Saturday’s 1-1 draw at home to Bristol City summed up Burnley Football Club’s season perfectly.
I have already written about our troubling home form, and I do believe it has cost us a genuine chance of reaching the play-offs. We took two more points on our travels than we did at Turf Moor, and this is especially puzzling given that in the last four or five years our own patch has been a happy hunting ground, whereas results on the road have always been decidedly inconsistent.
In the eleven home fixtures against the teams who finished below us in the table, we won just four times, and the draw on Saturday was especially disappointing given that we took the lead with fifteen minutes remaining, against a side forced into using a centre half in goal, and still failed to take three points.
But disappointing home form should not be allowed to overshadow a season which was played with the bigger picture in mind. Last year, we finished five places better off and six points closer to the play-off spots, so on the surface it seems as though this season represents a regression.
But Eddie Howe was brought in midway through the last campaign with two clear objectives. One: reduce the average age of the squad. Two: reduce the wage bill. He has done exactly that and, all credit to him; he has done it without us ever being close to being dragged into the relegation battle. Indeed, at the end of January, we were well placed just a point or two outside the top six.
Experienced players and big earners such as Clarke Carlisle, Andre Amougou and Danny Fox have all moved on, and the emphasis has been placed on young, vibrant players, who are mostly unproven at this level but have bags of potential.
That potential has been born out in some of our results this season – away victories at West Ham, Middlesbrough and Hull City stand out – but then at the same time the naivety of the side has counted against us as lapses in concentration have cost the team dearly – most notably, and most painfully, both home and away to Leeds United.
But while Howe remains at the club, we are in good hands. Still only young himself, I believe he has what it takes to guide this club back to the Premier League. It may require a good deal of patience, and it may not happen next year, but I believe we have a gem of a manager.
Likeable but guarded, he is prepared to answer all questions honestly and yet he gives very little away in his press conferences. It seems to me that he understands the importance of keeping things in-house, and that is a quality I admire. He is realistic; he is aware that as our final year of parachute payments approaches the responsibility of using the money wisely lies with him.
It seems likely that top scorer Jay Rodriguez will depart, and any funds we get from his transfer must be used to add to the squad. If Charlie Austin plays regularly he will score goals, of that I have no doubt, but as we saw in the final months of the season the squad is missing a few key components.
In terms of positions, I think we need a centre half, a left back, a creative midfielder and another striker to share the burden with Austin and Danny Ings, who looked sharp at the end of the season but is still only young at 19.
Ings more than anybody encapsulates the essence of our squad: young, talented, but raw. Unless Howe can pull off some real coups in the market over the summer, I think that next season may come just a little too soon for this squad, but another year of Championship football can only aid their development, and perhaps the 2013/14 season will be the one where they really start to shine.