Burnley make the long journey down to the Hampshire coast today to play second-from-bottom club Portsmouth at Fratton Park.
It is very difficult these days for Clarets fans to raise their spirits. The season effectively over and the play-offs dream shattered, Burnley have not won a game now in seven attempts and they are joint bottom of the ‘form’ table, and on the longest current winless sequence in the division.
Looking back, you just wonder if the defeat at Reading took a lot out of the side considering we played probably our best game of the season without picking up a point. Had we won that game, we might now still be challenging strongly for a play-offs spot but since that time we have only managed three draws and played some pretty dismal football at times.
We have also dropped steadily down the table and we are currently 16th on 50 points, 12 points behind sixth placed club, Middlesbrough with a game in hand. If we finish there or thereabouts it will have been a very disappointing season and we have just eight games left to try and improve our position and finish as high as possible in the table.
I don`t think you would have been able to find one Clarets fan, that day at Wembley back in May 2009 who would have predicted Burnley would be in this position three seasons later. The relegation, the Coyle departure, the Laws debacle and the rebuilding and so-called transition have taken their toll, to the extent we are not much further forward now than we were at the time Cotterill left. We are still pleading poverty and the parachute payments are dwindling. There could be bleak times ahead at Turf Moor unless the Board backs the gaffer in the summer and we can build an effective squad with the depth and quality we need to mount a proper promotion challenge.
That`s for the future though. We still have to play this season out starting with struggling Portsmouth at Fratton Park today (Saturday). The financial problems off the pitch and Portsmouth’s administration predicament for the second season running have been well documented. The club`s financial situation has threatened Pompey`s very existence. If they survive that they still face a relegation battle to stay in the Championship after being docked ten points for once again going into administration. Pompey are currently second from bottom three points away from safety. So will a side effectively only playing for pride be able to beat a team fighting for their Championship lives? We have to hope so. Clarets fans need some cheering up and another defeat is unthinkable against a club such as Portsmouth. If Michael Appleton`s men complete the double over the Clarets this season following their 1-0 win at Turf Moor back in December it will certainly be a sobering thought.
The financial situation at Fratton Park has also affected the depth of quality in the squad with a number of key players being forced out on loan until the end of the season to save cash. Erik Huseklepp, Liam Lawrence, Stephen Henderson and Hayden Mullins have all secured loan deals. By picking up cash from these loan fees and implementing a salary cut, Portsmouth have managed to hold onto some of their key players though including Joel Ward and Jason Pearce. They have also brought in Rams striker, Chris Maguire on a month-long emergency loan. Since his arrival at the start of the month the former Aberdeen forward has scored twice in five appearances.
Pompey`s form of late despite their lowly position has not been too bad either especially at home. They have won two and drawn one of their last six games whilst at Fratton Park they are undefeated in three matches. In their last two home games, play-offs and promotion chasing hopefuls, Birmingham (4-1) and Hull City (2-0) have both been sent packing at Fratton Park. Portsmouth surprisingly are also one of the three clubs in the Championship remaining who have not been defeated by more than two goals all season along with Burnley and Reading. Let`s hope if that changes on Saturday it won`t be at the expense of the Clarets.
Come on you Clarets, play with that pride and stick another nail in Pompey`s coffin!
Portsmouth Team News:
Portsmouth manager Michael Appleton looks set to name an unchanged side after coming through the game against Hull at Fratton Park in midweek with no new injury concerns.
Italian forward Luca Scapuzzi though will be hoping to make his full debut after starting on the bench for Pompey`s last two games.
Although Appleton only has a small squad to choose from, he still seems to avoid selecting established players like Kanu and Benjani..
Player to watch: David Norris
31 year old midfielder, David Norris is currently Pompey`s joint highest scorer this season with six goals; an honour he shares with Erik Huseklepp who is now out on loan to Birmingham.
It was a stoppage-time goal from Norris that secured all three points for Portsmouth at Turf Moor in December.
Norris signed for Portsmouth on a free transfer in June 2011 after turning down a new two year deal with Ipswich
Burnley Team News:
Eddie Howe looks likely to be without top goal-scorer, Jay Rodriguez again. He missed the last game with a groin injury and looks set to be rested. Daniel Lafferty though could be set for a return at left back.
Player to watch: Ross Wallace
He seems to have gone-off-the-boil of late despite a much better season this time round compared to 2010-11. Wallace went through a period where he looked very impressive picking up a number of man of the match awards but that seems like ages ago now. It would be nice to see him return to his earlier form.
Team & Tactics
With Jay Rodriguez still struggling with a groin problem Howe could be tempted to name an unchanged sixteen for the Pompey clash.
The official site match preview though suggests Lafferty could make a return so I would be tempted to select him in my starting eleven at left back with Ben Mee back on the bench. Will Howe also be tempted to perhaps blood some of the young guns with our season now effectively over? He did name Steven Hewitt on the bench against West Ham at Turf Moor last Saturday but he remained warming it! I suspect Howe will play safe and stick with his regular choices.
The line-up then could look something like this:
Grant, Trippier, Duff, Edgar, Lafferty, Wallace, McCann, Marney, Bartley, Ings, Paterson
Substitutes: Jensen, Mee, Stanislas, McQuoid, Austin
Former Premier League referee, Stuart Atwell from Warwickshire last featured in a game involving the Clarets in the corresponding fixture against Portsmouth at Fratton Park last season and we beat Pompey that day 2-1! That will hopefully be a good omen with the same referee once again in charge this season. He handed out just two yellow cards in the fixture last season and had a generally good game. This season, in his 25 games so far, he has shown red five times and handed out 86 yellows. Atwell is certainly a controversial figure despite such a relatively short-career and fast-tracking. He seems to be remembered mainly for his gaffes; gaffes which ultimately led to demotion from the Select Group Referees and loss of his Premier League status. He will probably be most remembered for awarding the goal-that-wasn`t in the Watford v Reading game but the straw that broke the camel`s back came when he sent off Bolton`s Gary Cahill now of course with Chelsea.
Anything other than a win against such a struggling side would be unthinkable but I fear that a defeat could be on the cards. We look low on confidence and fighting spirit at times. 2-0 to Pompey but I so much hope I am wrong and we can avoid the embarrassment.
The Clarets now play three times in nine days
The rearranged game at home to Birmingham takes place next week on the night of Tuesday 3rd April (Kick-Off 7:45pm) ahead of the Easter break. It won`t be a break for the Clarets though since they will then face Brighton at Turf Moor on Good Friday (Kick Off 3pm) before a trip to the Keepmoat to play Doncaster Rovers on Easter Monday (Kick-Off 3pm)