Mike Jackson has urged his Burnley players not to lose any belief after his unbeaten record as caretaker boss was ended in a 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa that deepened their relegation worries.
Former Claret Danny Ings opened the scoring just seven minutes in at Turf Moor before Emi Buendia, architect of the first goal, doubled the lead in the 31st minute and Ollie Watkins finished Burnley off early in the second half – regardless of Maxwel Cornet’s late consolation.
Jackson had taken 10 points from a possible 12 since replacing the sacked Sean Dyche but the bounce is over now and Burnley could find themselves back in the bottom three if Leeds and Everton can pick up points from difficult away fixtures to Arsenal and Leicester respectively on Sunday.
Burnley were second best on the day to Steven Gerrard’s side, but Jackson still believes his players can keep their heads above water.
“If I was going to take any group into this (situation) it would be them,” he said of his squad. “I said that before the Watford game and my thoughts haven’t changed on that.”
“You need (character) all the time in football. You can’t win every game. How do you react? How do you respond? This group has done that before.
“We’ve got a bit of time now to regroup, look at how we can improve, and we focus everything now. There’s three games to go. The league didn’t finish today.”
Though they conceded early, Burnley kept fighting in the first half with Wout Weghorst and Dwight McNeil both threatening, but Turf Moor was left deflated when Buendia was too easily allowed to double Villa’s advantage in the 31st minute.
After Watkins struck at the start of the second half, moments after James Tarkowski departed with a strained hamstring, it became about damage limitation.
“I’ve said to the guys when they look back at the game, in the first half it won’t be as bad as they think it was,” Jackson added.
“When you lose a game it sits with you for a few hours, sometimes into Sunday or Monday, the same for the players or a manager, but you have to find a way to move forward.”
Gerrard had called Villa’s season a disappointment in the build-up to the match, but this performance answered a lot of his criticisms.
“The majority of it I thought was a really strong away performance,” the Villa boss said. “With all due respect we were better, stronger, in every department.
“Obviously I was a little frustrated we didn’t see it out with a clean sheet because I thought we deserved that but we won’t let that spoil what was a fantastic performance to a man today.”
Buendia and Ings had both come into the starting line-up having played as substitutes in last weekend’s 2-0 win over Norwich and impressed again.
Buendia got the nod over Philippe Coutinho, who has gone six games without a goal or an assist after scoring four and creating three in his first eight games for the club.
Gerrard said the decision was taken with an eye on a busy finish to the season, with this the first of five games in two weeks, and insisted he still wanted to take up the £33million option to make Coutinho’s loan from Barcelona permanent.
“We want Phil Coutinho here for sure,” Gerrard said, before adding that the Brazilian had fully accepted the reasons for his benching.
“There’s not much ego in this group, they’re a good set of lads and they know the schedule we’ve got,” he said.
“Both Phil and Emil will get enough game time to keep them satisfied. Phil understands that he’s played a lot and he’s respectful enough to know that Emi deserves a chance.”