Burnley will travel to St Andrews this Saturday, hoping to beat an average Birmingham side and clock up only their second win in eight games.
The Clarets badly need a win to restore confidence and maintain a realistic chance of reaching the play-offs come the end of the season. It is not that they are playing too badly, but we seem unable to make the pressure and possession count especially in the first half. We have let too many points slip recently by not making that early dominance count. The cold hard fact is that we have only managed one win in the last seven games making our task of keeping in touch with the play-offs positions that much harder. Since our last win away to Hull we have drawn three games and lost one and arguably should have picked up far more points from those four games especially from the home matches. The indifferent form means we have now slipped to 16th spot with 29 points from 22 games. The 6th placed club, Millwall have 37 points so already we have an eight point mountain to climb. In the Championship though a run of two to three wins can propel you up the table and if ever Burnley needed a good run it is now.
If Burnley are having a mediocre season, the same can certainly be said about our opposition at St Andrews this Saturday. Birmingham are in 19th spot, four points adrift of the Clarets. Although they managed to beat high-flying Middlesbrough 3-2 at home recently, that was their only win in six games for Lee Clark`s men. They have lost three and drawn two of their other five matches. On home soil, their form has also been indifferent winning two, drawing two and losing two of their last six. Points are there to be had at St Andrews and Burnley need to make sure they pick some up on Saturday! Come on you Clarets!
Birmingham City Team News:
Defensive midfielder, Hayden Mullins returns to the squad after suspension but may have to fight for a starting eleven place. Mullins replacement, Papa Bouba Diop extended his roiling contract by another month recently and scored in Brum`s last match at home to Palace.
Defender, Paul Caddis picked up a torn hamstring injury in the Palace game and looks set to sidelined until after Christmas. Both Nikola Zigic and Pablo Ibanez however have returned to full fitness and could feature. The Blues though will be without defender, Jonathan Spector (ankle), midfielder Darren Ambrose (knee), full backs, David Murphy and Stephen Carr (also knee) and striker, Akwasi Asante (hamstring). 18 year-old youngster Emmit Delfouneso (brother of former Burnley loan striker, Nathan) will also be in the Birmingham squad after impressing in the Blues development team. He is just one of eight teenagers likely to be named in the eighteen for Saturday`s visit by the Clarets.
Player to watch: Wade Elliott
Burnley fans of course know all about Wade Elliott! He now seems to be back in the starting eleven after a spell on the bench and is also Brum`s third leading goal-scorer with three goals so far this season.
Burnley Team News:
Ben Mee appears to be the only player out injured (medial knee ligament damage) so Danny Lafferty looks set to retain the left back spot in his absence. Both Michael Duff and Chris McCann return from a one match suspension having both picked up fifth yellows in the last away game at Forest.
Player to watch: Keith Treacy
Something tells me Sean Dyche has a bit of a soft spot for the previously forgotten winger! Making a bit of a cameo appearance after being named in the eighteen for the first time this season against Watford last Saturday, Treacy looks destined to feature again! Let`s hope he makes the most of his comeback chance, he needs to since this is not the first one he has been given whilst on the books at Turf Moor with the others seemingly ending in failure.
Team & Tactics:
Sean Dyche changed things around a bit for the Watford game at Turf Moor last Saturday and didn`t make the obvious changes to replace the suspended Duff and McCann with both David Edgar and Kevin Long getting a start and Danny Ings partnering Charlie Austin up front. There was a bit of a surprise too on the bench with Keith Treacy getting a recall to the eighteen. Treacy also saw some action after coming on to replace Ings in the 84th minute! Dyche has been ‘bigging up` Treacy all week so it is difficult to see how he can now be dropped. It will also be interesting to see now with Duff and McCann both available again whether they will simply walk back into the starting eleven and whether Dyche will return to the more familiar 4-1-4-1 line-up with Brian Stock returning to the holding midfield role. Kevin Long, making his full first team debut on Saturday was arguably man of the match and perhaps deserves to retain his place but it looks unlikely he would keep out the more experienced Duff. I suspect Long will be rewarded for last Saturday`s performance with at least a place on the bench. I suspect we will return to the 4-1-4-1 formation and that the line-up will look something like this :
Grant, Trippier, Duff, Shackell, Lafferty, Stock, Wallace, Marney, McCann, Paterson, Austin
Subs: Jensen, Edgar, Long, Bartley, Stanislas or Treacy, Ings, Vokes
I remain to be convinced this is the right strategy with only one win now in seven games and the more aggressive 4-4-2 option might bear more fruit. Martin Paterson is hardly setting the world alight at the moment and there is a case for giving him a rest. If we had Wallace and Stanislas on the wings (or maybe even Treacy?), played a straight back four with no holding midfielder and started either Ings or Vokes in partnership with Austin up front we could have a greater chance of getting our noses in front. We could then have options on the bench which would allow us to return to a 4-1-4-1 and play more defensively if required.
Eddie Ilderton from Tyne & Wear is in charge of this one! Clarets fans will want to forget the last game when Ilderton last featured in a Burnley match. It was earlier this season when Brighton beat the Clarets 3-1 at Turf Moor back in September. Six yellow cards were also shown that day! So far this season, Ilderton has dished out a total of 2 reds and 56 yellows from his 17 games.
If we still harbour any hopes of maintaining a push for the play-offs, this is exactly the sort of game we will have to win! The Clarets seem to have had the lion`s share of possession in the first half of so many games recently but have failed to make it count leading to the loss of points over 90 minutes. We have to aggressively try and get the lead and then hold onto it! If Burnley could get their noses in front against Brum I fancy our chances and will go with a 1-0 Clarets win.
The mad festive period is upon us starting with a home game against Derby County on Boxing Day (Wednesday 26th December @3pm Kick-Off). Three days later we are again in action at Turf Moor with Leicester City the visitors this time! (Saturday 29th December @3pm Kick-Off). Those of you not hungover and feeling grim flowing the New Year`s celebrations can then wend their way to Hillsborough for the Sheffield Wednesday game on New Year`s Day (Kick-Off: 3pm)