One of the two most hotly awaited fixtures of our Premier League 2009-10 calendar is upon us tomorrow (Sunday 18th October) when Clarets fans arrive in coach convoy to see Burnley play local rivals Blackburn at Ewood Park in this mother of all derby games. Derby fever is taking over the football world in East Lancashire and the air is full of stories about this clash.
This is the first time that these two founding members of the Football League will have faced each other in the top flight since New Year`s Day 1966 and if Clarets fans are looking for a good omen, then we can recall our 2-0 victory at Ewood Park that day in a season which saw Rovers relegated after finishing at the foot of the table with just eight wins (See ‘Back to the Future’ below for more about this match)
We shall try and avoid all the emotion and bitter rivalry though associated with this fixture and on the eve of battle be calm before the storm in writing this match preview.
Rather like the Battle of Hastings in 1066, all Clarets fans at the Battle of Deadwood 2009 will be hoping that like William the Conquerer we will be the ones giving Rover`s Harold ‘one-in-the-eye’ Come on You Clarets!
Predicted Team Sheet
Our last match was at home to Birmingham at Turf Moor two weeks ago with the International break intervening since that 2-1 victory.
That home victory of course ensured we wrestled a record away from Blackburn Rovers as the only promoted team to win their first four games at home in the Premier League beating the previous record of three set by Rovers in 1992. Since the break all our players on international duty have returned unscathed and there are no fresh injuries or suspensions to worry about.
The Clarets though will of course still be without Chris McCann (medial ligament), Martin Paterson (torn cartilage) and Jay Rodriguez (fractured foot) who face being out until about Christmas. Fernando Guerrero is also thought to be still suffering from a hamstring injury.
I expect Coyle will show faith in the team that beat Brum so convincingly a couple of weeks ago which once more could mean we will be seeing Andre Bikey in the newly created midfield role. Bikey only returned to training for the Clarets on Friday after playing in a friendly for Cameroon against Angola in Portugal on Wednesday night. He played the full 90 minutes in a 0-0 draw but he should be fully fighting fit to face Rovers on Sunday and Clarets fans will be hoping he can repeat his goal-scoring exploits after he netted the second goal in the Brum game; his first in a year.
We do now have a new keeper also, with Jonathan Lund arriving during the International break. He made his debut in a reserve game against Liverpool Reserves at Prenton Park last week and put in an impressive performance keeping a clean sheet until the last minute of the match when the Reds scored from a free kick in added time. Coyle though appears to rate Lund as his third-choice keeper at the moment so we can expect Penny to be on the bench. If he isn`t, there will certainly be some tongues wagging about Penny`s long-term future with the club. Whilst on the subject of keepers, Brian Jensen in particular will be up for this game, he will be making his 250th appearance for the Clarets and along with Michael Duff is one of the two surviving Clarets players from the team that last faced Rovers when they knocked us out of the FA Cup back in March 2005.
The eighteen for Sunday`s clash I think picks itself this time and will be exactly the same as the Brum match so we can look forward to the following line-up unless Owen Coyle breaks with tradition and has some surprises up his sleeve:
Jensen, Mears, Carlisle, Caldwell, Jordan, Alexander, Elliott, Bikey, Blake, Fletcher, Nugent
Subs: Penny, Kalvenes, Duff, Eagles, Gudjonsson, McDonald, Thompson
Blackburn Rovers Team News:
Injury-plagued midfielder, Steven Reid is still sidelined with an Achilles problem and Vince Grella is now also out after picking up a thigh strain in a meaningless International friendly for Australia last weekend.
Paul Robinson though has recovered from his hip injury that kept him out of contention for England`s World Cup qualifying matches against Ukraine and Belarus. Samba and Nelson are also available after injuries kept them sidelined for Rovers’ last game against Arsenal at the Emirates
Player to watch: Paul Robinson
Well I am hoping to watch him regularly pick the ball out of the net but we shall have to hope that the England keeper`s recent injury problems have prevented him from being at the top of his game and that we can exploit any weaknesses in that area. Clarets fans too will be keen to remind him that he let in six goals in Rovers previous game against Arsenal at the Emirates a couple of weeks back!
Burnley Team News:
No fresh injury concerns and we have nobody suspended. Owen Coyle is likely to select the same eighteen he named for the Birmingham game but of course Coyle will be without Chris McCann, Martin Paterson and Jay Rodriguez who are all out injured and will be sidelined for the next 2-3 months. Fernando Guerrero is also thought to be still struggling with a hamstring problem.
Player to watch: Andre Bikey
Bikey has been solid in the back four for the Clarets this season but now it seems he has been converted to a goal-scoring midfielder after his stunning goal against Brum two weeks ago. His acrobatic delight at scoring will hopefully be repeated this Sunday.
This sort of game is not one for hotheads and all Clarets players will have to keep their cool and avoid seeing the red mist. We all know about Bikey`s potential temperament after his red card and shirt-chucking antics when playing for Reading against the Clarets in the Play-Offs Semi Final first leg at Turf Moor last season. He seems to be a reformed character though these days, so let`s hope we recall his performance in this game for all the right reasons.
Back to the Future
The last time the Clarets played in the top flight back in Season 1975-76 we did not have to worry about Rovers. They were in those days a struggling side and the seventies was not their era with Blackburn spending most of the decade yo-yoing between the old second and third divisions. They had won the old third division title in the 1974-5 season but finished 15th in Division 2 in 1975-6, the season Burnley were relegated from the top flight never to return for another 33 years.
In 1976-77, with both clubs now in the old Division 2, the Clarets got a creditable 2-2 draw at Ewood Park coming back from 2-0 down to score two goals in the last ten minutes, Noble and Brennan were the heroes that day. It was even better at Turf Moor a few months later with the Clarets securing a 3-1 victory.
So when was the last time we played Blackburn Rovers in the top flight? That was actually on New Year`s Day 1966. We played them at Ewood Park that day eager to avenge their earlier 4-1 tonking of the Clarets at Turf Moor. In front of a crowd of 28,013, Harry Potts men lined up as follows in the days when all sides played the 2-3-5 formation and there was no such thing as substitutes:
Blacklaw, Angus, Elder, O`Neil, Miller, Todd, Morgan, Bellamy, Irvine, Harris, Coates
By the time of this game, Rovers were fighting for their survival with the Clarets pressing to win the League so there was certainly a hostile reception for the Clarets that day, perhaps even more than usual. The match was a bad tempered one but in the end we came out victors 2-0. The Clarets took the lead after 19 minutes. A free kick was taken short by Brian O`Neil to find Alex Elder who let rip with a scorching shot that Rovers keeper, Fred Else could only turn against the post. There was Willie Irvine to tap home the rebound and put the Clarets 1-0 up. In the second half, Gordon Harris sealed victory for the Clarets with a goal on 69 minutes after a pass from Ralph Coates. He struck a low shot from 25 yards out which skidded along the turf and seemed to gather pace as it flew into the net. Rovers were now desperate and a nasty period followed where they seemed determined to hack our players down. Harris and Coates in particular were taking the brunt of some vicious tackles on the wing. In one amusing moment, Ralph Coates, always a character sat on the ball inviting one of the Rovers players to have another go at hacking him down. It was Willie Morgan though who couldn`t take any more and was sent off after a set-to with Rovers striker, Mike England. The tense game now boiled over on the terraces with the police getting involved. One Rovers fan ran to attack keeper Adam Blacklaw who this time held the youth instead of the ball until he was escorted off the pitch. Thankfully, the final whistle for the end of the match came and it was the Clarets who now had the bragging rights. The Clarets finished third that season but the biggest pleasure was seeing Rovers finish in bottom spot, about to start their exile from the top flight for another 26 years!
St Helens Premier League referee, Chris Foy gets this one; an experienced referee who seems the ideal choice for this potential pot-boiler. (See Our Article- The Referee Foy the Mother of All Derbies)
The Clarets are currently 9th on 12 points with Blackburn hovering around the relegation zone in 16th spot on just seven points albeit with a game in hand.
Our record on the road though this season has been less than impressive and we have yet to score let alone get a point following four defeats in four. ‘Fortress Turf Moor` has been our saviour so far but now it is time to start reversing our fortunes away from home and what could be a better time to start than against that lot down the road? We should not underestimate the task; they might not be a Chelsea, Liverpool or Spurs but Rovers have lost just one of their last 10 league matches at Ewood Park. This though is a derby, one of the most fiercest you can have and we can safely chuck the form book out of the window for this one with both sides wanting to get the upper hand is this massive game for the fans. `Bragging rights` for this one will last in East Lancashire until our next clash in March next year at Turf Moor, so come on you Clarets, you can do this!
I have had a very strong feeling all week that we are going to get something from this game, my hope is that we can shade this one 2-1 but a 1-1 draw seems the most probable outcome.
Everything will seem like an anti-climax after the Rovers derby, but no matter what the result in that match, it`s important we focus on getting maximum points from the next two games; both played at home.
We face Wigan on Saturday 24th October 2009 @3pm Kick Off followed by Hull City a week later