The Clarets face Bolton at Turf Moor on Boxing Day in a vital six-pointer of a match with both sides at the wrong end of the table. Burnley are currently 14th on 19 points but just three points clear of third-from bottom club Bolton who also have a couple of games in hand and will be relatively fresh following the postponement of their Monday match against Wigan this week due to the icy conditions.
The club sound confident that our Boxing Day clash will go ahead despite the heavy snow in the North West and the treacherous slippery conditions around the ground. Hopefully the JCB`s that have been hired will do their job clearing the snow and the weather will improve enough before Boxing Day. The ground of course has underground soli heating so that won`t be a problem
Burnley fans though could be forgiven perhaps for hoping that the match is postponed, Boxing Day games, indeed games in general over the festive season have not usually gone our way in recent times and the expression ‘Traditional Christmas Slump` is becoming engrained in Clarets culture. I have checked the games that have been played on a Boxing Day over the past decade. We have won just 2 of them, drawn one and incredibly lost five of them. At least we are not playing Barnsley this time. We have played them three times on a Boxing Day in the past ten seasons and lost all three!
Predicted Team Sheet
There are currently two injury concerns, both in the centre of defence. Carlisle and Caldwell both limped off with groin injuries during the defeat at Wolves last Sunday and we await news of their progress.
I suspect if both are fully recovered, both will start against Bolton but edging my bets if one of them does not make it, then the obvious candidate to replace him would be Michael Duff. Duff came on to replace Carlisle in the Wolves game and slotted into the team quite well despite being at fault along with Caldwell for Wolves second goal. That was Duff`s first taste of Premier League action and he will be hungry to keep his place for the visit of Bolton.
If Caldwell and Carlisle and not fit to play then we could see Bikey drop back into the centre of defence and partner Duff. Another option could be to put Jordan in the centre and bring in Kalvenes at left back. The most radical option and least likely could be to give David Edgar a chance to play in the centre of defence. It is a difficult one to call but Coyle is likely to select the option that causes the least disruption to his team.
Right-back Tyrone Mears is slightly doubtful with a head injury from the Wolves game but is expected to be fit.
News earlier this month also suggested Martin Paterson (torn cartilage)and Jay Rodriguez (broken ankle) were close to a return after recovering from their long-term injuries but this has all gone quiet recently and so far they have not made an appearance in the eighteen. Whether Coyle is tempted to name one or both of them on the bench against Bolton as a psychological boost remains to be seen but if he did it would confirm that they are close to first team action again.
I will predict the following eighteen:
Jensen, Mears, Carlisle or Caldwell (fittest one), Duff, Jordan, Alexander, Eagles, Bikey, McDonald, Elliott, Fletcher
Subs: Penny, Kalvenes, Gudjonsson, Blake, Guerrero, Nugent, Thompson
Burnley Team News:
News is awaited on Caldwell and Carlisle who are both suffering from groin injuries but Coyle is likely to select a similar eighteen to the one that faced Wolves on Sunday.
Player to watch: Wade Elliott
Elliott has been relatively subdued in recent games despite a stunning goal, only his second of the season against Fulham recently. We need him to be firing on all cylinders against Bolton.
With Chris Eagles on the opposite flank in top form at the moment, if Elliott can up his game we could give Bolton a torrid time down both wings with Fletcher being the main beneficiary from their crosses.
Bolton Wanderers Team News:
Bolton will be without the suspended midfielder Fabrice Muamba .He was due to miss the game against Wigan on Monday after picking up five bookings but since the match was postponed he will now have to sit out the Boxing Day clash at Turf Moor instead.
Gavin McCann is expected to have recovered from an ankle injury and could come into contention although Bolton manager, Gary Megson has plenty of options in midfield with Chris Basham also pushing for a starting eleven slot.
Striker, Ivan Klasnic has scored three goals in the last two games and looks set to retain his place ahead of Johan Elmander.
One long-term casualty is of course Sean Davis. The midfielder will miss the rest of the season with a serious knee injury picked up in the 3-3 home defeat against Liverpool back in August. In a game in which he was also sent off he sustained articular cartilage damage to his right knee.
Republic of Ireland international defender and midfielder, Jay O`Brien has had persistent problems with a knee injury and there is no expected date for his return. Riga and Shittu are also struggling with hamstring injuries and look unlikely to feature.
Player to watch: Gary Cahill
Cahill of course is no stranger to Clarets fans and was a firm favourite during his loan spell from Aston Villa a few seasons back. Steve Cotterill signed Cahill on loan in November 2004 and by the end of the season was Burnley’s Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year. There was no doubt that had we the financial resources back then we would probably have signed him on a permanent deal. In the end he returned to Villa, had another loan spell, this time with Sheffield United before signing a three-and-a-half year contract with Bolton in January 2008.
The 24 year old defender is now on the fringes of the England team. Cahill was called up to the England squad for the game against Kazakhstan on 4 June 2009 following the withdrawal of Rio Ferdinand but has yet to get his first cap.
Clarets fans will no doubt give Cahill a good reception on his return to Turf Moor but we will need to keep him in check. We know all about his defensive qualities but in recent times he has got in the habit of scoring. He scored a superb goal in a recent home game against Manchester City in a match that finished 3-3. Receiving a throw-in on the edge of the area he turned to curl a sublime left-footed strike into the top corner. In their next game at home to West Ham he got their third goal in the 88th minute after heading home from a corner at the far post to give Bolton a 3-1 victory.
Back to the Future
These two sides have not met in the top flight since March 1964 when we played them twice over two days something that wouldn`t be allowed these days. In those days men were men and on the 30th March 1964, the Clarets got beat 2-1 at Burnden Park with Willie Irvine bringing the score back to 2-1 after 35 minutes play. Incredibly we then played them at Turf Moor a day later on the 31st! This time the score was 1-1, Arthur Bellamy scoring in the 81st minute to cancel out Bolton`s 58th minute goal. Bolton would be relegated that season second from bottom, with the Clarets by their own standards finishing a disappointing 9th.
We would not play them again for another 12 years and this time the clash would be in the old second division after the Clarets relegation season from the top flight at the end of 1975-76. A 0-0 draw at home and a 2-1 defeat away was all we could muster in a disappointing season that saw the Clarets finish 16th with Bolton just missing out on promotion in 4th spot.
The last time we played Bolton in all competitions was in a league game in Bolton`s promotion season to the Premier League in 2000-01. We managed an away point in a 1-1 draw in August 2000 but then went down 2-0 at Turf Moor in December 2000.
Flipping heck, it is St Helens referee, Chris Foy again, for the fourth time this season. He has been the ref so far in our games against Blackburn and West Ham away and Sunderland at home. At least supporting Everton he will certainly have to be neutral with his club also in a dogfight at the foot of the table and his team next up to face the Clarets.
This truly is a must win game and once more we need a plea to ‘Fortress Turf Moor` to deliver the goods. Although we have had some creditable draws against top ten clubs including Manchester City at Eastlands and Aston Villa, Fulham and Arsenal at home the fact remains with our worrying away form we have not won now in seven games and we have steadily dropped down the table with those relegation spots looking ever closer. Three points against another club in the dogfight for survival would ease all our concerns and set us up nicely for our next game away to Everton.
It would be nice to have broken through the 20 point barrier by the New Year and if everything goes our way we could be looking at 20-25 points by the time we play Stoke at home on the 9th January. I have looked at the points tally for those sides relegated from the Premier League over the last six seasons and only two sides out of eighteen have been relegated with more than 35 points and none with more than 38 points. Our target therefore should be a minimum of 35-38 points if we are to have a reasonable chance of survival. In effect you could say we only need to repeat what we have done so far again in the second half of the season to stay up. If we have 20-25 points though by the New Year, things would look quite rosy.
Bolton, despite their position however will be no pushovers. Their away form is certainly better than ours but that is not saying much! They have two wins on the road, the most impressive being a 2-1 victory over Birmingham earlier in the season and just one draw. They have lost four times on the road and they have not won away now in four games.
We have to avoid a defeat at all cost in this one with three points a must. I am going for a 2-1 Clarets win with the Boxing Day Blues banished once and for all! There certainly seems to be some commitment from the lads with news that they are giving up their Christmas to train on Christmas Day in preparation for this crucial game
After Bolton we will have played all the teams in the Premier League at least once so now start the return matches.
The Clarets will have little time to prepare for our next match too with the team travelling to Goodison Park to face Everton two days later on Monday 28th December (3pm Kick-Off).
We of course beat Everton 1-0 at Turf Moor back in August and we will now have our first chance of the season of getting a double. This is yet another six-pointer with Everton currently in 15th spot just one point behind us going into the Boxing Day fixtures.