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Sean's Programme Notes - Burnley

8 December 2012

I would like to welcome the players, staff and supporters of Burnley Football Club to The City Ground for this afternoon's npower Championship fixture.

I've been genuinely surprised by some of the reaction to our performance against Hull. I don't think I've ever been stopped in the street and challenged on a team selection before.

The disappointment of losing two games in quick succession is felt by us all. But it's certainly been a revealing week for me in terms of the perceptions of where this team is currently at and the understanding of how we're trying to move things forward.

This isn't a criticism of anyone merely an appreciation that maybe as a group - myself, the staff and players - need to better communicate how we're working to try to achieve the goal we all want - for Nottingham Forest to consistently and attractively win a lot of matches.

It was always my intention to play a back three against Hull, with wing backs, three midfielders and two strikers. The teams that have had success against Hull this term are those who have matched them up.

Daniel Ayala falling ill the day before the game ruled a back three out but we still had to counter Hull's threat from wide positions. To have not done so would have been extremely foolish. This meant reverting to the flexible 4-3-3 we started the game with and one that could switch to 4-5-1 when out of possession.

Could we have used the ball better and been brighter in our own play? Of course we could. But Hull had got in 34 crosses the previous Tuesday against Crystal Palace... a huge number. Not only did we reduce that significantly but we had more entries into the final third than them. All the stats were in our favour: Possession, shots, everything, apart from the most important one. They scored from a penalty and handball.

We lost so it's hard to argue the game plan worked but we certainly didn't set up negatively. We had one defensive midfielder and four attacking midfielders. We may have withdrawn a striker to play five midfielders, but we had to play five in midfield.

It would be fantastic to be in the position of having a settled XI, where everyone fully understood their roles and responsibilities and the team functioned well. When you have that you can let the opposition worry about you a bit more. But we're not there yet.

Especially during a period when we've had such an unsettled side, it's just sensible to try to negate the threats of the opposition while giving yourself a platform to try to win games.

We had also come off the back of an awful performance at Ipswich where we constantly gave the ball away, failed to retain any meaningful possession and resorted to aimlessly lumping the ball to Dexter Blackstock.

I've taken the strengths of the opposition into consideration in every game we've played so far and Hull wasn't an exception.

For example, against Cardiff we stopped Peter Whittingham playing, which gave us a foothold in the game and a platform on which to perform ourselves. Against Middlesbrough we prevented their left back, George Friend, getting forward as he had been a hugely effective attacking weapon in the six games they had won prior to our meeting.

If we hadn't taken care of Whittingham and Friend we wouldn't have had the same opportunities to have taken points from those games. That is fact. But because we did take points, and performed well, it isn't questioned. We lost to Hull but does that make combating their wide threat the wrong thing to do? No.

I'm trying to build a team that's flexible, can switch formations in play and recognise threats and opportunities throughout 90 minutes and respond to them in the right way.

At one moment that might look like 4-4-2, the next 4-4-1-1, the next 4-5-1. The formation is almost irrelevant; it's the understanding of what's actually happening at any given point in a game and reacting to it in the right way that's critical.

When you reach that point, the fluidity, movement and organisation it brings is utopia. But you cannot just click your fingers and make players understand. Each gets it at their own pace, some are comfortable immediately with that responsibility, others take some coaxing.

Players must understand and believe in the values underpinning the team so they can recognise the elements that have been successful, learn from experience and use that as reinforcement to stick with it even in the face of adversity. We ask players to be brave, want the ball and make the right decisions in possession. Some will do this no problem, some will be nervous about it, others will do it but make poor decisions. It's an ongoing process to get each player to the point where they are comfortable with this.

I know I have to win football matches and this club rightly has very clear ambitions to be back where it considers it belongs - in the Premier League.

But for me the best way to do this is sending out an effective team that's flexible and has certain values and the players operate within that. That's how you gain an identity, a reputation, the foundations on which to build a club around.

Look at Swansea. That process started with Roberto Martinez in League One in 2007. It's gone via Paulo Sousa, Brendan Rodgers and now Michael Laudrup, maintaining the core way of doing things Roberto introduced, to stability and earning plaudits in the Premier Division.

They are five years down the road but proof that they are focussing on processes, not outcomes, which enables a team to improve consistently.

Organisation, attitude and discipline are central to any success. A player's behaviour, not what they say, will determine what they can achieve. These cost nothing. Money may help you sign better, more technically-gifted players, but money does not create a team. 

While the team continues its natural evolution, we're trying to find the best way to win every game we play. Please keep supporting your local team.

And as this is our last home game before the festive season gets underway I would like to take the opportunity to wish you and your families a very happy Christmas.

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