It`s crunch time with the Clarets travelling to the Madejski Stadium to play Reading on Tuesday night in the second leg of the Play-Offs Semi-Final. They have a 1-0 advantage after the first leg needing just a draw to achieve their Wembley dream.
Setting the Scene
The Clarets play Reading in the second leg of the Play-Offs Semi-Final on Tuesday night knowing that they only need to draw to ensure a trip to Wembley for the Play-Offs final. They have a 1-0 advantage after a hard fought game at Turf Moor on Saturday in the first leg. If truth be known we struggled in that game and put in a lacklustre performance unable it seemed to string together enough passes to put Reading under pressure. In the end the game was settled by one man, Reading defender, Andre Bikey. A shirt pull by Bikey in the area on Steve Thompson ensured the Clarets had a penalty from which Mr Cool Grezza stepped up to score and put the Clarets ahead 1-0 with just 6 minutes to play. Bikey then compounded Reading`s problems towards the end of the game by stamping on Blake straight in front of the referee. The red card seemed to give the Reading player, red mist and in one amazing tantrum he took off his shirt and threw it to the ground before storming off like a raging bull! Steve Coppell will not be too pleased that he will now have to change the back four with Bikey automatically banned from the second leg.
The Clarets can`t rely on their good fortune in the second leg though and they need to ensure a return to form with improvements in particular to their passing game. The victory on Saturday was the first away defeat for the Royals since January and in a bizarre reversal of fortunes for the Reading side, we now have to ensure they don`t win their first win at the Madejski since also January!
The mathematics are simple, away goals don`t count double so just a draw would secure victory. If the match finishes 1-1 on aggregate there will be 30 minutes of extra time followed by penalties if it`s still all square. The temptation for the Clarets might be to play for the draw and put out a defence minded team. That is something I certainly wouldn`t advocate and in any case I don`t think that has ever been Owen Coyle`s mindset.
We have to play our normal attacking game in my opinion and hope to get the first goal. If the Clarets could get 2-0 up on aggregate, the pressure on Reading would be immense. The psychological fear of losing at the Madejski yet again plus the home crowd getting agitated could be enough to see us through with ease.
One problem in achieving our target though could be the seemingly mounting injury list. Wade Elliott suffering from a calf injury failed a late fitness test for the first leg and he was sorely missed. The problems in midfield continued when Elliott`s replacement, Joey Gudjonsson in the first leg suffered a dead leg after an earlier strong clash with Duberry and had to be replaced after just 20 minutes. Chris Eagles was another casualty. He looked to be struggling all through the match and when he was substituted on the hour mark it turned out he had been suffering from a hip injury which could have explained his lacklustre performance. He spent the rest of the game on the bench with an ice pack! We simply just have to hope all three can recover in time for the second leg.
At least Reading also have their own problems. Bikey of course is automatically suspended for the second leg. The latest on him is that he will serve a four-game suspension since it is the Cameroonian’s second red card for violent conduct this season so he will serve one more than the usual three-game suspension. The ban will carry over into the 2009/10 season.
The Royals could also be without leading goal scorer, Kevin Doyle who had only just returned to the starting eleven after a niggling knee injury. In the first leg he picked up an Achilles injury and had to be substituted after 40 minutes of play.
Anyway enough of them, what will be our line-up? Once more this is going to be difficult to predict with three key midfielders injured. I am going to make the assumption that all three players pull through in time and are fit enough to play.
If that is the case, I suspect that once more we will line up 4-1-4-1 although I still have reservations about playing Paterson up front alone. He looked to be swamped out of the game in the first leg by the tall, powerful centre backs until Thompson joined him up front. Coyle might be tempted to start both strikers this time but if not I will go for the following sixteen as our best option:
Jensen, Duff, Carlisle, Caldwell, Kalvenes, Alexander, Eagles, McCann, Elliott, Blake, Paterson
Subs: Penny, Jordan, Gudjonsson, McDonald, Thompson
Reading Team News:
With Bikey suspended after the red card and tantrum in the first leg, Coppell could choose either Alex Pearce or Kalifa Cisse in the central defence role.
Doyle is doubtful after picking up an Achilles injury in the first leg but Glen Little is available although he wasn`t named in the first-leg sixteen and was watching the match in the dugout.
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.
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: Jay Tabb
He looked impressive and dangerous in the first-leg and nearly scored but for a spectacular save by Jensen. The 25 year old Republic of Ireland U21 winger and midfielder signed from Coventry in January 2009 for an undisclosed fee reuniting with his former gaffer at Brentford. Coppell was manager at Brentford between 2001-2 whilst Tabb had six years at Griffin Park ( between 2000-2006) before joining Coventry in June 2006.
Burnley Team News:
Clarets fans are sweating awaiting news concerning the fitness of three key injured midfielders
Chris Eagles has a hip injury, Gudjonsson a dead leg and Elliott a calf problem.
Player to watch: Brian Jensen
He was the Sponsor`s Man of the Match in the first leg at Turf Moor on Saturday. If Jensen can stop them scoring at the Madejski, we will be at Wembley for the Play-Offs final. It`s as simple as that! (cough)
Last Time We Met
It was 1-0 to the Clarets at Turf Moor on Saturday (obviously) with Graham Alexander getting the all important goal from the penalty spot.
However we also 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. The away game flattered Reading to be honest and we rode our luck maybe against them at home with the Beast once more in awesome form. Reading in that period though were flying high and looking odds-on for automatic promotion.
Mike Riley from West Yorkshire is in charge of this leg
The Clarets simply need to draw in order to get to Wembley but I don`t want Owen Coyle to try a negative defensive strategy. I don`t think it`s in his vocabulary anyway. If we can attack and get the first goal the Royals will have a mountain to climb and their minds will be full of doubt thinking about the Madejski curse. The Reading fans might also get on their back. I will predict a 1-1 draw though nevertheless.
Let`s all hope it`s 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. (We will know which on Monday night)
Whatever happens, our Match Previews & Reports will continue with the friendlies in the close season followed by the new 2009/10 season when hopefully we will have a load of new grounds to visit like Old Trafford!!
Come on You Clarets!