturday after a 1-0 derby win over Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park, extending their unbeaten run to 12 games.
Burnley are at Fulham tonight, sitting a point ahead of Middlesbrough, and four ahead of Hull City, who both have a game in hand, while Brighton are four adrift on the same games.
And Barton, after a man of the match display against Rovers, said: “Obviously Middlesbrough put the ball back in our court by going top on Friday and throwing down the challenge to us, and we thrive on that.
“There’s going to be a little bit of too-ing and fro-ing probably between now and the end of the season, but if we focus on what we can control, then results this week have put our destiny back in our own hands, which was important to us.
“You always hear people say ‘it’s better to have points on the board’ and I think in this league it is, because we’ve seen Blackburn – they’re kind of in the middle of the table somewhere, but I think they’re a lot better side than the league position says. They certainly made it difficult for periods of the match.”
Burnley have only dropped two points from winning positions all season, and once they got their noses in front through Andre Gray’s 16th-minute penalty, they defended stoutly.
Barton hailed the side’s game management: “There’s a lot to be said for it.
“When I came in one of the things I spoke to the gaffer about was game management, but since I’ve been here it’s been really good.
“We’ve got some players who’ve done what we’re trying to do this season, and players who have got a lot of experience. It’s a place where the manager and coaching staff give you really good feedback and really good information going into games.
“You also don’t rest on your laurels; you don’t get too far ahead of yourselves.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that we do what we do.
“But we’ve got 11 games to go. We haven’t achieved anything yet.
“Getting beyond the local rivalry, for us while that is important and we know what it means to the fans and everyone connected with the football club, Blackburn were just another team in our way for us achieving what we intend to achieve.”
One team in the way is Middlesbrough, whose head coach Aitor Karanka recently rose to the bait, after Barton said: “We’re aware of the spending power of clubs. Boro are spending a lot more than us, Derby are doing the same and Hull. If you probably look at the salaries within those three clubs, it’s probably a lot bigger than ours so there’s a lot more pressure on them (to be promoted).”
Karanka was less than impressed: “(Burnley) were saying in August that the pressure was on us, and now (again) in January.
“Last season, Derby or Norwich or other teams had more pressure because they spent much more money than us.
“This season we’ve spent money, but it’s not just us. Last season (Burnley) spent money, this season they’ve spent money, and they are going to spend more money.
“The pressure is for them that they’re seven or eight points behind us.”
Burnley have since made up that ground, and Barton, asked whether those sort of comments were like a red rag to a bull, smiled: “Not really. It’s kind of mind games. It’s not really for us.
“At the end of the day, no matter what happens, if we keep winning games and take care of ourselves, we don’t have to worry about anyone else.
“And we don’t really worry about what anyone else is doing. Obviously you look at results and see how teams have gone, knowing that it’s about us and about what we do, and that’s quite a powerful message.
“When teams start looking round and seeing what everyone else is doing, you can sometimes lose focus on what you’re doing. It’s very important to us and it’s drilled into us every day that we focus on what we’re doing.
“You know what our gaffer’s like, how intense he is, there’s no way we’re going to knock off.
“The way we train and everything we do, we just seem to be getting stronger and stronger.
“Since the loss at Hull on Boxing Day we kind of haven’t looked back.
“That was a real disappointment for us, we felt we never performed.
“We’re 12 unbeaten now and winning nine of them, they are powerful messages.”