JACK GAUGHAN: Mike Jackson’s reset has brought Burnley’s smile back following Sean Dyche’s departure as the Clarets continue their fight for Premier League survival
- Mike Jackson has brought life back to Burnley following Sean Dyche’s departure
- The Clarets boss was initially hired to coach Under 23s on a temporary basis
- Jackson is undefeated in his first three games in charge of the first team
- Burnley sit two points above the drop but have played a game more than Everton
Mike Jackson was not supposed to be at Burnley for long, only asked to help take the Under 23s on a temporary basis last summer.
It was merely an interim appointment to plug the gap left by Steve Stone when he was promoted to first-team coach under Sean Dyche, a foray back into work for Jackson nine months after the sack by Tranmere Rovers.
One thing led to another. Jackson impressed with the streetwise attitude instilled among the club’s youngsters in his first months, it quickly becoming obvious he would continue in the role.
Mike Jackson has picked up seven points from a possible nine since taking over as boss
And now here is he, a Premier League manager. Even if only for another five matches.
A reluctant Premier League manager, it must be said. Not one for the limelight or hoopla – and often thrown by the hype over the last fortnight that has seen seven points from a possible nine give the Clarets an improbable shot at survival. Away at Watford today, they might still go down, but relegation is no longer the effective certainty that it was during Dyche’s final days.
Dyche’s legacy at Burnley is clear. Their greatest manager since title-winning Harry Potts of the 1960s oversaw huge infrastructural change and cemented the town as top-flight regulars. He made them dream by reaching Europe in 2018; he did a superb job over a decade with limited resources.
Equally, though, Dyche’s messages were no longer cutting through to the players – and hadn’t for a very, very long time. The two sides probably ought to have parted ways a couple of seasons prior to the rather unedifying end earlier this month.
Jackson and his coaching staff celebrate after their 1-0 win over Wolves in the Premier League
There had been an expectation around the club that chairman Alan Pace would sack Dyche following a 2-0 defeat at Brentford on March 12, before an international break. Pace gave him another three games, including a rousing victory against Everton and abject surrender at Norwich, before turning to Jackson. Hindsight suggests he might have been more ruthless.
A centre half at Preston North End under David Moyes, Jackson’s only management experience was at Shrewsbury Town and Tranmere in the lower leagues. Neither stint lasted long, sources saying Jackson was dealt terrible hands. This, he hopes, will be far more successful.
He has surrounded himself with different voices around the Barnfield Training Centre. Ben Mee, the club captain, is doing rehabilitation for an injury in the mornings before completing a full day’s work as a coach and a strong articulate. Paul Jenkins, the former academy director, and goalkeeping coach Conor King complete a four-man collective charged with keeping Burnley in this division.
Jackson distances himself from the idea that the team has been revolutionised in two weeks, despite an obvious upturn in performances. They have focused on tweaks – an increase in passing patterns in training and affording the players more trust in possession – while pushing a reset button on Dyche’s fundamentals.
The Clarets are currently two points above the relegation zone but have played an extra game
Striker Wout Weghorst is told to stop worrying about dropping deep. Dwight McNeil is visibly happier; Jenkins telling the winger in their first conversation that he wanted to see him smile more often. He has since turned in the best displays all season, speaking enthusiastically about his form and manager.
‘In terms of freedom, no team goes out with a “just do what you want” approach,’ Jackson said. ‘That doesn’t happen. You have a way you want to work but there’s a lot of good work gone on before here.’ A lot of that stems from ‘the bunker’, the analysis room. The coaching quartet are all in there at different times of the day, studying previous sessions and the opposition.
They have had a new recruit this week, with the popular Ashley Westwood returning to the training ground for the first time since surgery on a fractured and dislocated ankle sustained during Jackson’s first game in charge at West Ham. His presence gave the place another lift, although Westwood left with ‘homework’ – he has since been poring over videos of Watford and reporting back. The midfielder has relished the responsibility.
Full-back Connor Roberts has been in sensational form for Burnley in recent weeks
A cloud has certainly lifted. McNeil and Connor Roberts have dovetailed on the right, with the latter scoring a stunner against Southampton. ‘People were asking me what has gone wrong and I just said I’m not myself on or off the pitch,’ Roberts said. ‘Since Jacko’s been in charge, he’s let me be myself and it’s showing.’
Little things, like social media interaction between Roberts and Nathan Collins, have been noticed around the club and some have suggested those exchanges would have previously been frowned upon. The club’s own media team are more welcome at training.
This is what new manager bounce looks like, a refresh. They have not achieved anything yet, five games left in the battle to survive with Everton and Leeds United, and Pace will nervously grip the hand of his wife, Kristen, for every minute of those. More than a few million quid depend on the outcome.
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