Sean Dyche…Manager of the Year?

When talk turns to discuss the manager of the year following the culmination of this Premier League campaign, it would be easy for the eyes to wander straight to the summit of the Premier League at the master tactician that is Antonio Conte, who let’s face it, has his Chelsea side performing above expectation following their dismal defence of their Premier League crown under Jose Mourinho last season. Attention could even be levelled in the direction of Jose Mourinho himself, who after inconsistent beginnings in the Old Trafford hot seat, mainly due to selection issues, seems to have got the wheels in motion and heading in the right direction once again at Manchester United.

Inevitably attention would also become averted to the other side of Manchester, to Pep Guardiola. Guardiola has endured his fair share of criticism during his first spell in the English league, some justifiable in the shape of replacing Joe Hart between the sticks with Claudio Bravo. But given he was left a predominantly ageing squad, and struggling to have them maintain his level of performance on the field, he has Manchester City back on track after a slump in form followed a blistering start, and has them currently sat in 2nd place. Maybe Mauricio Pochettino should be a leading candidate for the award of manager of the year? After all there are not many sides set up better than his Tottenham Hotspur side, especially on home soil, where Spurs are yet to lose a league fixture.

There are also cases for managers that have recently arrived in the Premier League. If Swansea were to avoid relegation after the season they have endured, and the debacle with Bob Bradley, who seemingly never stood a chance just because he was American, should Paul Clement be considered? Or maybe Marco Silva? Hull, who were not necessarily bad to watch under Mike Phelan, seemed to have stepped up to another level since the arrival of the former Olympiakos boss.

Not many would have a case for argument should any of the aforementioned managers be presented with the Manager of the Year award, especially Antonio Conte, but it is further down the Premier League from where Conte is sitting where my attention is continually drawn to. Generally a manager at a club sitting in mid table obscurity, in 12th position to be exact, would not even be considered for such an award, but the manager in 12th position is not usually the manager of Burnley Football Club, a provincial club to say the least, and the manager sitting in 12th position in the Premier League is not usually Sean Dyche.

After being unfairly dismissed from his position as manager of Watford in 2012, Dyche guided them to their highest league position for four years, and their highest since relegation from the Premier League in 2008, he found himself accepting the job in the Burnley dugout. After consolidating in his half season there originally, his first full season in charge would see the former Chesterfield and Millwall centre half take The Clarets up into the Premier League, finishing in second place in The Championship, conceding only 37 goals in 46 league games. Not a bad feat considering he inherited a team with the worst defensive record in the league when he arrived the previous year, Burnley had shipped 29 goals in only 13 league games.

The following season would prove to be a difficult one for Sean Dyche and The Clarets, immediately relegated from the Premier League after finishing in 19th place and only being the victors in 7 league games all season. Where many clubs would have hit the panic button upon relegation and sacked the manager who the year before had guided the club to the promised land, Burnley decided to persevere with Dyche. A decision that would prove to be a very good one indeed for the club.

Burnley bounced back at the first time of asking, winning The Championship in 2015/16 by a four point margin. With players still at the club that were relegated first time around, and certainly what would be considered a lot of Championship standard players, Sean Dyche has got his team flying high, higher than any expectations of anybody, except for maybe the most optimistic of Clarets fans. There are a few, believe me. After defeat to Swansea City in their opening game of the season, in front of their own supporters, you would be forgiven for thinking this season was not going to be too dissimilar to their last in the top flight. The following weekend they faced Jurgen Klopp and his much fancied, for the league as well as this fixture, Liverpool side at home. Dyche’s prowess at coaching defending that helped Burnley win promotion to the Premier League, and that we have become accustomed to throughout this campaign, first reared its head in this fixture. With Liverpool having more than a lions share of the possession, around 80%, Dyche’s men provided rearguard action that limited Liverpool to few clear cut chances, forcing them to revert to efforts from far out. It was a tactic we’d see frequently at what is fast becoming Fortress Turf Moor. Burnley won the game 2-0. Burnley have gone on to collect 29 of their 30 points so far this season at home. There have been impressive results as reward for the impressive performances, the 2-0 over Liverpool, 2-1 against Everton, and a 1-1 draw with Chelsea. They arguably should have had another point on the board, denied a goalless draw against Arsenal at Turf Moor by a last minute Laurent Koscielny winner, which was controversial to put it lightly.

Home form was always going to be an integral part of survival for The Clarets and Sean Dyche has certainly tapped into that rationale. His Burnley side have only been on the losing side three times on home soil, and only champions elect Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur can boast of having more impressive home records. Sean Dyche knows that visiting sides, established top level sides, are going to have more of the ball, dominate possession and therefore look to dominate the game against his side, he may even encourage it. It complements how he sets his team up at Turf Moor. As we have seen in the recent fixture at home to Antonio Conte’s table toppers, packed with stars such as Eden Hazard and Diego Costa to name two, they defend well enough to limit even the best sides to rare opportunities. After taking the lead through Pedro on 7 minutes, Chelsea were not afforded a single shot on target. Burnley defending crosses extremely well, the ever impressive Michael Keane in particular, and shutting down advances on their box swiftly, leaving Chelsea to fire from distance, often into the Burnley back line, or wildly over the bar or wide.

If their was to be one criticism levelled at Sean Dyche and his team it is their lamentable away form. The Clarets are on a dismal run away from home, only managing to collect one point on the road, albeit an impressive 0-0 draw against Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United at Old Trafford, thanks largely to the excellence of skipper and goalkeeper Tom Heaton. Should Sean Dyche’s charges be able to gather up a few more points on the road, fixtures at Hull, Swansea, and Sunderland should provide enough chance to pick some up, to guarantee what is surely survival already, then Sean Dyche must surely be a leading candidate for the Manager of the Year Award.

A continuation of their form at Turf Moor combined with a few more points away from home, it is not entirely unfeasible to think that Burnley could secure a top half finish in the Premier League, a long shot maybe, but nevertheless a possibility. Should Chelsea go on to lift the trophy at the end of the season, and let us face it, there doesn’t seem to be anyone out there who can stop them, then Antonio Conte will doubtless be rewarded with Manager of the Year Award, but in my eyes, in having a club the size of Burnley, with the players they have, and i mean that relative to the majority of teams in the league, the budget they have, wages they pay, punching well above their weight, and with a distinct possibility of a top half finish this year, for my money, there is nobody more deserving of the award than Sean Dyche.

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Leicester City… To Good To Go Down?

There is a commonly used cliche in football that a club is considered too good to be relegated from the league they are in. Every season or so we hear of one of these clubs. Recent years have seen Leeds United, Aston Villa, Newcastle United, for example, be mentioned in the same bracket. Step forward Leicester City.

There really are no words to describe just how remarkable an achievement Leicester City winning the 2015/16 Premier League title actually was. It surely has to go down as one of the greatest sporting, let alone football, achievements in history. The club were promoted form The Championship after winning the title in the 2013/14 season under the stewardship of  Nigel Pearson, who had now led them all the way from the third tier up to the promise land of the Premier League.

Their start to life back in the big time must have surprised even the hardened of Foxes fans. After being dealt what looked on paper to be a most difficult of starts, Everton, Chelsea, Arsenal, Stoke City, and Manchester United were their first five opponents in the league, Leicester picked up eight points out of a total fifteen, including an impressive 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal, and the incredible 5-3 victory over Manchester United after being 1-3 down with just under an hour played. A good start indeed. What followed was a dismal thirteen game run without a victory, in which they only managed two draws. Leicester were bottom of the Premier League throughout the majority of the season, until a run of six wins in eight games towards the end of the season saw the club propel to 14th position, and end the season there. Great escape complete.

The shock of a great escape not enough, The Foxes surprised everyone by winning the Premier League title the following season. They were additions to the squad that needed a miracle run of results to survive the previous year, Christian Fuchs, N’Golo Kante, to name two. The pace of the squad, and the speed with which they attacked, added to the quality of Riyad Mahrez and his seemingly telepathic link to record breaking goalscorer Jamie Vardy, blew sides away from the start. It could not last though, surely. They would falter at some stage, any time now, their run would end. We all now know the run did not end, they won the league title and pulled off one of, if not the most amazing achievements the game had ever seen.

Only one player was to leave in the summer, N’Golo Kante to Chelsea, and they managed to keep hold of Mahrez, Vardy, and others. Nobody seriously expected Leicester City to challenge for the title again. Competition being fierce as Man City, Man United, and Chelsea got new managers of the highest calibre. But perhaps people suggested Leicester would not struggle quite as much as they have done, given the quality that still exists throughout the squad. The season, barring an impressive debut in the Champions League, has not given Foxes fans much to shout about. A 1-0 loss at the hands of an impressive Burnley side midweek left Leicester sitting just two points above the drop zone, and facing a very real possibility of becoming the first defending champions of the Premier League to be relegated the following year, and the first champions to be relegated the season after triumph since Manchester City in 1938. With fellow relegation candidates Crystal Palace hosting bottom club Sunderland this weekend, a win for Sam Allardyce’s Eagles would see them leapfrog Leicester, who don’t play until Sunday, and leave them just goal difference above the relegation zone.

There doesn’t seem to be any real back up plan in place tactically at the club. They practically play the exact same way as they did the season they won the league, which brought them the obvious success, but sides are wiser to it now. Burnley defenders Michael Keane and Ben Mee simply dropped off a couple of yards in order to deal with the balls over the top aimed towards Jamie Vardy, and he rarely got a sniff. It sounds simple, because it really is, and if Leicester and Claudio Ranieri can’t think of way to resurrect their season, and start picking points up, the threat looming, of relegation, could become a certainty. Teams around them have made changes to their managerial staff. Palace have appointed Sam Allardyce, who finally picked up a league win in midweek, Swansea City look much improved, and have been impressive since the appointment of former Derby manager and Bayern Munich assistant manager, Paul Clement, and Hull brought in Marco Silva, who despite them still languishing in the bottom three, and short of goals, has got them playing much better.

The quality of player that exists within the squad, and their success the previous season, has led people to recycle the old cliche. They are too good to go down. Surely. But as the aforementioned teams, Leeds United, Aston Villa, and Newcastle United, will testify, no team is too good to go down.

Long season of suffering for Blackpool supporters.

Blackpool. A place to take a trip with the family, a  seaside place full of fun, the Pleasure Beach, and of course the main attraction The Blackpool Tower. It is also the home of Blackpool FC. The proud, traditional football club that represents the town that is being spoke about country wide for all the wrong reasons. Football fans across the country, affiliation to Blackpool or not, have felt sympathy. The fans of the club that lifted the famous FA Cup back in 1953 after being 3-1 down in the final have been taken to the very end of their wits, and back, and will doubtless go back again.

It is almost five years to the day, 22 May 2010, when Blackpool, twice trailing Cardiff City at Wembley, came back to win the game 3-2, and with it clinch promotion to the Premier League for the first time ever, and their first visit to the top flight of English football since the 1970/71 campaign. It would be a season which would ultimately end in relegation for the club after they finished 19th in the league and were relegated by a single point. It was also a season in which the club generated £80m, for any club a huge sum, for Blackpool, a sign of security for many seasons to come. In the same season, it has come to light, that chairman Karl Oyston had a payment of £211,538 a week going to a company owned by Owen Oyston, the clubs owner. That amount equates to £11m a year, more than manager Ian Holloway, star man Charlie Adam, and the rest of the squad combined were being paid that season. It also made the Oystons between them, the highest paid directors of a football club ever.

The writing should possibly have been on the wall then. Following relegation from the Premier League, Blackpool almost made an immediate return to the top flight, losing 2-1 to West Ham United in the Championship Play Off Final at Wembley. It was the season following the play off final defeat that problems behind the scenes looked to be filtering onto the pitch. After reaching the final of the play offs the season before, Blackpool narrowly avoided relegation to League One after they finished in 20th position, just two points clear of the drop.

Before the start of the 2014/15 pre season, Blackpool had only EIGHT officially registered players. Out of the eight, there was only one midfield player, and remarkably, not a single goalkeeper on the books. This led to the clubs pre season tour of Spain having to be cancelled completely. Bizarrely, chairman Karl Oyston claimed there was “no panic” as he informed us it gave the manager a chance to bring his own men into the club. There was reason to panic, and throughout the season, fans protested. Blackpool’s bitter rivals Preston North End’s fans even joined the Blackpool supporters in the protests against Karl Oyston. The protests by and large had passed without disorder, but before the game against Reading at Bloomfield Road in April, smoke bombs, eggs, and fireworks were pelted at the directors box and the main reception area at the stadium.It was the week Blackpool’s relegation from The Championship was officially confirmed, they became the first team throughout the top four divisions in England to be relegated, they still had five games to play but were too far adrift.

Before what should have been the final game of The Championship season for Blackpool at Bloomfield Road, there was talk of a protest for which the suffering supporters would use the Stan Mortensen, the player who scored a hat-trick in the 1953 FA Cup Final, statue as a focal point. The statue, which has stood outside Bloomfield Road since 2005 and was paid for by the supporters, was reportedly taken down “for safety reasons”. There is also reports that suggest the statue of ‘Morty’ has been damaged on removal, a suggestion Mortensen’s family are looking into. With the statue gone, 2000 Blackpool supporters still took part in protesting outside the ground before the final game of the season at home to Huddersfield Town. With the tie goalless at the interval, it was forced to be abandoned by the referee after a pitch invasion on 48 minutes. As supporters packed the centre circle in protest, they were joined on the pitch by a fan on a mobility scooter. The referee, like the fans, had seen enough. The Football League have since decided the game need not be replayed. As the protests raged on, a shot of the target of all the frustration, chairman Karl Oyston, was seen to be laughing, not a care in the world. Seemingly Oyston enjoys taking the millions made by the club, over £100m since the Premier League season, and keeping him for himself, and his father.

Throughout the season, there has been one constant of positivity at the club, and that is the togetherness of the fans. This sentiment summed up in its entirety after Karl Oyston opted to sue a 67 year old Blackpool supporter for libel, after comments about the chairman were posted on the fans own Facebook page. Oyston demanded £20,000 in damages from the supporter who is retired and has no source of income. Instead the fans, have they have done all season, came together and stumped up the money. Oyston became embroiled in another altercation with a supporter and is this time under investigation from the FA for being abusive and insulting towards the fan.

Quite how the fans have managed to bring themselves to keep attending Bloomfield Road, and many haven’t, is remarkable. As is the norm when an owner or chairman seemingly drags a football club into the gutter, and carries on dragging, it is the supporters who suffer.

“Judge me at the end of the season” were Karl Oyston’s words as Blackpool had only eight players before the start of their pre season. Blackpool fans have been the jury all season, and the unanimous verdict is GUILTY!.

Fans feeling the effects of poor ownership at Newcastle United.

“I just wish some people had as much fight and determination as me.” That was manager John Carvers words in the post match interview after the 3-0 away defeat to Leicester City, a game which was Newcastle United’s eighth Premier League defeat in succession and one in which they finished with nine men. With only three games left of the 2014/15 Premier League season, Newcastle are hovering dangerously, just two points above the relegation zone. A situation you would be forgiven for suggesting unthinkable when Alan Pardew left the club halfway through the season. Newcastle United were in a position inside the top 10 and closer to Champions League qualification than the drop.

Not that the blame is laid purely at the door of John Carver alone, the Toon Army have found this season unacceptable even before it began. The sale of striker Loic Remy from QPR to Chelsea in the summer for £10.5m was met with some disbelief amongst the supporters at St. James Park. After Remy had a successful loan spell at Newcastle the season before, scoring 14 goals in 26 games, Newcastle fans thought certain the Frenchman would be a priority signing. The board didn’t pick up on this, or even react to it and no bid was lodged for the striker. Leaving only one recognised striker at the club in Papiss Cisse, it is remarkable to think they haven’t so much as made an effort to bring in a proven centre forward last summer, or even in January. The relationship between fans and owner Mike Ashley has been tumultuous for some time now. A feeling Newcastle fans directed at former manager Alan Pardew until his departure at the end of the year. Pardew was mostly considered a ‘yes man’ to Ashley, somebody who would run the day to day things as the owner wanted, not as a manager should. As far as the fans were concerned, he was just another member of Ashley’s ‘Cockney Mafia’ at Newcastle.

Once the fans have turned, the position of owner or manager, dependant on where the blame is laid, in this case both, the position usually becomes untenable. Whether Ashley was just blissfully ignorant of the fact he was resented by the Toon Army came to a head when a group of supporters created the website Ashleyout.com and began turning up to games with leaflets demanding his departure, printed in the colours of Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct store logo. He would now surely realise his time was up. Not Mike Ashley. When the fans created a similar website for then manager Alan Pardew, and the “Pardew Out” banners and bedsheets were becoming as commonplace as the pints supped on match days, Ashley was still unbending to the pressure, and you got the feeling, no matter how bad it got, he was never going to sack Pardew. In the end, he need not get rid of the manager, the manager left of his own accord to join his former club Crystal Palace, after reports surfaced there would be no funds available in January unless vice captain Moussa Sissoko was sold. The fact that Pardew opted to leave for a side in the relegation places should have been warning enough of things to come. That there would be no money unless players were sold riled the clubs fans up even more, especially after it was recorded the club was turning over a profit. There was also the issue raised as to why none of the £34m of unspent money was used for improving the squad. This news has led to the boycott from some fans recently, and the drop in attendances at St. James’ Park lately is sure to be felt, add this to the resentment still felt over the sale of Yohan Cabaye to PSG for around £20m and the Toon Army could be forgiven for demanding to know where the money is going.

Whether the club should appoint Steve McLaren from Derby County as their next manager remains to be seen, and after The Rams blew up completely towards the end of the season and performed a catastrophic breakdown, falling from top spot to eighth in The Championship, would he make any difference at all to Newcastle United. With three games remaining in the Premier League season, two defenders suspended for two of them, a serious lack of goals, and failure to keep them out at the other end, the only other thing left to go wrong, and surely the final straw for the fans would be if bitter rivals Sunderland stayed up at their expense.

Whatever happens between now and 24th May, one thing for certain is these fans deserve better. The fans are the club, and at the end of the day, its the fans that are suffering the most after another disaster season for the club. Whether Mike Ashley goes to Rangers, Steve McLaren comes in as manager, Newcastle United stay up or go down, it is set to be another interesting summer on Tyneside.

Nigel Pearson continues to drag Leicester City down despite upturn in form.

For once this season, all the talk surrounding Leicester City Football Club had been about their upturn in form and the quality of attacking football we have seen so often from them this season finally producing the results it deserves. After occupying bottom spot in the Premier League for 140 consecutive days, The Foxes now look in contention to break the record held by West Bromwich Albion when they secure their Premier League status after being bottom for 99 consecutive days.

With Esteban Cambiasso rolling back the years, producing vintage performances reminiscent of the ones under Jose Mourinho when he won the treble with Internazionale, and making Leicester tick, they had won four consecutive games in the Premier League, the first time the club had won four in a row in the top flight since 1966, all noises surrounding the King Poweer Stadium was positive remarks of the teams performances rather than the negative attention the actions of manager Nigel Pearson has brought around this season.

Once again, after the home defeat to Chelsea on Wednesday night, Nigel Pearson dragged a black cloud over the club due to another one of his strange outbursts, this time referring to a journalist as an ostrich after asking him to explain the criticism he thought his team had endured this season.It is a recurring theme that has shadowed The Foxes this season. Pearson has a list of incidents that date back to December when in a fixture against Liverpool, he was seen to be abusive towards a fan of his side. This incident got Pearson a £10,000 fine, a one match ban, and a warning over his future conduct.

Pearson clearly did not heed his warning. Just two months later, in a fixture against Crystal Palace, the Leicester boss knelt over Palace midfielder James McArthur and choked the player after he accidentally slid into him. According to reports circulating in the 24 hours that followed, Leicester had sacked Nigel Pearson. Whether they actually did or not remains uncertain, but if they did, he was reinstated in even less time. Leicester legend Gary Lineker took to his Twitter account to voice his own opinions over the incident that had occurred earlier in the day, and also discussed it on Match of the Day later that evening. This prompted a reaction from Pearson when he was next in front of the media. The Leicester boss claimed he did not care what the pundits thought of him, and reminded us all that “I pay my tax bills!”, a dig at the Match of the Day presenter after allegations of unpaid tax bills on his part.

After a goalless draw with another side facing the drop, Hull City, in March, Nigel Pearson had some choice words for a journalist who suggested The Foxes season was just “waxing away” as they sat rooted to the foot of the Premier League. Pearson took offence to this, and after other expletives in the words that followed, the Leicester boss called the reporter a “prick”. Even after Leicester had won a crucial away fixture, their fourth consecutive win, at the home of relegation rivals Burnley 1-0, Pearson berated a foreign journalist after he was asked if he could offer The Clarets any advice on avoiding the drop. After berating the reporter for around a minute, Pearson went on to tell the journalist it was a “stupid question” to ask.

After Wednesday nights 3-1 home loss to champions elect Chelsea, Pearson perhaps went on his most bizarre rant to date. Pearson had mentioned that his team had been on the receiving end of some undeserved criticism from the press all season, a suggestion the journalists present disputed. One journalist, Midlands reporter Ian Baker, disputed it to the point of asking the Leicester boss to explain the criticism he thought his side had received. Pearson responded to this by asking if the reporter had been on holiday for the past six months, and called Baker an “ostrich” suggesting he must have had his head buried in the sand not to have noticed. The Foxes manager went on to call Baker “stupid” “silly” and “daft”. After the reporter stuttered once Pearson had asked him to ask another question, Pearson continued to mock him. Once Baker had got his words in order, suggesting he doesn’t know which way Pearson has taken his question, Pearson, after a few words finished with the line “Well you must be very stupid, I am sorry”, and up he got and left the press conference.

It seems no matter how well Leicester City play, how much they please the fans and neutrals alike with their style of play, even if they do pull off the miracle of all Premier League miracles, the praise the players, and the manager also, deserve will always be overshadowed by a manager who continues to sour the image and reputation of the club throughout the campaign.