The win at Doncaster Rovers on Easter Monday was our tenth away from home this season. The last time we managed that was in 2001/02, when we just missed out on a place in the play offs. Unfortunately it looks as though this year may be following a similar pattern.
We are one of only five teams in the division who have accumulated more points on their travels than on their own turf. Thirty-one points from 21 away games is the sort of form that puts you in contention for the play offs; 28 points from 21 home games is not. We have been strong away from home against the sides in and around the relegation zone, taking 15 points from our visits to the six teams currently at the bottom of the table. We have also won away at four of the five teams immediately above us, with the fifth being Leicester City, and we visit the King Power Stadium for our penultimate game of the season.
I think playing away from home suits the players we have in this squad. We are not a big, strong, physical side so playing counter attacking football maximises the strengths of our sharp forward line, and the likes of Josh McQuoid, Danny Ings and Junior Stanislas can hurt teams on the break.
But upon returning to Turf Moor, the side has to impose itself on the game a little more and we don’t have the players to do that. I also believe that the unique atmosphere created at away games plays a huge part. Away from home, the sense of togetherness and defiance amongst the fans helps galvanise the time into producing their best. At home, the atmosphere is often quieter and more expectant, and I don’t think the players respond to that anywhere near as well.
Too often an excellent win away from home has not been consolidated, and points have been dropped at Turf Moor in the following fixture. This has meant that we have never been able to establish any real momentum, and we have failed to put together a long run of results at any stage during the season.
The frustrating aspect for Burnley fans is that in the last few years our home form has been excellent. In the promotion season of 2008/09, our record at Turf Moor was the foundation of our success. We took 42 points at home in the regular season, as well as winning all seven of our cup and play off fixtures there. If that form had been carried through to this season then we would find ourselves comfortably within the play offs and looking forward to another push for promotion. The race for the top six this year is likely to go down to the last game, and any number of teams could still be in with a shout of making it. I feel that we will be one of the teams who fall just short, and there can be no doubting that it is our home form that will cost us.
But football has no time for ifs, buts or maybes. At the end of 46 games the table does not lie, and as the season draws to a close I’m sure a handful of teams will be wondering what might have been. The good thing for Burnley is that the solution for next year’s campaign is self evident. If Eddie Howe can encourage the squad to play with the same lack of fear at home that we have seen away from Turf Moor this season, then we are likely to finish closer to the top six and in with a chance of returning to the Premier League.