However you define a ‘must-win` game our clash against West Ham at Turf Moor this Saturday must surely fall under that category. This is a vital six-pointer no matter how you look at this match with Burnley second from bottom just one point behind the 15th placed Hammers. A victory on Saturday could propel us out of the relegation zone and as high as 14th spot. That would restore some confidence after no win now in 12 League games and it would also give our new manager, Brian Laws his first victory at the club after losing four out of four so far. Laws must be wondering what he has to do to get back to winning ways. If you take into account the results he had at Sheffield Wednesday before being sacked he has not won a match as a manager in the last 13 attempts!
It seems at the moment that every team in the relegation dogfight have had their little run with Burnley the one to suffer. We have lost seven of the last twelve league games but we have also had some creditable draws against Aston Villa, Fulham and Arsenal at Turf Moor not to mention our only point on the road so far against Manchester City. Nobody can really complain either about our performances away to Manchester United or at home to Chelsea last Saturday despite coming away with no points. We have to remain positive and hope we can string a few wins together. In the next few weeks we play a number of the struggling teams at Turf Moor and it is vital we get maximum points from these games starting on Saturday against the Hammers.
Predicted Team Sheet
Brian Laws has just two players sidelined for this clash. Steven Caldwell is still out with a persistent groin strain and Graham Alexander is still suffering with the calf injury that saw him substituted in our match against Bolton at the Reebok. Chris McCann though who was also substituted in the Bolton game has also been back in training and looks to be in contention for the Hammers match.
Kevin McDonald picked up a knock in our last match against Chelsea on Saturday but is understood to have recovered along with left back Christian Kalvenes who also limped off last Saturday. Stephen Jordan who picked up a hamstring injury in training before the Saturday FA Cup game against Reading two weeks ago is also believed to be in contention giving Laws a bit of a dilemma for the left back spot. It is likely that both Jordan and Kalvenes could be sidelined with new signing Danny Fox given his debut at left-back. Fox had been out for a couple of weeks with injury whilst at Celtic but is now believed to have recovered from his slight groin strain.
Another new signing who could make his Clarets debut is midfielder, Jack Cork. The 20 year old signed on loan from Chelsea on Monday`s transfer deadline day; the same day it was confirmed that David Nugent`s loan from Portsmouth had also been extended to the end of the season,
It will be interesting to see what formation Laws decides to go with against the Hammers. West Ham are likely to come at us knowing their style. Their emphasis will be on attack if their new signings in the transfer window are anything to go by although in recent games goal scoring has been their problem. Laws may take the view to play just one up front with a greater chance then of soaking up the pressure from West Ham in defence and midfield and catching them out on the break. If we play with just one up front that is likely to be Fletcher. If we decide on a strike pair, Nugent would now appear to be the obvious choice although Paterson might have something to say about that.
I think the best tactic would be to start off playing 4-5-1 and then revert to a 4-4-2 and replace one of the midfielders with Nugent if we need a Plan B
This would be my choice for the eighteen:
Jensen, Mears, Cort, Carlisle, Fox, Bikey, Eagles, Cork, McCann, Elliott, Fletcher
Subs: Weaver, Edgar , Duff, Blake, Nugent, Nimani, Paterson.
Burnley Team News:
Both Fox and Cork could make their debut for the Clarets. There are some rumours though that Fox might face a late fitness test. McDonald, Kalvenes, Jordan and McCann all seem to have recovered well from their injuries and knocks and could be in contention.
David Nugent has now returned from Portsmouth following their agreement to extend his loan until the end of the season. He missed the Chelsea game because of the indecision and Pompey`s tardiness but is now back in contention.
Steven Caldwell (persistent groin injury) and Graham Alexander (calf) remain sidelined
Player to watch: Danny Fox
All eyes will be on the new boy at left-back if he is selected ahead of both Jordan and Kalvenes. There is no getting away from the fact that left-back has been our main area of weakness this season with the opposition sensing that and punishing us with continual attacks down that flank. Fox will hopefully tighten up our defence and stem the flow.
West Ham United Team News:
It will certainly be interesting to see their line-up in attack. Carlton Cole has recovered from injury but has now been joined by three strikers signed in the January transfer window on deadline day. They completed the loan signings of strikers Mido from Middlesbrough and Brazilian Ilan from French club St Etienne.
The two deals followed the signing of another striker, Benni McCarthy from Blackburn Rovers earlier in the day.
West Ham now have nine strikers on their books!
The Hammers also have long-term injuries to Boa Morte (cruciate ligament), Zavon Hines (knee injury) and of course Calum Davenport who picked us serious leg injuries following an attack in his home.
Three players are also suffering from hamstring injuries and remain doubtful for the game at Turf Moor-Franco, Gabbidon and Dyer.
Player to watch: Carlton Cole
Cole picked up a knee injury in our match against the Hammers at Upton Park back in November. There were fears it would be a serious injury and keep him out for months but a scan revealed the extent of the injury was not as bad as first feared. Cole has now made a return to the side but has only been making appearances from the bench. He was scoring for fun before the injury. He had a strike rate of approximately one goal in every two matches and sadly for the Clarets he scored one against us from the spot in our 5-3 away defeat before he picked up his injury in the same match.
Zola though might be tempted to try one or more of his new signings up front in the starting eleven with Cole once more on the bench. I have a feeling though we might be seeing Cole play at some point in the game if not the full 90 minutes.
Back to the Future
Our last game against the Hammers was a very strange affair indeed. In our match against West Ham at Upton Park in November we put them under significant pressure for the first 20 minutes or so of the game and then went to sleep; so much so in fact that by the 64th minute we found ourselves 5-0 down and fearing the worst. We then found our earlier form and went on the rampage somehow scoring three goals in the last 25 minutes of the match. Fletcher got a brace scoring after 68 and 74 minutes with Eagles getting the third deep into added time. If the game could have been played for another quarter of an hour, we may well have pulled the game round such was our dominance at this point but we should never have let them get five goals ahead in the first place.
The last time we played West Ham at home was in their promotion season of 2004-5. We went down 1-0 at Turf Moor on the night of Tuesday 5th April 2005 giving West Ham the double over us that season after they beat us by the same score at the Boleyn Ground back in August 2004.
In the 1975-76 season, the last time we were in the top flight, we unluckily went down 3-2 at Upton Park in August 1975 but got revenge by beating them 2-0 in the return match at Turf Moor just before Christmas 1975. You can read more about these battles in our ‘Back to the Future` series on Vital Burnley. The games against the Hammers were covered in the article Back to the Future 3 (If We Had the Hammers) which you can find by clicking this link:
West Ham Back to the Future LINK
Kent referee, Steve Bennett will be in charge of this one. Let`s hope we don`t have to start calling him Gordon again! He has been in charge of just one of our league games this season and that was our first match in the top flight for 33 years in the season opener at the Britannia against Stoke City.
West Ham have won just one away game all season and that was the opener against Wolves back in August last year. They are undefeated in their last three games but these have all been draws. They may have defeated the Clarets 5-3 on their home soil back in November but since that time they have only won once against bottom club Portsmouth in their Boxing Day clash.
This has to be a win for the Clarets or we really are going to be low on confidence which is not good when you are already second from bottom. We have to play West Ham as though they are one of the Big Three and turn in a performance that matches Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea at home.
If we do that we should be far too strong for the Hammers. I actually think we are going to have a cracking day and get a thumping win something like 4-1. These clashes always tend to be high-scoring and we have a score to settle after the 5-3 defeat at their place this season
We face a tricky visit to Craven Cottage next Tuesday night (9th February @8pm Kick-Off). Fulham have not been on such good form of late though although they did beat Portsmouth at home in midweek. They will face Bolton at the Reebok this Saturday so we shall see if their form continues to improve. They are currently 10th with ten points more than the Clarets.
If that was not hard enough we continue our travels on the Sunday with a trip to Villa Park. Aston Villa are currently riding high in 7th spot and are challenging for a top four finish. Please note that this match is not only on a Sunday but kicks off early at 2pm.