Clarets fans hopes that our last game of the season on the road would still offer some hope of survival were dashed last week when our relegation from the Premier League was finally confirmed following the 4-0 home defeat to Liverpool last Sunday.
It will be a philosophical day out for Clarets fans this Saturday therefore when they travel to see the team play Birmingham at St Andrews. Thoughts of ‘if only` will be echoing in the minds of the Clarets faithful as we prepare for a return to the Championship after just one season in the most prestigious league in Europe. We might be going down stronger but it still hurts especially when you see the likes of Birmingham and Wolves, the two clubs that came up with us last season finding the key to success and reaping the big-time financial rewards next season. I remain to be convinced that playing the likes of ‘BarnsDonnyKnobber` is preferable to playing ‘ManuChelskiArse even if some refer to the Championship as a better, honest league with a chance to win more games. I for one can`t wait to return to the Premier League and this time come up better prepared and more determined to succeed. The sooner we wipe that smugness off the faces of Blackburn, Bolton and Wigan fans the better! I want to see those Premier League badges back on my shirt and quickly. Up the Clarets!
Predicted Team Sheet
With the Clarets already relegated and a number of the players intimating they will be leaving Turf Moor in the summer, it will be interesting to see if Brian Laws fields our strongest team or with one eye on next season, experiments with youth and brings in some of our long-term prospects on the fringe of the first team.
The factor that could decide that could well still be money since there is a financial incentive in finishing above Hull in the relegation spots. Brian Laws is now fighting to win £800,000 for finishing 18th rather than the £40 million the club would have received had we survived in the Premier League at the first time of asking.
On loan striker, David Nugent has already indicated he is not prepared to play in the Championship and will be seeking interest from Premier League clubs. His parent club, Portsmouth have also of course been relegated so if Laws still plays him in our last two games we will have to hope he showboats his skills for potential bidders and doesn`t mope around sulking and throwing in the towel. I doubt though if Nugent has a sulk in him, he seems to grin himself through most games!
A similar situation applies to Chris Eagles who has been linked with a number of Premier league clubs including Everton, Spurs, Bolton and West Ham and looks certain to be leaving Turf Moor in the summer. Robbie Blake too has indicated his unrest at not being given enough starts and despite Brian Laws hoping to give Blake a new contract, this looks doubtful based on the player`s press comments.
I personally would drop any player from the starting eleven who clearly no longer has his heart in playing for the Clarets following our relegation starting with those three mentioned above. However rumours are rife that Brian Laws may have to win these last two games to ensure the points tally in his contract are achieved but even if those rumours are not true he may feel he has to field his full strength side in order to give himself the best chance of winning and finishing on a high before coming under scrutiny by the Board. The general feeling is that Brian Laws job at Turf Moor is by no means safe with rumours we could have a new gaffer in place by the time we kick-off the new season.
Chris McCann made a welcome return from injury in Wednesday night`s late 1-0 defeat to Manchester United Reserves in midweek and Brian Laws may well give him a chance against Birmingham this Saturday. If he does it may be best to drop on-loan Chelsea midfielder, Jack Cork since he will now soon be returning to Stamford Bridge. It would be harsh though on Cork who was easily the Man of the Match in our game against Liverpool at Turf Moor last Sunday, a honour he has achieved in numerous games for the Clarets this season since arriving on loan in the New Year.
I am therefore torn in my predicted team sheet between what I think Brian Laws should do and what I think he will do.
I would go with something like this but don`t expect we will
Jensen, Mears, Duff, Cort, Fox, Alexander, Elliott, McCann, Paterson, Thompson, Fletcher,
Subs: Weaver, Caldwell, Jordan, Bikey, Cork, Eagles, Rodriguez or Nugent
Birmingham City Team News:
Stephen Carr has been handed a one match ban following Birmingham`s local 1-0 derby defeat at Aston Villa last Sunday and will miss the clash against the Clarets. The Football Association charged the Blues right-back with improper conduct following a gesture he made to the home fans at the end of the game.
Defender Scott Dann also missed the derby game with a calf strain picked up in training and he is doubtful for the Clarets clash. Gregory Vignal could retain his place therefore if Dann is still sidelined with Liam Ridgewell normally left-back again playing at centre-half alongside Johnson.
Player to watch: Cameron Jerome
Jerome is Birmingham`s top scorer this season with 10 Premier League goals so far. The 23 year old signed from Cardiff in May 2006, for a transfer fee reported to be £3 million with add-ons.
Burnley Team News:
Chris McCann could make a comeback after recovering from surgery to repair a slightly torn cartilage and playing for the reserves in midweek. It has been a frustrating season for Chris following a long lay-off initially with a cruciate and medial ligament injury picked up in the game against Sunderland at Turf Moor last September. Although he made a remarkable recovery and was back in action by January after just two games he picked up yet another knee injury which later proved to be a cartilage problem. McCann will be hoping to have one final go in the Premier League after managing just eight games all season.
Clarke Carlisle went over on his ankle in training before the Liverpool game and didn`t feature. News is awaited on his availability for the Brum clash.
Player to watch: All of them!
With so many players out-of-contract in the summer and with some players stating their unrest at playing in the Championship or not getting enough starts, my eyes will be on all the individual players in our last two games to see who looks up for it and who seems indifferent. It could be a fine line in some cases though between players showboating their skills in the hope of attracting interest from Premier League clubs and those genuinely playing their hearts out for the Clarets and hoping to stay. There could also be some clues in Laws team selections as to who might be staying and who might be going as he decides which of the out of contract players he intends to give a new deal to.
Back to the Future
The last time we played Birmingham was of course earlier in the season at Turf Moor. That 2-1 victory back in October last year was our fourth straight win on home soil setting up a new record for newly promoted sides. Steven Caldwell who had been sidelined all season with a groin strain made his Premier League debut for the Clarets that day returning to the back four and displacing Andre Bikey. Owen Coyle that day though decided to try Bikey in midfield instead rather than drop him altogether and the experiment worked with the Cameroon international looking lively in that position and also scoring a stunning goal. He probably did not know it then but for most of the season after that he would find himself playing a midfield role rather than playing in his more familiar back four position in the centre of defence.
The first half of the match was a pretty dire scrappy affair with no side getting the upper hand and it was no surprise that it remained 0-0 at half time with few chances on goal by either team. In the second-half the Clarets suddenly found a way through the tight Blues defence and in a remarkable ten minute spell found themselves 2-0 up when first Fletcher got his first League goal for the Clarets after 53 minutes and then shortly after hit the woodwork before Bikey in a nice one-two with Nugent doubled our lead with a well-hit strike on 62 minutes. Clarets fans were then treated to an acrobatic display from the celebrating Bikey that would have made the British Gymnastic team proud! The Clarets dominated play for the rest of the half and the inevitable victory was only marred by a Brum consolation goal from a Larsson free kick in what turned out to be virtually the last kick of the match in added time.
That result meant the Clarets were now in 9th spot with all our hopes of survival alive and kicking with Fortress Turf Moor buzzing. How sad that the season has now gone belly up and it is only Burnley of the three promoted sides that are now returning to the Championship.
Birmingham after that game seemed to go on a remarkable run, a run that ensured their Premier League survival and how ironic that as we face them at St Andrews already relegated; it is now Brum who are in 9th spot!
The last time we were in the top flight 33 years ago, Birmingham were also plying their trade in Division One. They would only escape relegation by the skin of their teeth in 1975-76 finishing 4th from bottom five points ahead of relegated Burnley who finished second from bottom in 21st place, They did however have the upper hand at St Andrews in our game against them on Saturday 20th September 1975 that season thumping us 4-0 in front of a gate of 25,830. All their goals too came in the second half during a 27 minute spell that crucified the Clarets.
The return game at Turf Moor was played on Saturday 10th April 1976 in front of 13,679 fans with the Clarets now managed by Joe Brown who had replaced Jimmy Adamson earlier in the season. We achieved a 1-0 victory which went a little way to restoring some pride. This indeed would be our last home game that we would win in the top flight for another 33 years following our relegation.
The Clarets team that day lined up as follows:
Peyton, Scott, Pashley, Noble, Thomson, Rodaway, Morris, Flynn, Hankin, Fletcher, Summerbee
Sub: Ingham (Did Not Feature)
A goal by Hankin after 48 minutes would be enough to secure all two points.
We have had a good record at St Andrews in recent times having played them four times in the last decade winning two and drawing one. All the games were played in the second tier and the last time we played them on the road was of course in our joint promotion year last season. We played them at St Andrews in February 2009 and the Clarets to be honest bossed the game but had to settle for a 1-1 draw despite a third minute goal from Paterson.
Peter Walton will be in charge of this one. The Northants referee was appointed to the National Referees list in 1998 and to the Select Group Referees list in 2003. This will actually be his first game in charge of a Premier league match involving the Clarets this season.
The pressure is finally off following our confirmed relegation last week and of course it would now be typical if the Clarets came away with all three points when there is nothing really to fight for other than pride. The Clarets have done well at St Andrews in recent seasons and with Birmingham firmly ensconced in 9th spot with nowhere else to go Brum may feel they don`t need to increase the gas on their accelerator allowing Burnley to nick one and get a rare away win. Go on let`s leave the Premier League on the road with a victory. 2-1 Clarets!
Clarets fans will be hoping we can go out of the Premier League with a bang in our last match of the season against Tottenham Hotspur which will be played at Turf Moor on Sunday 9th May (Kick-Off 4pm).
Spurs may well be fighting for the points in order to finish in the coveted 4th spot and qualify for a Champions League place whereas the Clarets can relax with nothing really at stake although they still might be trying to finish above Hull in the relegation places to gain an extra £800,000. We also have a little score to settle with Spurs after their lucky victory against us in the Carling Cup semi-final last season and it would be nice to get some points after the 5-0 tonking we received at White Hart Lane in the League earlier this season.