BURNLEY boss Sean Dyche has warned against under-estimating injury-hit Nottingham Forest, as the sides prepare for a top six showdown at Turf Moor tomorrow.
Billy Davies has bemoaned a catalogue of casualties this season, most recently with the loss of midfield duo Henri Lansbury and David Vaughan, with defender Eric Lichaj also in an ever-increasing queue for the City Ground treatment table.
But the news has not lulled Dyche into a false sense of security for this meeting with his first club, especially given the volume of changes Forest made for their Capital One Cup clash in September.
Burnley, who showed typical consistency in team selection that night, won 2-1 to set up a fourth round meeting with West Ham. But Forest still offered a stern test, and Dyche has not forgotten.
“I think they have the deepest squad of players in the division. They changed 10 players for the cup game and I looked at the team sheet and thought ‘that’s a handy Championship team’,” said the Burnley boss, whose side are without defeat in their last 19 league games at home.
“They’ve got a few injuries to the super big signings, like Kelvin Wilson, but I saw them against Leicester on Wednesday and they had seven players in the side who had played in the Premier League, so they’re certainly no mugs.
“But (Jamaal) Lascelles has done very well and many players have played in the Premier League. My point is that it’s a strong position even though it’s weaker by their standards.
“It’s a strong position given the rest of the market, but every manager has a challenge.
“I certainly don’t underestimate the power of clubs like Forest as they can change the team at will and still be very effective.
“I commentated on their game against Watford. They had Greg Halford up front and four centre forwards on the bench. That’s a luxury in this division.
“Their squad is a credit to the financial power of clubs like Forest. They’ve spent a hell of a lot of money since pre-season and they’ve brought in some real quality.
“They’re a big club and considerably backed by a recent owner.
“They’ve got a Championship manager who knows the script and has been there seen it and done it. He’s got a big squad of players and Forest’s challenge is to keep that mix right, which they’ve done pretty well.”
With a significantly smaller squad, Dyche has made injury prevention a priority this season. He dreads to think what challenges his own side would face if they were to have similar absences.
“Of course it would affect us, if we had four or five injuries. It would affect us if we had three or even two.
“It would affect any squad, just some less than others,” said the Burnley boss, who has named the same starting XI for the last five games, and does not anticipate the need for enforced changes tomorrow.
Consistency of selection and results have gone hand in hand, keeping the Clarets unbeaten in nine Championship games and with a two-point cushion over Derby County, who climbed to third with their midweek win at Sheffield Wednesday.
Dyche admits that a five-month spell in the top three has influenced rising expectation levels, but not to the extent that big-spending Forest are facing.
“There’s still massive expectation there and it probably is as high as it’s been this season, because of the wealth and all those players. It brings a higher expectation and you can understand why when you see what they’ve got available,” said the Clarets boss.
“But it’s a tough task to deliver in the Championship.
“Without doing ourselves down – as we believe in what we’re about – but Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Forest, they’re massive clubs and that’s how hard the challenge is. But there’s no divine right.
“We’ve seen it time and time again, people come out of the Premier League and people just expect them to go straight back up. Some do, some don’t – I’m pretty sure there’s a lot that don’t.
“Just because you’ve got resources, it doesn’t guarantee anything.
“I think there’s an underdog spirit with us and we’ve turned this season into a story of ‘what if?’ “At the start of the season people were saying, ‘Good old Burnley, they’re having a good go at it.’ Then mid-season it was ‘They’re still there.’ Now it’s ‘What if they’re still up there for a reason.'’ “But it’s still an underdog situation because of small squads and finance.
“Although (money) doesn’t guarantee anything it makes sure those clubs are usually the ones who are up there.
“The underdog spirit is a valuable tool because it makes expectation different. I’ve said all along, we have our own expectation. From the outside they’ll be looking at others like Forest, QPR, Reading, even Wigan.
“We just challenge ourselves on a weekly basis and that will remain until the last ball is kicked, no matter what.
“It’s a big challenge, not an impossible one.”