Burnley are once more on the road this Saturday following their disappointing 5-3 defeat against West Ham at the Boleyn Ground a week ago. They now travel down to the coastal waters of Hampshire and will be looking for the Victory! No not the famous flagship of Lord Nelson moored in Portsmouth Harbour but a victory at Fratton Park against Pompey.
We will never get a better chance of securing our first three points away this season. Portsmouth are currently propping up the table and are in all sorts of financial problems off the pitch. The latest news confirms for the second time this season that the club have been unable to pay some of the players` wages for November.
It has been a torrid season for Portsmouth with just two wins so far in this campaign. A scapegoat was looked for and it was the gaffer, Paul Hart who got the chop to be replaced recently by former Chelsea manager, Avram Grant. Portsmouth performances on the pitch have not improved significantly under Grant and he is still looking for his first win after two drubbings at home. His side went down 4-1 to Manchester United last Saturday although in fairness they did look lively and were unlucky not to score first. That disappointment was followed by another in midweek when they got beat 4-2 by Aston Villa in the Carling Cup quarter-final. Portsmouth`s morale and motivation must be pretty low at the moment and we need to make sure we punish them on Saturday in a game which is a ‘must-win` match for them. If we secure a win at Fratton Park we will be thirteen points clear of Portsmouth who currently only have seven points. We will be looking good in mid-table and will have made our task of survival in the top flight that much easier. Come on you Clarets!
Predicted Team Sheet
There are no fresh injury concerns for Owen Coyle but we will be without both Steven Caldwell and David Nugent. Caldwell was sent off in stoppage time against West Ham last Saturday and now faces a one-match ban. David Nugent is of course on loan from Portsmouth so under a Premier League ruling is ineligible to play against his current club. Owen Coyle will be hoping to discuss Nugent with Avram Grant on Saturday and establish what chance there might be of signing Nugent permanently in the January window. His absence on Saturday could give an opportunity for Steven Thompson to feature with both Martin Paterson and Jay Rodriguez still recovering from their long-term injuries.
Nugent has not been in the starting eleven for the last five matches but has come on to play in all these games from the bench. Thompson on the other hand has been on the bench for the last eight games and has been unused in the last five matches making his last start for the Clarets in the Carling Cup game against Hartlepool back in August.
The most likely scenario is that Coyle will start Steve Fletcher alone up front against Portsmouth with Thompson on the bench again, but this time Thommo having a greater chance of coming on at some point in the absence of Nugent. Unless Coyle changes tactics and prefers 4-4-2 it is unlikely both Fletcher and Thompson will start together up front but it remains an option.
The most interesting dilemma for Coyle will be in the back four in the absence of our captain, Steven Caldwell. It seems the most obvious choice would be to play Duff in the centre alongside Carlisle. Duff though has yet to feature in a first team Premier League game and his only appearance so far this season was coming on from the bench in the second half against Barnsley at Oakwell in the Carling Cup defeat back in September. Duff has been an unused substitute in the last eight games though and will be biting at the bit to start his first game in the top flight.
Coyle though does have other options. He could move Bikey back into the centre of defence rather than play him in midfield allowing either Kevin McDonald or Joey Gudjonsson to start. Another possibility could be to play Jordan in the centre with Kalvenes at left back. The least probable would be to bring in David Edgar but the former Newcastle defender has not played any first team football so far for the Clarets in the Premier League. His only appearance was a start in the Carling Cup game against Hartlepool and he was an unused sub in the Barnsley match in the same competition. It would seem strange to start Edgar ahead of Duff and it would be a huge disappointment for the Northern Ireland international if Edgar got the nod instead. I suspect though Edgar could be named on the bench if Duff starts.
Stephen Jordan had a torrid time last Saturday against West Ham before being replaced by Kalvenes after 55 minutes but it transpired that he was under the weather and suffering from some sort of bug. Assuming he has fully recovered I expect Coyle will keep faith with him ahead of Kalvenes.
There are certainly a number of options in the centre of defence but the one causing the least disruption in my opinion would be to start Duff and I predict the eighteen will be as follows:
Jensen, Mears, Carlisle, Duff, Jordan, Alexander, Eagles, Elliott, Bikey, Blake, Fletcher
Subs: Penny, Kalvenes, Edgar, McDonald, Gudjonsson, Guerrero, Thompson.
Portsmouth Team News:
David James could return in goal after making a quicker than expected recovery from a calf injury he picked up in the warm up before their game at Stoke last month. Papa Bouba Diop (hamstring) and Steve Finnan (groin) both retuned to training this week and could feature.
The biggest loss for Pompey will be their defender, Younes Kaboul. The 23 year old centre back picked up his fifth yellow in the Carling Cup game against Villa this week and will be suspended for the clash against the Clarets. Portsmouth have alternatives for his replacement. They could hand Mike Williamson his long-awaited Pompey debut following a frustrating time since he signed from Watford for £3 million back in August 2009. More likely though could be the return of Marc Wilson to the starting line up in the centre of defence partnering Tal Ben-Haim. Steve Finnan could return to right back although it is more probable that Anthony Vanden Borre will keep his place in this position after having a good game against Villa in midweek. Tal Ben-Haim is normally of course the right back but he looks set to continue in the centre of defence for the moment.
The biggest surprise this season perhaps is that Pompey striker, Kanu has not featured more. He has been named on the bench 14 times out of the 18 Pompey games this season and it will be interesting to see if Avram Grant gives the 33 year old Nigerian international a rare start.
Player to watch: Tal Ben-Haim
Pompey`s problems seem to be scoring with just 11 goals from 14 league games this season; the lowest in the top flight. We have to hope we can keep their forwards at bay yet again and it is certainly difficult to select one of their forwards to watch.
The key to our success could be exploiting their weakness in the back four especially in the absence of the suspended Younes Kaboul. All eyes therefore could be on the back four and in particular Tal Ben-Haim. The 27 year old Israeli international penned a four year deal with Pompey after signing from Manchester City in August 2009. He normally plays for Portsmouth at right back but can play at centre back and he looks likely to play in the centre again this Saturday.
Burnley Team News:
Captain, Steven Caldwell sits out a one match suspension following his red card at West Ham last Saturday and David Nugent on loan from Pompey is not eligible to play.
It is hoped Stephen Jordan has recovered from his bug that affected his play against the Hammers last week.
Of the three long term injured players, Chris McCann is making remarkable progress and is targeting a return against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday 16th January. Scans revealed that the midfielder had torn both his medial and cruciate ligament but it is understood the latter has reattached itself.
It is understood that Martin Paterson (torn cartilage) and Jay Rodriguez (broken ankle) are also making progress. They were expected to return by the end of the year.
Player to watch: Steven Fletcher
He seems to be on fire at the moment and is our leading goal-scorer with eight goals so far in all competitions. Fletcher will be hoping to add to the late brace he scored against West Ham at Upton Park last Saturday. Hopefully he can score first against Pompey this Saturday and put them under pressure. Chris Eagles in particular seems to be developing a good understanding with Fletcher, last Saturday he assisted in both Fletcher goals and then Fletcher dummied the cross from Mears to allow Eagles to fire home our third in the dying seconds of stoppage time. More of the same from these two please!
Back to the Future
It is over 50 years since the Clarets played Portsmouth in the top flight. In the 1958-59 season we played Pompey three times, once in a FA Cup a game at Turf Moor which we won 1-0 and of course twice in the League. We lost 4-2 at Fratton Park but won 2-1 at Turf Moor with Pointer & Pilkington getting the goals.
It would then be another 13 years before the two sides would clash again this time in the old second division. That season (1971-72) would be remembered because the blond bombshell, and Clarets favourite Ray Pointer was now playing for Pompey. We lost 3-1 though at Turf Moor before getting revenge at Fratton Park in the final match of the season by beating them 2-1 with Dobson and Thomson getting the goals. The Clarets would finish 7th that season with Pompey 16th. The next season would be our promotion as champions to Division One and in so doing we would get the double over Portsmouth beating them 2-0 away thanks to goals by Fletcher and Thomas and then thumping them 4-0 at Turf Moor. Goals by Nulty, Fletcher and a brace from Casper did the damage.
The last time we were in the top flight before this season in 1975-76, Portsmouth were a struggling second division side and indeed they finished bottom and were relegated to the third tier. Our slide had begun too though and in just another four years we would be playing them again in the Third Division and losing both home and away!
Portsmouth have actually been unbeaten in their last nine meetings in all competitions with the Clarets. The Clarets last victory over Pompey was a 3-0 victory in February 1982 in the third tier. That day our goal scorers were Taylor, Phelan and Scott.
Our last match against Portsmouth was in the Carling Cup competition. The match was played at Turf Moor in September 2007 and sadly for the Clarets we were knocked out losing 1-0 to the Premier League side with the goal ironically scored by David Nugent!
Phil Dowd (Stoke-on-Trent)
Pompey have the worst home record in the Premier League, with six defeats out of seven at Fratton Park and the Clarets have the worst away record with just one point from a possible 21 and a goal difference of -17. So something will have to give! It would be easy to predict a draw.
The fact that Portsmouth are bottom of the League, have financial problems and have a new manager who has yet to lead his team to victory just fills you full of dread. This is a must-win game for Pompey if they are to stay in touch with the other sides struggling in the relegation zone. We just have to focus and play our normal game. What though is our normal game, especially away from home? We certainly can`t play the way we did against West Ham after the first 20 minutes and before the last 20 minutes! All Clarets fans will be hoping that the team who played against Manchester City at Eastlands turns up. You can`t see the Clarets surrendering a 2-0 lead against the likes of Pompey and we have to hope we can at least take the lead to put them under pressure. If we do that their heads could drop and self-doubt take effect. I will go for a 2-1 victory to the Clarets.
Fulham are the visitors to Turf Moor on Saturday 12th December (Kick-off 3pm)