Sean Dyche has challenged his Burnley players to build on their second-half display against Manchester United when they take on struggling Aston Villa on Wednesday.
The Clarets were beaten 2-0 at Turf Moor at the weekend but caused problems for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side in the second half and were pushing for a point until Marcus Rashford added United’s second deep into injury time.
It was a second successive defeat for Burnley following on from a 1-0 loss at Everton on Boxing Day, before which had come narrow victories over Newcastle and Bournemouth.
Victory over Villa, who have lost five of their last six Premier League games, including against 10-man Watford at the weekend, would widen Burnley’s lead over the Midlanders to nine points and give them a bit of breathing space ahead of a tough run of fixtures.
Dyche said: “I think it’s important for us to perform. I’ve always said, the table at the end of the season is the one I’m interested in. The performance level has got to stay where it was second half (against United).
“We’ve ground wins out (against Newcastle and Bournemouth). The second half (against United) I think we tried forge a win and plan a win, and I think that was better. We’ve got to do that going forwards, of course.”
Villa’s only league victory in the last six came against Norwich, and those teams occupy two of the bottom three positions while fellow promoted side Sheffield United are flying high in the top 10.
Questions have begun to be asked about manager Dean Smith’s future, and they could well intensify if Villa maintain a record of not having won a league match at Turf Moor since 1936.
Dyche can empathise, saying: “It’s so difficult. You spend money, you don’t spend money. They’ve spent a fortune, it’s kind of worked in spells and then it hasn’t.
“(Sheffield United boss) Chris Wilder has spent OK money and it has worked, but by sticking more or less to what he does and what the team does. Norwich have spent a bit less money and were trying to rely on what they did (last season).
“We’ve been through it and we still go through it, every season’s a new challenge for us. It is difficult to find the right balance of the freshness and maybe the experience you need to support your team and improve it, but then maybe not take away too much of what got you there in the first place.”
Dyche could make changes, with fit-again winger Johann Berg Gudmundsson and forward Jay Rodriguez at the front of the queue after their positive impact as substitutes on Saturday.
The Burnley boss does not believe he will need to take the hectic festive fixture list into account, though, saying: “They’re professional footballers, get some food down you, crack on. It’s the job, isn’t it?
“If you’re Liverpool, they’ve got it tough. But, for us, generally, it’s week to week to week. You have this little spell – two (games) in three (days) is tough but we’ve got a few days’ recovery so I’ll be expecting them to be physically right.”