Burnley manager Sean Dyche said “football is about dreams” after his side moved into fourth place in the Premier League with victory over Stoke at Turf Moor.
Substitute Ashley Barnes struck two minutes from time to ensure the Clarets’ remarkable start to the campaign continued.
Barring the first two days of this season – when not every team had played – this is the highest they have been in the top flight since March 1975.
“It’s a run of results and a start which the fans are enjoying and rightly so,” said Dyche.
“Football is about realities but also about dreams. It’s a tough task for us winning games at this level but, Leicester blew the roof off dreams in football.”
Since 2003, Leicester are the only English club other than Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham to have played in the Champions League proper, doing so after winning the title in 2015-16.
Barnes’ strike – after the ball ricocheted off team-mate Scott Arfield – was one of few clear-cut chances in the match, though Stoke’s Peter Crouch hit the post early on.
Dyche’s side climb into the Champions League places above Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham – who all play on Wednesday – while Stoke stay 15th.
“We found a way to win and a fine goal,” said Dyche. “We’re not the real deal, we’re a side that are improving.
“I keep reality because this division will eat you alive. We’re having a real go at what we can achieve this season.”
Burnley – good in a tight spot
Burnley were not at their best for much of the game – perhaps inhibited by the prospect of leapfrogging some of the Premier League’s biggest names, even if only for 24 hours.
Steven Defour was the only Clarets player to have a shot on target prior to Barnes’ decisive strike – his second goal of the season. Indeed the most alarming moment for Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland in the first half came when he fumbled the slippery ball from a looping cross, but he quickly recovered.
It was a typically determined display by Dyche’s side, whose eighth clean sheet of the season is only bettered by Manchester United’s nine.
A sixth 1-0 win of 2017-18 shows how well they can close out tight games, and they are 14 points and 12 places better off than after 17 games last season.
Dizzy heights and European nights?
Burnley’s climb into the top four will have some fans dreaming of the return of European football to Turf Moor.
The Clarets’ last European venture was in the Fairs Cup in 1966-67, six years after a memorable flirtation with the European Cup.
Winning the league in 1960 put Harry Potts’ side into Europe’s elite club competition – and they won both of their home matches.
But, after beating Reims on aggregate, defeat by Hamburg in the quarter-finals brought an end to their first European adventure.
They looked well placed to return in 1975, but having climbed into the top three on 21 March, a side featuring players such as Leighton James and Brian Flynn eventually finished 10th.
Problems mount for Hughes
While Dyche’s stock is on the rise, defeat will only increase the focus on Stoke counterpart Mark Hughes.
The Potters players were confronted by angry fans at the city’s railway station after sharing a train following their 5-1 defeat by Tottenham on Saturday.
Hughes hoped that would provoke a response from his players, and he certainly got one in the early stages.
But Stoke were ultimately unable to take advantage of an unusually tentative Burnley as they slipped to a fourth defeat in their past five games.
“Don’t tell me that anyone says Burnley deserved to win that, because they didn’t,” Hughes said. “The lads are devastated.
“We’ll be OK, we’re fine. We are working hard to try to turn this around but I am encouraged by what I’ve seen tonight.”
The 16 points Stoke have taken from their opening 17 games is their lowest at this stage of a Premier League season.
And Barnes’ goal was the 36th they have conceded in the league this season – the worst record in the top flight.
Man of the match – Steven Defour