Cuban Claret provides his match preview ahead of the biggy against Rovers this Sunday
THIS Sunday throws up a spectacle many of us thought we’d never see.
For the first time since 1966, arguably the oldest and certainly the most parochial of all the established rivalries in our magnificent football league is rekindled when our beloved Burnley play Blackburn Rovers in the top flight.
Contrary to what our friends down the road might believe, history tells us it’s also the closest contested of all rivalries.
Of 158 encounters, 63 have been won by Rovers and 64 by the Clarets, with 31 draws.
So, only if Blackburn win on Sunday will the honours be shared.
(Editor’s note: If any Blackburn fans try and tell you any different, remind them of the 1897/98 season when we did the double over them in a ‘test match’ to decide who was staying up and who was to be relegated from the old first division. Blackburn were fortunate to be reinstated into the first division that year as the membership of the football league was enlarged. Haven’t they always been a set of lucky b*****s?).
For those readers who don’t reside in Lancashire, you won’t be surprised to learn that the county’s sport media have been having a field day this week. The BBC and the LET have been wheeling out random personalities of the past, from Terry Gennoe to Micah Hyde, in a vain attempt to relive the precious few moments the teams have done battle in recent years.
‘It’s bigger than the Glasgow derby’ according to Gennoe. I recall Graeme Souness saying exactly the same thing prior to his side mauling us back in 2001.
The fact is though, no matter how hard they try, there isn’t a comparable encounter in recent memory by which Sunday’s clash can be measured.
Blackburn are no longer among the best resourced clubs in the division, as they were when we last met in the league in 2001. While they’ve still spent heaps more than we have (won’t that always be the way?) it’s not an excuse we should be foraging for, should the outcome be a home win on Sunday.
A home win, and a squaring of the series, is the most likely outcome. Blackburn’s record at Ewood Park in 2009 is very impressive. They’ve lost only twice since the turn of the year, against Aston Villa last season and Man City this. Since the curtain raiser they have been good enough to beat an injury depleted Wolves, easily, and more impressively, bury their bogey team at home, Aston Villa, despite playing for the last quarter of the game with 10 men.
For Burnley’s part we have won only two league games away from home in 2009 – at Blackpool and Plymouth – although there was the small matter of Reading in the play-offs. And, as we are constantly reminded, we have yet to score a goal or a point against the (albeit) strong opposition in the Premier League so far.
That isn’t to say though, that the Clarets supporters shouldn’t board the prison buses without humour and hope.
Much has been said about the draconian measures in transporting the Burnley faithful in a convoy of buses along the M65. I am mildly inconvenienced by this, compared to some, but it’s time to accept it and take it in good faith. There are pubs opening for an 8am breakfast in Burnley and there will doubtless be some great camaraderie en route. Our early arrival at Ewood will mean our players will receive a rapturous welcome from a packed away end when they come out to train while the home fans will still be supping in the nearby hostelries. We must be loud if we are remain audible above the deafening Ewood create-an-atmosphere TV channel ‘Rovervision’. We must seize the opportunity to show our players how much they mean to us. And how about a three-verse anthem of No Nay Never, rather than just the chorus in the moments leading to kick-off. It is our song after all.
As for hope. Our manager’s record in the biggest ‘one-off’ games is extraordinary. We can be sure the Burnley players will be in the right state-of-mind. My only cause for concern is over Andre Bikey after he played 90 minutes in Angola for Cameroon this week. His ‘big-game mentality’ we witnessed in the play-offs was concerning and his role, probably containing Blackburn’s talisman David Dunn, could be pivotal. That said, he has yet to display petulance in a Burnley shirt and that is what we should judge him on.
Ultimately, we go there without pressure. Anyone in the right mind would take a defeat at Ewood for a higher points tally. The key is in making at least one of the chances that will inevitably come our way count and standing up to the aerial onslaught that will undoubtedly come our way.
Our record against Sheffield United last season is another good omen. We seemed to be the team who exposed their flaws more than anyone and we can expect a similar rigid style from Rovers, albeit from a better standard of player.
I fully expect Owen to pick the same team as played so well against Birmingham. We need big performances from all eleven and the subs could well have a massive part to play. Hopefully we have got the ‘rabbit in headlights’ away performances out of the way.
Hope is that we find the tempo of our home performances at 1pm on Sunday. If we do, there might be a goal and a point in it for us. Anything more really would be the crowning glory of an emotion-charged two years where, like our predecessors 50 years hence, we have dared to dream.