The Clarets start their Easter schedule with a home match against Brighton on Good Friday with just five games of the season then remaining.
Burnley`s disappointing defeat at home to Birmingham in midweek finally ensured that any lingering hopes of mounting a late play-offs push had evaporated. Everything of course is still mathematically possible with six games and eighteen points still on offer but realistically with the club now ten points adrift of the sixth placed club, Brighton who we play on Good Friday we have nothing but pride to play for. Apart from a few hardcore ‘glass half-full`-types, that has been the position most Clarets fans have reluctantly accepted for many weeks now. Burnley are currently in 16th spot, not a good place to be and certainly disappointing after last season`s 8th. Barry Kilby claimed 8th last season was a failure and it now looks unlikely we can achieve or better anything like that this season.
All we can hope for in the remaining six games is a good run-in and maybe a Top 10 finish although again with our inconsistent form, a mid-table finish between 10-15th looks the most likely. It would though lift everybody`s spirits if we can beat play-offs chasing Brighton at Turf Moor this Friday and clock up our third double of the season following our 1-0 win at the Amex back in December. There has been little to cheer about in recent weeks, especially at home and you have to go back to February for our last win there. That 3-0 win against Barnsley seems like ages ago now and since that time we have had to suffer two defeats and two frustrating draws.
Brighton`s form has varied considerably throughout the season, but last season`s League 1 Champions are now back on the promotion chase and are currently in sixth spot. Gus Poyet`s men have only lost one of their last 16 games, winning eight and drawing seven. They are certainly on a roll and are undefeated in their last three picking up one win and two draws.
Their away form although reasonable could be better with only one win in their last six games. They beat Leeds 2-1 at Elland Road but that has been their only recent away win although they have also managed to pick up four draws on the road in the last six games as well.
Currently on 63 points they are one of three clubs separated only by goal difference with Blackpool above them in fifth and Boro below them in seventh. They will certainly not be an easy side to beat this Friday and they will be spurred on by the possibility of Premier League football next season.
Let`s spoil their party!
Burnley Team News:
Burnley are currently suffering from a number of injury problems. Rodriguez continues to recover from a ‘wear and tear` hip and groin injury whilst Martin Paterson is likely to still be sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Both our left-backs Ben Mee and Daniel Lafferty failed late fitness tests ahead of the Birmingham game in midweek forcing Eddie Howe into starting Ross Wallace out of position in the left back slot. With news this week that Brian Easton has played his last game for the Clarets and will leave when his contract expires in the summer, Howe will be hoping that Mee and/or Lafferty will be available for the Brighton game.
Dean Marney also took a blow to the head on Tuesday night against Brum and left the pitch for treatment of mild concussion. News is awaited but hopefully he too will have fully recovered by Friday.
Player to watch: Junior Stanislas
It will be interesting to see if Eddie Howe is tempted to start Junior Stanislas. Stanislas came on to replace Marney in the 59th minute against Brum on Tuesday night and he certainly livened up proceedings. The Clarets started to play some football when he came on after a lacklustre performance before that and he contributed to Burnley`s equaliser in the 74th minute and indeed put in a lively shift for most of his time on the pitch.
Stanislas is another of our players who have had an indifferent season to say the least. At times, most notably away to Ipswich recently he has looked underpar and disinterested but earlier in the season before picking up a hamstring injury, he contributed significantly to our good run and our form seemed to suffer when he was out injured.
We shall have to see if Stanislas did enough against Brum to warrant a starting eleven place but if he does play let`s hope he does well and can finish the season on a high during the run-in.
Brighton & Hove Albion Team News:
Defender, Gonzalo Jara Reyes is back in contention following the right back`s red card at Blackpool and subsequent three-match ban but two other players will be suspended. Midfielder, Matt Sparrow sits out the second of his two-match ban whilst holding midfielder, Liam Bridcutt begins his two-match suspension after picking up his tenth yellow card against Middlesbrough last Saturday.
Manchester City loan, Gai Assulin is also now fully fit. The 21 year old Israeli winger and attacking midfielder returned to training recently after recovering from a slight groin injury last month.
Player to watch: Sam Vokes
Clarets fans know all about Sam Vokes of course with the Wolves striker having joined Burnley on loan earlier in the season. His brief time at Turf Moor led to two goals from nine appearances but Mick McCarthy who was Wolves manager at the time decided not to extend his loan deal at the club, fearful he was not being given enough games by Eddie Howe.
Instead the 22 year old Welsh international finished up playing for Brighton on loan until the end of the season after signing for them at the end of January this year. He now faces the club he played for earlier in the season! Our defence will hopefully know how to keep him subdued and ensure he doesn`t add to his three goals from eleven games playing for the Seagulls so far.
Perhaps he could start scoring for us instead when we bring him to Turf Moor on a permanent deal in the summer? Is that likely? Who knows but such a signing would go some way to losing Jay Rodriguez should he go. Vokes contract at Wolves runs out in the summer of 2013 so they might be tempted to cash in on the player before he could leave on a Bosman although that may well depend on whether Wolves survive their relegation battle or not.
Team & Tactics:
With so many injuries at the moment and with no recent news on how well they are recovering, it is difficult to predict a starting eleven and sixteen for the Brighton clash without making some assumptions. I think we can safely assume both Rodriguez and Paterson will still be out injured and we have to hope at least one of our recognised left backs has recovered. Eddie Howe will no doubt also include one or two young guns on the bench and I suspect Cameron Howieson, who made his debut from the bench last Tuesday night will also be named as a substitute. Wes Fletcher and Steven Hewitt who were unused substitutes against Brum might also be hoping to be selected again.
I will go with the following prediction:
Grant, Trippier, Edgar, Duff, Lafferty or Mee (if fit), Wallace, Marney, McCann, Stanislas, Ings, Austin
Subs: Jensen, Bartley, McQuoid, Howieson, Hewitt
Carl Boyeson is the referee for our Good Friday game. The East Yorkshire referee has certainly been prolific with the red cards this season sending a player off in nearly 1 in every 3 games! 10 players have seen red in the 32 matches, Boyeson has been involved with this season with another 81 seeing yellow!
His last game in charge of a match involving the Clarets was last season’s 1-1 home draw against Portsmouth. Just three yellow cards were shown that day!
Burnley have lost seven games at home this season and also dropped points in a similar number of lacklustre draws. It is actually our home form that has been the most disappointing this season and you could argue it has spoilt our chances of mounting a promotion challenge
The Clarets recent run at Turf Moor has been the most disappointing of all with no win now in four games and only one in seven. Why should we believe it will be any different against Brighton, a club still in the mix for a play-offs place?
There is no rationale for this prediction but what the hell 3-0 Clarets!
The Easter fixtures continue when we play bottom club, Doncaster Rovers at the Keepmoat on Easter Monday (Kick-Off 3pm)