If you were a team like Southampton looking over your shoulder at the relegation places, with three games left in the season and you knew every point was vital what sort of team would you want to play?
The answer must surely be someone like Burnley a side whose season is over and a team that realistically have nothing to play for but pride.
Yes, mathematically there is still a chance of the Clarets finishing sixth but too many miracles would be involved.
So what does Coyle do today, does he experiment and radically change the side with an eye to next season? Does he try to finish as high as possible and somehow motivate the team to go out for an emphatic win? A Top 10 finish would at least show some improvement over last season whilst a further slide down the table would mean we will have virtually finished in the same position as last season under Cotterill(despite not having a 19-winless run!)
One clever ploy might be to scare the whole squad into believing that none of them are safe in the close season including those still under contract, and that they will be judged based on their performance in the last three games. Cue Owen Coyle, who said this week:
‘There are players who are out of contract, and players within contract, and if we feel they’re not going to be in the team then it’s a bit of juggling and a bit of wheeling and dealing,’
‘I’ve said to the players before, because they’re under contract doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to be here.
‘I know players have got a lot of power in that respect, with some sitting on nice salaries.
‘But the bottom line is, I only want players here at the football club that are going to give everything they have to get in the team and show what they want to do, and anything they go and achieve is on the back of what they achieve with Burnley Football Club, not because of previous tenures at other football clubs.’
So time for the lads to give everything they have got in the game at Southampton but will they be able to against a team determined to avoid relegation, a team which recently beat high-flyers, Bristol City 2-1 in their last home game and also got a creditable point away to Charlton?
Southampton are currently in 19th place on 50 points. 50 points are often regarded as the target for safety but it is nowhere near enough this season.
Two relegation places have already been decided with Scunthorpe and Colchester both now playing League 1 football next season. Leicester City currently occupy the third from bottom slot and they have 48 points just two points behind the Saints with Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry nestled between them on 49 points.
Three points today for the Saints and they could be virtually safe depending on other results around them.
Local rivals Blackpool also on 50 points could be drawn into the relegation dogfight too. On a purely selfish level, it would be a shame to lose Blackpool or Sheffield Wednesday; both are big money spinners for a club like Burnley and it doesn`t help losing teams within reasonable travelling distance. I am hoping therefore that the third relegation place is between Southampton, Coventry and Leicester (no hard feeling chaps!) and we could start that process today by getting something from the Saints game.
Will the Clarets be up for it though? Their performance has been woeful of late with just one win in five games.
The Clarets at one stage of the season were credited with the second best away record in the division, just shows what a slump we have had.
Our last away win was against QPR back in February although we did manage a creditable draw against automatic promotion hopefuls, Stoke City last month.
Burnley are currently in 13th place on 58 points.; 7 points now behind sixth placed club, Crystal Palace, a team we play away in our last game of the season.
Coyle has a number of selection headaches for today`s game.
The bad news this week is that Kyle Lafferty will be out for the rest of the season following a sudden bout of Appendicitis leading to an operation to remove the offending appendix. Get well soon Kyle.
This could suggest we might play both Cole and Akinbiyi up front supported by Blake and Elliott on the flanks.
The left flank is the problem now with really only Blake capable of playing wider left, this would suggest a Cole or Akinbiyi partnership with Blake up front is not an option.
Decisions also need to be made in the back-four. Clarke Carlisle returns after his three match ban and Michael Duff could well make the starting eleven for the first time since damaging his cruciate ligament in the match against Palace at Turf Moor back in September last year.
Stan Varga will not however be available and we will probably not see him play again in a Clarets shirt. He simply hasn`t responded to the foot injections.
I would like to see Duff, Carlisle, Caldwell and Harley in the back four with Alexander and Unsworth on the bench. Harley of course missed the last match due to injury we were told with Jordan taking the left back spot against the Blades at Turf Moor.
Jordan had a bit of a mare in that match, so we have to hope Harley is fit enough to return. I hope there is not a problem with Harley, he still has not signed a new contract and his name has not been put forward on the Official Site for Player of the Year, despite being in a photograph of six players with the other five names being put forward.
The sixteen could look something like this but there are a number of options in all areas of the park:
Jensen, Duff, Carlisle, Caldwell, Harley, Elliott, James O`Connor, McCann, Blake, Akinbiyi, Cole
Subs: Kiraly, Alexander, Unsworth, Gudjonsson, Mahon (or Spicer)
‘We will be in among big, big clubs, but there’s no reason why we can’t go and compete, be a real breath of fresh air and a real challenger in this Championship.’
‘There’s that balance between expectation and realism, and we raised the expectation level because we went and achieved big results and kept ourselves up there, until probably last week, in the play-off hunt.
‘Realistically, when all’s said and done, the smaller clubs in the Championship probably shouldn’t be at that top end, but I think we can be.
‘And I see no reason why, whether Sheffield United – who have five times the budget of ourselves, or Charlton, four or five times, we can’t compete with them.
‘We can, and that means implementing a couple of changes, bringing a bit of pace and strength into the team, and a younger identity.
‘We inherited a squad of very gifted players, but a lot on the wrong side of 30.
‘There is a place for players like that, but it is about striking that balance, which is what we’ll look to do.
‘We’ll not get each and every individual target we go after, ‘but there are young players out there who can complement what we’ve got, and we want to be seen to have an identity of a club seen to be giving aspiring young players an opportunity to develop, within the structure, alongside good experienced players and marry that together.’
Southampton Team News:
Full-back Gregory Vignal returns having recovered from a hamstring injury.
Veteran loanees Chris Lucketti and Chris Perry are expected to continue in central defence keeping former Claret,Wayne Thomas sidelined.
Richard Wright also plays the final game of loan.
Player to watch: Chris Lucketti
Old men in defence against old men in attack (Akinbiyi,Cole?). Lucketti now 36 was once a rumoured target for the Clarets under Cotterill.
Burnley Team News:
Carlisle returns from suspension and Duff could make his first start since September last year. Lafferty is out for the rest of the season after an Appendix operation this week and Stan Varga has not responded to treatment for his foot injury.
Player to watch: Andrew Cole
He scored last week and nearly got the equaliser against the Blades. He has been a bit lacklustre of late and a good strong finish in the final three games with a few goals could lift team spirits.
Last Time We Met
The Saints will be seeking a double over us this season after defeating the Clarets 3-2 at Turf Moor back in October despite goals from Akinbiyi and McCann. This fixture last season at St Mary’s produced a goalless draw.
Paul Taylor (Hertfordshire)
1-1 with the Clarets under the cosh for most of the match
Our last home game of 2007/8 against Cardiff on Saturday April 26th @3pm KO