On Saturday we play the first of our two legs in the Play-Offs Semi Final. Reading are the obstacle in the way trying to prevent us reaching Wembley. This first leg will be played at Turf Moor with the second leg played at the Madejski Stadium on Tuesday night. (12th May).The winner on aggregate will face either Sheffield United or Preston at Wembley on Spring Bank Holiday Monday (May 25th).
Setting the Scene
The euphoria of last Sunday when we defeated Bristol City 4-0 at Turf Moor in the last fixture of the 2008/9 season has still not died down in the pubs and clubs around Burnley.
The importance of that victory of course was that it ensured we would finish in the play-off spots for the first time since being promoted to the Championship in 2000. We finished the season in 5th spot and therefore will now play 4th placed Reading over two legs in one of the play-offs semi-finals. The team finishing higher are given the advantage of playing their second-leg at home, although in Reading`s case they might have preferred this to have been the other way round. The Royals have not won at the Madejski now since the end of January when they defeated ultimate Champions, Wolves 1-0 thanks to an own goal by Neill Collins.
Reading may well be regretting therefore having to play their second leg at home on the basis of such poor home form and no doubt will have at the back of their mind their last home defeat to Birmingham last Sunday. That 2-1 defeat ensured that it would be Birmingham and not Reading that would secure the 2nd place finish and last remaining automatic promotion spot.
The psychological advantage for the Clarets of going into these play-offs on a high and in winning form therefore could be a bonus against the Royals in the first leg at Turf Moor this Saturday (9th May 5:20pm Kick-Off). Let`s hope we can at least take some sort of a lead to the Madejski on Tuesday night (12th May 7:45pm Kick off) and can rely on Reading`s poor home form continuing.
We will however have to treat Reading with respect at Turf Moor, their home form might be poor but their away form is pretty impressive. The Royals are unbeaten in nine away games, stretching way back to the 2-0 loss at Swansea City in January. Our home form though has been equally impressive. We have only lost four League games at home all season and we have won our last five games at home. Out of the five other teams in the automatic promotion or play-offs spots, we have beaten four of them at Turf Moor and drawn one (against Birmingham)
The play-offs winner on aggregate over two legs (and remember away goals do NOT count double) will face either Sheffield United or Preston at Wembley. These two sides fight out their play-offs semi-final first-leg tonight (Friday 8th May 7:45pm Kick-Off) at Deepdale with the return leg at Bramall Lane on Monday night (11th May 7:45pm Kick-Off)
Clarets fans were disappointed this week to hear that we would have to say goodbye to on-loan defender Rhys Williams. He has now returned to Middleborough and will take no part in our play-off matches.
Unfortunately, the emergency loan we agreed with Boro gaffer, Gareth Southgate expired this Monday and despite two appeals to the Football League by Owen Coyle, the rule could not be overturned nor the loan extended. Under normal circumstances this might not have been too much of a problem and Michael Duff could easily have returned and slotted into the right back role. However we also currently have injury doubts over defender, Clarke Carlisle and midfielder Wade Elliott.
Both players were substituted in last Sunday`s match against Bristol City having picked up knocks. Coyle though sounded reasonably optimistic this week that both could recover in time for the Saturday match.
‘Clarke Carlisle and Wade Elliott are concerns at the moment, but I am hoping they will be able to train on Friday,’
The back-four would need some careful thought now that Williams is no longer available, especially if Clarke Carlisle also fails to recover in time. Michael Duff is widely regarded as a better centre back than right back so if Carlisle is not available, he could find himself in the centre of defence with Alexander in the right back position. That would not be too much of a problem although it could mean that the holding midfield option may have to be ditched in favour of 4-4-2 unless Coyle selects Gudjonsson to take up the holding midfield role.
Stephen Jordan could play in the centre of defence but he hasn`t played for the team since the defeat at home to Sheffield Wednesday back in February. It is also known that on-loan defender Russell Anderson is currently in training after being out virtually all the season with cruciate ligament damage but it is probably too soon to see him play and it would surely be a risk to start him in these massive games now coming up.
Predicting the team is therefore difficult in view of the injury uncertainties and options available.
If both Carlisle and Elliott have recovered from injury, then I suspect the team would look like this and play 4-1-4-1:
Jensen, Duff, Carlisle, Caldwell, Kalvenes, Alexander, Eagles, McCann, Elliott, Blake, Paterson
Subs: Penny, Gudjonsson, McDonald, Rodriguez, Thompson
On the other hand if both Carlisle and Elliott are still injured and Alexander is required to play at right back, I would suggest the following line up in 4-4-2 formation would be a good alternative:
Jensen, Alexander, Duff, Caldwell, Kalvenes, Eagles, McCann, McDonald, Blake, Paterson, Thompson
Subs: Penny, Jordan, Gudjonsson, MacDonald, Rodriguez
There is some argument for having a twin strike force and many Clarets fans feel Paterson performs better when he can feed off a tall-striker up front with him and it will be interesting to see if Coyle is tempted to play this option on Saturday or keep with just Paterson as the target man. If Alexander is playing at right-back, Gudjonsson could come on from the bench into the holding midfield role and the side revert from 4-4-2 to 4-1-4-1 if need be.
Burnley Team News:
Michael Duff looks set to return now that Rhys Williams has returned to Middlesbrough. He could play at either right back or centre back depending on whether Clarke Carlisle has recovered from his knock or not. News is also awaited concerning Wade Elliott and he could be doubtful after picking up a knock in the last match.
Player to watch: Robbie Blake
The magician and supporters` player of the year, Robbie Blake scored against Reading in our 1-0 win over them at Turf Moor back in October last year after coming on as a substitute. It was the end of a bad run for Robbie who had been sidelined on the bench and had previously made only four starts out of 17 appearances. The Reading game was a good omen for Blake. He then played in all the remaining games to the end of the season being named in the starting eleven for all the matches and coming on just once from the bench. Let`s hope he can turn on the magic this Saturday once again and maybe bag a goal or two.
Reading Team News:
Former Clarets winger, Glen Little returned to training this week after a slight hamstring injury kept him out of their last game against Birmingham. He could return to face his former side. Stephen Hunt or maybe Jimmy Kebe could miss out if Little returns.
Kevin Doyle has fully recovered from a niggling knee injury and could be in Steve Coppell`s plans for a starting role.
James Harper, Chris Armstrong, Noel Hunt and Leroy Lita though are all out. Lita is back in light training but will not be fit in time for the second leg on Tuesday evening.
Club skipper, Graeme Murty has been sidelined since the end of February and is still receiving treatment. Ivar Ingimarsson is a long-term absentee.
Player to watch: Glen Little
Reading`s leading goal scorer in the Championship is Kevin Doyle with 18 goals so if he is named in the starting eleven he will obviously need watching. Clarets fans though no doubt will be watching Glen Little, now 33 should he feature to see if he still has the skills he had when he played for the Clarets.
Last Time We Met
We played Reading twice last October in the League. At the start of the month we suffered a 3-1 defeat at the Madejski Stadium with Chris McCann getting our goal but got revenge at Turf Moor three weeks later in a 1-0 victory thanks to a goal from substitute, Robbie Blake.
Martin Atkinson takes charge of the home leg with Mike Riley refereeing the second leg at the Madejski Stadium. Both are from West Yorkshire.
I would take any sort of win at Turf Moor to take to the Madejski. I suspect this will be very close may be 1-0 or 2-1 to us. Hopefully we could then at least draw at Reading. Away goals do not count double at any stage of the play-offs. If the teams are level at the end of the second leg, there will be 30 minutes of extra time, then penalties if the scores are still level.
Reading at the Madejski Stadium on Tuesday 12th May 2009 in the second leg of the play-offs semi-final (Kick-Off 7:45pm). This will hopefully be followed by a trip to Wembley on Spring Bank Holiday Monday (25th May 2009) to face either the Blades or Lilywhites in the Championship Play-Off final. Come on You Clarets!