Burnley continue their hectic March schedule tonight with a home game against fellow play-offs hopefuls Charlton.Their fourth of seven games this month!
The Addicks at one point would have been hoping for automatic promotion but a recent slump including four defeats this year has seen them drop down into the chasing pack for a play-offs position. They now find themselves in 5th spot on 56 points just four points ahead of the 10th placed Clarets.
Lowly Preston beat them at the Valley in their last game, so the Clarets will be hoping for another Lancashire victory tonight to have any hope of keeping their play-off chances alive.
The Clarets form has not been breathtaking of late and we have managed only two draws in the last three matches. Cruel luck robbed the Clarets of an away win in our last match against Stoke after the home team equalised in the 90th minute following a dubious penalty decision.
By contrast, we secured a draw against Watford in our last home match, a game that seemed like a victory after twice being behind with everything going against us.
The truth though is that our form is not consistent enough and we are quite capable of throwing in a horror show. This can be adequately demonstrated by the Hull match a week ago at the KC and to some degree in the previous away game at Plymouth.
Nine matches remain to the end of the season, five of them home matches. We really need maximum points from these home games, starting tonight and pick up what we can on the road to stand any chance of achieving our play-offs dream.
The main talking point tonight will be the return of former Clarets striker, Andy Gray. That is assuming he is selected to play by Charlton boss, Alan Pardew. Gray is likely to get a hostile reception tonight from the Clarets fans in view of the manner in which he departed from Turf Moor in the January window. They will not take kindly to Mr Double Your Money who held the club to ransom in an effort to leave Turf Moor by refusing to wear the shirt with pride in the game against Coventry at the Ricoh back in January. Many Clarets fans are still bitter about the way he treated the club, considering we more or less rescued him from obscurity.
Andy Gray is still our season`s top scorer but justice seems to have prevailed with Gray still to score for the Addicks. It would be typical if he now scored for them tonight! He was however only named on the bench in their last game against Preston although he did come on in the 46th minute.
Pardew told BBC London:
‘I may have to look to the group to find the players who will represent us in the right way.
‘The chasing pack is going to close in on us. They will see weakness in us and we’ve got to respond to that.’
Charlton`s Ben Thatcher is close to a return after six months out injured while there are players on the bench such as Andy Gray, Lee Cook, Jose Semedo and Scott Sinclair who will be pushing for a start. It will be interesting if Gray even makes the starting eleven tonight.
Anyway enough of Gray & the Addicks, what will the Clarets line-up be tonight?
Chris McCann will be sidelined with a thigh strain and could be out for three weeks. Another midfielder, Joey Gudjonsson is suspended, sitting out his final game of a two match ban following his second yellow sending off in the match at Hull a week ago.
Alan Mahon however will be available in midfield. He has recovered from a niggling hamstring injury and played in his first game since January after coming on from the bench in our last match against Stoke.
The midfield line-up could be a dilemma for Owen Coyle and it will be interesting to see if Mark Randall or Alan Mahon is selected in the starting eleven. Mark Randall made his full debut against Stoke but he failed to impress and was substituted in the second half. There is also the question of whether Ade Akinbiyi and Andrew Cole will be named as our strike pairing. If so, will there be a place for Blake?
Steven Caldwell returns after his one match ban for a second yellow sending off against Hull. The captain is likely to start, I would suspect replacing Varga despite the tall central defender having a good game against Stoke.
I would still like to see Blake, Cole and Akinbiyi play together with Blake just behind the strike pairing but I suspect Coyle with have one of these on the bench.
A possible line up could be as follows:
Kiraly, Alexander, Carlisle, Caldwell, Harley, Elliott, James O`Connor, Mahon, Lafferty, Cole, Akinbiyi
Subs: Jensen, Varga (or Unsworth), Blake, Randall, Spicer
‘Charlton are a very good side who have invested a lot of money into their squad, but we have got a group of players who know they can win that game and we’ll be ready for it,
‘There are going to be so many twists and turns in the Championship and you have to make sure you are at your best each game. If we do that, we are more than capable of going on an unbeaten run and hopefully that will start on Tuesday night with three points.
‘It will be very difficult, there is no getting away from it, there are two big, big games this week with Charlton and Wolves. We need to make sure we are at our best and try to maximise the points return.’
Burnley Team News:
Burnley will have Steven Caldwell back from suspension
Joey Gudjohnsen is still suspended and fellow midfielder Chris McCann is also out and could miss three weeks with a thigh strain.
Player to watch: Andrew Cole
Hopefully he will start tonight and score one more than Andy Gray!
Charlton Athletic Team News:
Pardew is likely to be without winger Lloyd Sam. Sam suffered a hamstring injury after just 14 minutes of the home against Preston last Saturday.
He was replaced by on-loan Chelsea winger Scott Sinclair, who could be named in the starting eleven tonight. Sinclair of course was also linked with a loan move to Burnley before chossing the Addicks.
Ben Thatcher has also now fully recovered from knee surgery and could start at left-back should Pardew opt to rest Kelly Youga.
Pardew has a number of options in attack and is likely to pick two from Leroy Lita, Andy Gray, Luke Varney and Chris Iwelumo.
Madjid Bougherra (foot) is still sidelined along with long-term knee-injury victims Svetoslav Todorov, Chris Dickson and Izale McLeod
Player to watch: Andy Gray
Andy Gray for obvious reasons, assuming he is selected.
The striker has not scored for Charlton since signing for the Addicks in the January window and it would be typical if he suddenly found his scoring touch against his former club. Would an hostile reception by the Clarets fans have a positive or negative effect on the player?
Last Time We Met
We defeated Charlton at the Valley back in December 2007. It was a brace by Gray that day that probably gave Pardew his interest in the player, McCann got the other goal in our 3-1 victory.
You have to go back to September 1996 for the last time we played the Addicks at Turf Moor and that was in a League Cup match. We lost 2-1 in that leg and 6-2 on aggregate.
Season 1994/5 was the last time we played Charlton in the League before that. A season in which we got the double over them. We best them 2-0 at Turf Moor in April 1995 after beating them earlier in the season, 2-1 away.
We simply have to have to win this one and take advantage of Charlton’s current poor form. 2-1 Clarets
The next match is against Wolves yet another play-offs contender, at Turf Moor this Saturday (15th March @ 3pm KO)