'We’re hoping this period gives us a chance to go into the last stage of the season strong' - Burnley boss Sean Dyche
After a three-week break between games, Sean Dyche is aiming to end the season as strongly as possible.
After the FA Cup quarter-finals and international fortnight put the brakes on Burnley’s campaign, the Clarets return for the final nine games at Southampton on Sunday (kick-off noon, Sky Sports).
Despite a demanding schedule since Christmas, when only leaders Manchester City have played more league games, the Clarets signed off in good shape, losing only one of eight Premier League outings, sitting seven points clear of Fulham in 18th.
The break has, at least enabled Charlie Taylor – who played 45 minutes behind closed doors against a Derby County side last Thursday – and Jack Cork to return to training, while Dyche will check on Ashley Barnes.
However, Kevin Long and Robbie Brady picked up injuries on international duty with the Republic of Ireland, and Dyche will hope those in action on Wednesday evening – Nick Pope, Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Dwight McNeil and Johan Berg Gudmundsson – all report with no issues.
Dyche hopes the gap between games will be beneficial ahead of the run in: “We’re hoping this period gives us a chance to go into the last stage of the season strong.
“I think only Man City since Christmas have had more games, and then they gave us three weeks off...work that one out!
“It’s been a really different year for obvious reasons, for everyone, so I’m not going to cry it in, but it has been a challenge with so many games, compared to the norm, and with so many injuries.
“We’ve given the lads a bit of down time, had two periods of three, four days, because we’ve had so many injuries and so many games, and now your thirst for it returns.
“We’ll be in building up for Sunday.”
Losing only one of their last eight games has coincided with an increased attacking output, which Dyche will be eager to continue at St Mary’s.
Having registered only 48 efforts on goal in their previous eight outings, scoring five, they have racked up 95 in their current run, netting nine.
The goals have been shared out, with two for Gudmundsson, and one each for Matt Lowton, Jay Rodriguez and Barnes – with Matej Vydra and Chris Wood (2) scoring three between them in the last three games.
There have been signs of a promising pairing there, particularly last time out at Everton, where Wood opened the scoring in a 2-1 win, and Vydra did everything but score.
Dyche hopes for more of the same going forward, with Southampton the venue for something of a renaissance for Vydra last February, scoring his first goal since September 2018.
Dyche said: “We had effective play at times (at Everton) to make the game feel different for them and stretch their shape.
“I thought the front two... I thought the two wide players came into pockets and different positions higher up the pitch which is what we want them to do.
“I was really pleased.
“The chance count is not always as relevant as the quality of chance and I have been saying that all season but there was a good mixture.
“The chance count was certainly decent, away from home in the Premier League and the quality of chance so I was pleased with both.”