Burnley and Leeds clash at Elland Road this Saturday with both sides needing a win if they are to stand any real chance of reaching the play-offs.
It`s now or never with Burnley simply having to beat Leeds United at Elland Road in their penultimate game of the season this Saturday if they want to keep their play-offs dreams alive. It looks like a mountain to climb anyway with the club also having to rely on both Nottingham Forest and Millwall to drop points in their last two remaining games of the season. Even if we beat Leeds, we would probably then still have to beat high-flying, automatic promotion-chasing Cardiff City at home in our final game of the season. Six points from our final two games of the season might still not be enough if Forest or Millwall win both their remaining games. It`s both in our hands and out of our hands!
Forest currently occupy the all important sixth and final play-offs spot on 69 points, two points clear of 7th placed Millwall and 8th placed Burnley. One thing is certain if Burnley do beat Leeds, we will have effectively ended their play-offs dreams. We are already one point clear of the 9th placed Yorkshire club. Both Hull (10th 64 points) and Leicester (11th 63 points) also have a mathematical chance of reaching the play offs, but at the moment realistically it looks like a four-horse race for sixth place.
Everything is stacked against the Clarets though with Forest, Millwall and Leeds all having a much better goal difference than Burnley which effectively gives these three clubs an extra one point advantage. All the Clarets can do is win their last two games and hope the others stumble.
Clarets fans are reminded that the Leeds game is being televised live by Sky Sports and will kick-off early at 12:45 pm. This effectively means our rivals will know what they have to do to keep their play-offs hopes alive with both Forest and Millwall kicking-off their home games against Scunthorpe and Swansea respectively at 3 pm.
The Clarets form took a dip at home to Portsmouth on Easter Monday. After three consecutive wins in impressive style at home to Swansea and Middlesbrough followed by Derby away, they could only manage a point against Pompey in a disappointing 1-1 draw. Now somehow we have to recapture the form we had before Easter Monday and play Leeds United off the park!
Leeds until recently looked to be in rampant mood and odds-on for a play-offs spot. The Yorkshire outfit of course were plying their trade in League 1 last season before securing the second automatic promotion spot and returning to the Championship. It is perhaps annoying that a club who suffered all sorts of financial problems, administration, points deductions and relegation have managed to claw their way back in such fashion compared to a club renowned for its financial prudence. We were unable to release the purse strings enough to stay in the Premier League last season or secure promotion in style at the first attempt it would appear this season so you do begin to wonder if there is such a thing as fairness in football. Clubs going into administration only seem to suffer a season or two in the lower leagues before bouncing back stronger whereas the Clarets prefer to go down stronger! (Yeah right!)
Oh well enough of beating that particular drum. What about Leeds current form? Well if the Clarets have any chance of winning it could be to take advantage of the opposition`s poor performances of late and put them on the back foot by getting the first goal. United have managed just one win in their last six games although that did happen to be a 4-1 thrashing of rival play-offs hopefuls, Nottingham Forest at Elland Road. Simon Grayson`s men though have struggled since with just two home draws and two points from their last five games, a sequence that also included three consecutive defeats on the road. It is also worth noting though that Leeds have not lost at Elland Road since October 2010.
Whichever way you look at it, Burnley still have a mountain to climb to reach the play-offs, one that seems to get steeper after every game.
The Clarets though have risen to the occasion in these circumstances so many times over the years. Now is the time to do so again and come away from Elland Road with a victory. A win would also clock up our seventh away win of the season, a feat that would equal our away form during our promotion season of 2008-9. That certainly seemed an impossible achievement earlier in the season, with the Clarets struggling to win away. Our first victory on the road this season did not come until Boxing Day when we defeated Barnsley 2-1 at Oakwell.
Beating Leeds would be even sweeter though even if in the end it still meant we just failed to finish in the top six. It`s always good to beat Leeds, the team nobody likes and it would certainly be revenge for the defeat at Turf Moor.
Come on you Clarets!
Leeds United Team News:
Leeds striker and leading goal-scorer, Luciano Becchio remains a doubt after missing the last two games due to a hamstring strain. He is battling to be fit for Leeds’ last two matches of the season.
Winger Lloyd Sam is also still struggling with a knee injury and is not expected to feature. Defender, Ben Parker is also doubtful
On-loan Aston Villa midfielder Barry Bannan has also been recalled by his parent club.
Manager Simon Grayson though has no new injury or suspension worries and looks unlikely to make too many changes to his side. Sanchez Watt who was a half-time substitute in place of on-loan Tottenham midfielder Jake Livermore in their last game against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Easter Monday will be hoping to retain his place. The same goes for striker Davide Somma, a second-half replacement for Billy Paynter in Monday’s 1-0 defeat.
Player to watch: Max Gradel
Burnley will hopefully not have to contend with Leeds leading goal-scorer, Luciano Becchio on Saturday. The Argentinian has scored 20 goals this season, 19 of them in the Championship but he has been out injured for the last two games with a hamstring injury and looks doubtful for the clash against the Clarets.
One player though who we will have to be wary of is Max Gradel. The 23 year old attacking winger has scored 17 goals in the Championship this season and is Leeds second highest scorer. He looked impressive in the game at Turf Moor earlier in the season and scored the first of Leeds three second-half goals helping his side come back from 2-0 down at halftime to win 3-2. He was also on fire in Leeds recent demolition of Forest at Elland Road scoring a brace of goals in their 4-1 vistory.
The former Leicester City man had two loan spells at Bournemouth before joining Leeds on loan in October 2009. The loan, initially for one month was extended into January before Gradel agreed a permanent move later that month after signing a two-and-a-half-year contract for an undisclosed fee.
Burnley Team News:
Dean Marney is struggling with the knee injury he picked up in the recent home game against Middlesbrough. It is likely he will miss the last two games of the season.
We know striker Charlie Austin is out for the remainder of the season with a dislocated shoulder but there is better news regarding Martin Paterson. The Northern Ireland international has been out of the first team since February after suffering a recurrence of the thigh strain which has blighted his season. However he played an hour for the reserves in their 3-2 defeat against Preston in midweek and even got on the score sheet. It is probably too early though for Pato to be considered for the Leeds clash but there is a chance he could feature in our last game of the season at home to Cardiff City.
Player to watch: Chris Iwelumo
Chris Iwelumo really needs to score a goal or two after a drought that goes back to February. He has not scored now since the 3-1 win at Watford on Saturday 12th February, his first and only goal on the road all season so far. The season started off well for Iwelumo and he quickly established himself as our leading goal-scorer scoring ten goals by the 1st January including a hat trick at home to Preston and a brace against Hull at Turf Moor. All his gaols though had been scored at home and he just couldn`t seem to score on the road.
There was a shock in store for Big Chris in January this year though when it looked like he did not feature in new manager, Eddie Howe`s plans. The club looked willing to send him out on loan despite being our leading goal-scorer at the time. He was linked strongly with a loan move to Lancashire rivals, Preston but the deal fell through due to financial problems at Deepdale. Things looked even bleaker for Iwelumo when the club signed striker, Charlie Austin in the January window thus relegating him to the bench for a number of games. However his opportunity came again when Austin picked up a dislocated shoulder which effectively ended his season. Even then though, he still had to fight for his place after Howe decided to bring in England Under 21 striker, Nathan Delfouneso from Aston Villa on loan window deadline day.
Iwelumo has perhaps been lucky that Delfouneso has also struggled to score allowing him recently to fight his way back into the starting eleven. The problem is though that the fans are getting impatient with the Scot and some believe our style of play simply does not suit him. He just can`t seem to score with wayward headers and off-target shots almost the norm. Both Eagles and Rodriguez have also overtaken him in the goal-scoring stakes. Iwelumo simply has to score before the end of the season if he is to get back in the fans good books and what a time it would be to do it against Leeds this Saturday.
Team & Tactics
With no new injury concerns or suspensions to worry about Eddie Howe looks set to name an unchanged side.
We can therefore expect the following line-up probably in 4-4-2 formation:
Jensen, Mears, Duff, Bikey, Fox, Elliott, Cork, McCann, Eagles, Iwelumo, Rodriguez
Subs: Grant, Carlisle, Bartley, Alexander, Wallace, Delfouneso, Thompson
Kent referee, Phil Crossley is in charge of this War of the Roses clash. He didn`t take up the whistle until he was 29, thereafter made rapid steps through the Suburban, Isthmian and Panel Leagues until his promotion to the National List of referees in 2002.
He has refereed 33 games this season handing out 7red cards and 88 yellows but this will be his first game of the season featuring the Clarets.
We have to go for it and hope both Forest and Millwall stumble along the way in their last two games. A victory for the Clarets would end Leeds United`s play-offs dreams and keep ours alive so we have to find that extra something from somewhere in front of one of the most hostile noisy fans you can imagine. Can we do it? Yes, of course we can so 2-1 Clarets!
It`s the final game of the season and what an important one it could be for both Burnley and Cardiff City. The two teams clash at Turf Moor on Saturday 7th May and fans are also reminded this game is an early 12:45 pm Kick-Off. Burnley could secure a play-offs place if they win whilst the Bluebirds could need the three points to secure automatic promotion. Then again if we lose against Leeds it could all be an anti-climax!