Burnley and Sheffield United are heading in right direction
published : 28 Jan 2023 at 04:00
newspaper section: Sports
writer: Nobby Piles
We are well into the second half of the Championship campaign with Burnley and Sheffield United already looking on course to booking their places in next season's Premier League.
The clubs currently occupy the two spots for automatic promotion and unless there is a dramatic turnaround in fortunes the Clarets and the Blades will in August be renewing their acquaintance with the top flight.
Burnley, relegated from the Premier League last season, are a massive 18 points ahead of third-placed Watford who are also 13 points behind the Blades.
Below them is a chaotic struggle for play-off spots with only six points difference between Watford and 13th-placed Queens Park Rangers.
Under the guidance of former Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany in his second managerial role after two years at Anderlecht, Burnley have only lost twice in 28 games this season and top the Championship goal-scoring with 55 goals.
Their 2-1 victory over West Brom at Turf Moor last weekend was their eighth successive league victory.
Among the scorers was the club's top striker Nathan Tella with his ninth goal of the season.
Kompany is clearly enjoying his time at Turf Moor and this week admitted he "didn't think things would go this well''.
During his time at Manchester City the Belgian won four league titles, two FA Cups and three League Cups.
With such an impressive CV, many were surprised that he chose unfashionable Burnley as the English club at which to hone his managerial skills.
However, it is beginning to look like a very wise decision.
Upon his appointment he noted: "Burnley is truly a historic English side and it is an honour to be appointed manager."
He told reporters: "This feels different. I don't know how to explain it."
After last week's win, he commented: "I've been close to many successful players and many successful teams but this feels special."
The Burnley fans are enjoying it too, especially watching their team playing in entertaining fashion which was not always the case when they were in the top flight.
They are also understandably concerned that a bigger club may try to lure Kompany away.
However, Kompany is very comfortable with life in Lancashire and his wife Carla is a Mancunian and lifelong fan of City.
Asked this week what he thought was the key to Burnley's success, Kompany responded: "Togetherness, work rate and staying humble."
Sheffield United were relegated from the top flight two seasons ago but are eager to get back in the top flight. At the same time, Burnley were overcoming West Brom, at Bramall Lane the Blades won a hard-fought 1-0 game against Hull City, with an early strike from Daniel Jebbison.
That made it seven wins out of eight for the Blades, but manager Paul Heckingbottom was just happy to get the three points.
"Every win is a big achievement to celebrate in this league," he said.
Of the chasing pack, it is impossible to tell who will provide a challenge as there is so much inconsistency with teams regularly beating one another.
However, if the top two suffer a surprise run of bad form, you would think last season's two other relegated clubs Watford and Norwich City would be ready to pounce. Other teams in the mix are Blackburn, Boro, Sunderland and West Brom.
Burnley and Sheffield United are involved in FA Cup fourth round action this weekend and both face challenging away matches.
Burnley take on League One's third-placed Ipswich while the Blades have a tricky visit to Wrexham, currently in second place in the National League and playing good football.
While a good FA Cup run is always healthy for morale you can be sure that the overwhelming concern of both Kompany and Heckingbottom is to get their respective teams back in the top flight. They've certainly got one foot in the door, but football is a funny old game and you can never be sure.
- nobby piles