Weather-permitting Burnley travel to Oakwell on Boxing Day hoping to inflict the double over Barnsley and secure their first league away win of the season.
What are the chances that Burnley can defeat Barnsley at Oakwell on Boxing Day? That is what they have to do on a ground where we have not won since April 1932. The omens are not good then considering also our traditional poor form over the festive season, not to mention the fact that we have still to win away at all this season in the league.
The snow and ice has wreaked havoc with the Championship fixtures in recent weeks with Burnley`s last two away games also being postponed against Portsmouth and Cardiff. Sandwiched between those two fixtures was the home game we did manage to play against Leeds United. Most Clarets fans though would in hindsight have been wishing that too had been postponed considering we surrendered a 2-0 lead to finish up losing 3-2 in quite frankly disgraceful fashion.
That defeat and the postponements have seen the Clarets plummet down to 12th spot on 29 points. We do of course still have a game or two advantage over some of our promotion rivals but the onus is on the Clarets to win those games in hand since we are now already five points adrift of the 6th placed club, Coventry and nine points behind second placed club, Leeds, not to mention 12 points behind league leaders, QPR.
Brian Laws looks to be increasingly under pressure and he badly needs to string a few back-to-back wins together to keep his critics at bay.
A defeat away to Barnsley is unthinkable in the current climate and if we lose at Oakwell, the gaffer`s days at Turf Moor may well be numbered.
This time last season of course, we were in the Premier League and everything seemed reasonably rosy with Owen Coyle still at the helm but it has been a torrid time for Clarets fans since. It was bad enough being stabbed in the back by Coyle and then having to suffer relegation under an uninspiring manager but now at this stage of the season being on the same number of points as Barnsley, having played the same number of games is not particularly comforting considering our expectations for the season.
12th place with no away win all season and not even a back-to-back win is thoroughly disappointing and draining. The Board do have to look closely at the management situation and decide quickly if Brian Laws is up to the job. Barry Kilby has reminded us recently that anything other than a play-offs spot would be deemed a failure so what are the chances Laws can turn this round and achieve it? It`s not looking good at the moment! If there is any doubt in the back of the Board`s mind then surely they have to act before the January window opens. I personally don`t believe Brain Laws is going to take this club forward and that we should act now before it is too late. Clarets fans need a tonic and a change at the top could invigorate the whole club.
Hell`s bells we were playing and beating Manchester United last season. Our ambition should not be about reaching the play-offs but putting resources into a club to achieve automatic promotion something which now looks like a distant dream.
Meanwhile there are Barnsley to remind us all the time what midtable mediocrity is all about after spending season-after-season in the Championship doing preciously that. It certainly sticks in the throat at the moment then, that they are just one place behind us in 13th on goal difference! We have simply got to do much better than this but the Tykes have a pretty good home record at the moment. They have lost just one game at Oakwell in their last six games having won three and drawn two. They have also gone five matches undefeated.
Barnsley Team News:
Tykes` defender Matt Hill is hoping to feature at some stage in the Boxing Day clash. Hill, on loan from Wolves, has made only two appearances for Barnsley and has not played since breaking a bone in his foot in October.
Barnsley forward Garry O’Connor will not be registered to play in time on Boxing Day after turning his loan from Birmingham into a permanent move.
Mark Robins has no new injury or suspension problems, although both Jay McEveley and Luke Potter will still be sidelined with knee injuries.
Player to watch: Adam Hammill
Adam Hammill is the Tykes leading goal-scorer with seven league goals so far this season. He lies 13th in the Npower Championship Top Scorers table. The 22 year old, former England under 19 international is recognised as a winger but often plays just behind the striker so clearly this has been quite productive for him.
Hammill started his professional career with Liverpool but he never made his debut for them. Loan spells at Dunfermline, Southampton and Blackpool followed before Barnsley first brought him to Oakwell on loan in February 2009 for the rest of that season. Liverpool initially turned down Barnsley`s offer to sign the player permanently in the close season but eventually they let him go and in August 2009, Barnsley got their man after the player agreed a three year contract.
Burnley Team News:
Rumours were circulating on some message boards that Tyrone Mears pulled up in training this week at Gawthorpe but there has not been any official announcement to date.
Left-back Danny Fox could return after an ankle injury which saw him miss the last four games. He is now fully fit but could be kept out of the starting eleven by Brian Easton who has impressed since coming into the side.
Both Chris Eagles and Martin Paterson could also be in contention after having another football-free week in which to recover fully from their injuries.
Eagles missed the last two games with a back problem whilst Paterson has been suffering from a troublesome thigh problem; an injury which has kept him sidelined for four games.
Brian Laws taking about the injury situation said:
‘Danny Fox and Chris Eagles are now fully fit and ready to go and Martin Paterson is there or there abouts`
Player to watch: Chris Eagles
Barnsley will not be relishing Chris Eagles playing against them. He was in awesome form against the Tykes in the earlier clash this season at Turf Moor. He ran rings round their defence and scored a brace against them including a goal from the penalty spot.
Let`s hope he can now put in a similar display after recovering from his back injury.
Team & Tactics
Brian Laws could have the complete squad to choose from with the exception of course of long-term injured, Chris McCann. Wes Fletcher and Kevin Long are also unavailable after their loans were extended. Kevin McDonald though is back at Turf Moor after preferring not to sign another loan extension at Scunthorpe although I can`t see him breaking through into the eighteen this Boxing Day.
It came perhaps as a shock this week that Brian Jensen wants away from Turf Moor after losing his place to Lee Grant following the 4-0 trouncing by Reading at Turf Moor back in October. It will be interesting to see if Laws reacts in any way to the keeper situation on Boxing Day in an effort to placate Jensen. The club though appear to have accepted the Beast`s transfer request so I expect Grant will retain his place with Jensen still on the bench
Danny Fox might have recovered from his injury but it would be very harsh on Easton if he came straight back into the starting eleven and I can`t believe Laws would be that insensitive after some excellent, solid performances by the Scottish left back.
Chris Eagles, now that he is fully fit, has to start for me. He terrorised Barnsley in our home clash back in October and he could be a good psychological card to play.
Reading between the lines, it sounds like Pato is still touch and go to me so I won`t be surprised if he fails to make the eighteen on Sunday but I do hope we stick with a 4-4-2 line-up. The question for me is which two strikers up front will give us the best chance of securing victory. If all our strikers were fully fit and firing on all cylinders my automatic choice would be Iwelumo and Paterson. Big Chris has in all honesty been pretty woeful though recently and has yet to score away from Turf Moor. Could he therefore be more of a liability? Jay Rodriguez on the other hand has looked woefully out-of-position when played out on the flanks. He is an out-an-out striker and proved that (in the first half at least) at home to Leeds United when Laws finally saw sense and started 4-4-2.
We then also have Steven Thompson who rightly or wrongly seems to be stuck with a 20 minute cameo every game usually coming on from the bench to replace one of the other strikers. Is it time to give him a starting eleven chance and demote the lacklustre, Iwelumo to the bench? There are strong arguments for trying this approach but I just can`t see Laws giving it a go!
We are told Brian Laws has at the top of his Jan window transfer to-do list an aim to extend the loan of Manchester City striker, John Guidetti. He seems such a high priority and yet so far Guidetti has managed just a couple of late appearances from the bench, not really having enough time to impress. For such a highly-rated talent should we not be giving him the chance to shine the whole 90 minutes?
So what do we do up front on Boxing Day? I have no idea what Laws will do but assuming Paterson is still out injured, this I think would be our best eighteen:
Grant, Mears, Carlisle, Bikey, Easton, Eagles, Cork, Marney, Elliott, Iwelumo, Guidetti (or Paterson if fit)
Subs: Jensen, Duff, Fox, Edgar (or Alexander) Wallace, Thompson, Rodriguez
Tyne & Wear referee, Colin Webster is in charge of this clash. He started refereeing in his native North East in 1988 and progressed through the Wearside and Northern Leagues to reach the National List in 1994. He was promoted to the Referees` List in 2000. In his 17 games so far this season at Championship or lower league level, he has shown red three times and handed out 50 yellow cards. His last game for the Clarets was in our opening game of the season at home to Nottingham Forest. Three yellow cards were handed out that day.
This will simply have to be that Burnley moment when we get that result we least expect with everything stacked against us.
A win for the Clarets will ensure the Oakwell jinx is kicked into touch and that for once Burnley fans have something to cheer about over the festive season! It would also mean that not only do we clock up our first away win of the season but also our first double.
Simples then! 2-1 Clarets
Whatever the result at Oakwell on Boxing Day Sunday, the Clarets will have just two days to recover both mentally & physically before having to play their next game . They face Scunthorpe at Turf Moor on Christmas Bank Holiday, Tuesday 28th December (Kick-Off 3pm)