Burnley manager Eddie Howe bemoaned a contentious penalty call at Elland Road but admitted that his club had been outclassed by Leeds United.
Howe saw Burnley’s interest in a play-off position collapse during a 1-0 defeat in Leeds on Saturday, and he looked ahead to a summer of changes at Turf Moor on the back of an unfulfilling season.
The former Bournemouth coach said referee Phil Crossley had failed to award a “nailed-on” penalty when Leeds defender Andy O’Brien fouled Chris Iwelumo midway through the first half, and United sealed their win 16 minutes later through a Ross McCormack strike.
Howe said: “We started quite brightly, actually, and we should have had a penalty. But from then on, Leeds closed us down really well and we gave the ball away an awful lot in our own half. That’s never a good thing to do. They pressed us and worked us and we didn’t adapt.
“From where I was I thought the penalty was nailed on – an absolute certainty. If it was at the other end then it would have been given. But the play-offs are out of our hands now and we’ve got to look to next year.”
The Lancashire club had the chance to rule Leeds out of a top-six finish by winning at Elland Road, but their respective ambitions were always dependent on the outcome of Nottingham Forest’s game at home to Scunthorpe United.
Burnley never recovered from the mixed form which earned Howe’s predecessor, Brian Laws, the sack in December, and their failure to take advantage of recent games in hand hindered their progress at a crucial time.Howe claimed that Burnley’s league position at the end of an inconsistent year was a sign that the club would be competitive in the Championship next season, insisting that there was “more to come” from the players at his disposal.
“It’s a disappointing end to the season,” said Howe, who will begin his first full term as Burnley’s manager in August. “We were very close but we weren’t close enough. We’ve just fallen short. When everyone’s fit we’ve got a very good squad but we have to rebuild and look to the future.
“We’ll start afresh and have a good pre-season with all the players. That’s going to be important for us and we can hit the ground running. We’ve seen this season that we’ve been inconsistent and we haven’t hit the heights that we wanted to, but we haven’t been far away either and there’s more to come from this team.
“I need to sit down and make some tough calls. I don’t think there’s a massive overhaul needed but we need to tweak things and I’m prepared to do that. We need some fresh blood and some new players and, with the right decision, we’ll come back a better team. We haven’t got many players who are out of contract so it’s going to be a busy summer. We need to speak to them all first, let them go away and get their rest and then come back for pre-season fresh and enthused.
“That’s really important because we want to get our ideas across and get them organised.
“The big thing for us is to be more consistent. That was reflected again against Leeds – a poor performance whereas the previous four have been excellent. We need to find consistency week in, week out and that’s what the best sides do.”
Burnley came under growing pressure in the second half at Elland Road and they relied on a spate of saves from veteran goalkeeper Brian Jensen to restrict United’s lead to a single goal. Jonathan Howson, Billy Paynter and McCormack were all denied by the experienced Dane.
The only hint at an equaliser came in the final minute when Jensen’s opposite number, Kasper Schmeichel, turned a Ross Wallace free-kick over his crossbar.
Howe said: “I don’t think it was a case of them wanting it more. They worked really hard, they had a game plan and they stuck to it.
“We didn’t adapt quickly enough to how they were playing and we kept giving the ball away. Our usual passing game never really materialised. We made it difficult for ourselves.
“I hope the players realise that they’ve missed a massive opportunity. I’m bitterly disappointed and I hope they feel the same.
“I’m sure they do. You never know how many times the opportunity will come round again and we’re kicking ourselves.”