Burnley face their most important game of the season on Monday night in front of the Sky cameras with automatic promotion chasing Sheffield United the vistitors.They simply have to win this game to steady the nerves and keep their play-off hopes on track
Setting the Scene
The Clarets have had a nightmare week and seen a seven point cushion over the 7th and 8th placed clubs, Swansea and local rivals, Preston evaporate after results on Easter Monday and yesterday went against us in dramatic fashion. Not only did Preston defeat Cardiff City at home at Deepdale yesterday, the Welsh side that beat the Clarets 3-1 on Easter Monday failed to turn up and got thumped 6-0! Thanks a bunch Bluebirds! This was a disaster for the Clarets who now have the worst goal difference of the top eight sides with Preston now having a three goal advantage over Burnley.
If that was not enough, Clarets fans can be forgiven for hating the Welsh this weekend with Swansea also maintaining their push for a play-offs spot with a 1-0 home win against Bristol City.
With both these sides winning their last two games and the Clarets losing to Cardiff at Ninian Park, we are now clinging on to 6th spot on 69 points just one point ahead of both Swansea and Preston with a game in hand. That game will be played on Monday night against Sheffield United at Turf Moor in front of the Sky Cameras and what a squeaky bum match this will be for Clarets fans now.
Burnley simply have to win this game now or the pressure will really be on and the nerves will be jangling up to the last game of the season.
This ‘must-win` game will not be made any easier with Sheffield United being the visitors, a side in good form looking for an automatic promotion spot. The Blades did however wobble in their last match at home to relegation-threatened Nottingham Forest. Forest despite being down to ten men held on in a goalless draw and we have to hope this will have blunted the Blades confidence a little. Sheffield United are currently 3rd on 76 points just four points behind second-placed club, Birmingham with the same game in hand that we have! Their top form being undefeated in March led to Kevin Blackwell being awarded the Championship manager of the month award so let`s hope the curse of this award strikes once more!
Everything at the moment seems stacked against us and maybe that could turn into a good omen. We always seem to play better under difficult situations but now is the time to prove it in what quite simply is our most important game of the season and certainly far more important than any of the cup ties this season. We do however have to treat this as a cup game and pull out all the stops like we did against Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs.
On the negative side we have to beat the Blades in front of the cameras in a season when we have lost most of the televised games. We have to beat an in-form team with automatic promotion ambitions and we have to beat them after news broke a few days ago that only 12 Clarets were fit to train in midweek.
This Roses clash was originally scheduled for yesterday but Sky late in the day decided they wanted to televise the game live so the fixture was changed to Monday night.
The fact that the injured players have been given an extra two days to recover may provide dividends but it hasn`t helped knowing the two sides below us are now only one point behind us following yesterday`s games. The pressure is now really on and this match is bound to be a nervy game for both teams, not to mention for both set of fans.
The disadvantages of having a small squad was plain for all to see against Cardiff when chasing the game at 2-1 down Coyle had no option but to bring on Michael Duff as an emergency striker. A ‘must-win` game requires you to score goals, so we have to hope that two struggling injured attackers can recover by Monday night. Coyle openly admitted this week that Steven Thompson and Martin Paterson were still not 100% fit. Thompson was close to a return but was still trying to fully recover from an ankle ligament injury whilst Martin Paterson following a scan appears to have slight inflammation of the hamstring.
We have to hope that at least one of these players recovers in time for the important clash on Monday night with only Jay Rodriguez at the moment an option up front. Jay made his first start against QPR at home over Easter and followed that up with his second start against Cardiff at Ninian Park on Easter Monday. Jay did well in both games but our attack options were limited and we can`t afford to be in the same position against the Blades.
What are our options if both Thommo and Pato fail to make the sixteen?
Coyle has ruled out Duff in the emergency role up front again and has hinted he may have to turn to youth with Wes Fletcher, having been given a professional contract, waiting in the wings and currently training with the first team. What a baptism of fire that would be though!
Clarets fans might have been hoping Coyle had registered to play in the first team after he named himself to play in the reserves this week and scored a classy goal in a 2-0 win over Accrington Stanley. The 42-year old sliced through two defenders and lobbed the ball into the net proving he still has what it takes!
Another player that missed training in midweek was slipper, Steven Caldwell who has been struggling with a knock. No other players were specifically mentioned but let`s hope they all pull through in time for the Blades game.
Let`s be serious though, we have to hope that Coyle is playing mind games hoping to hoodwink Blades manager, Kevin Blackwell and give him and the side a false sense of security before we field a full strength side against them.
The fans will be asking serious questions if we fail to reach the play-offs due to a small squad size.
We failed to bring in anybody during the New Year transfer and loan windows and only seen departures since January, the most recent of which was Akinbiyi who signed for US MLS side, Houston Dynamo. I wonder how much Coyle would have relished having Ade on the bench in the Cardiff game.
Our squad is currently 26 players. Of these, loan Russell Anderson is out with a season-long cruciate ligament injury and another six players are out on loan (Kiraly, Jones, Berisha, van der Schaaf, Mahon and Kay).
Unless we bring back some of the loans as an emergency, our effective squad size is 19 but that can soon be decimated if we pick up injuries.
We face arguably one of the most important periods of our history with a chance to be in the top flight for the first time since 1976 with all the financial benefits that would bring.
What a shame it would be if we don`t make it because we didn`t have enough fit, quality players to go the final mile.
So what will the sixteen look like? Team selection is very difficult to predict in light of the uncertainty regarding the injuries. I think we will be fine if we can get at least one of the strikers fit, Paterson or Thompson and if Caldwell doesn`t make it, then Duff would be a suitable deputy at centre back.
This sixteen I believe would give the Blades a run for their money even if it wasn`t regarded as a full-strength side:
Jensen, Williams, Duff, Carlisle, Kalvenes, Alexander (Captain), Eagles, McCann, Elliott, Blake, Rodriguez
Subs: Penny, Jordan, Gudjonsson, McDonald, Paterson (or Thompson)
Burnley Team News:
News is awaited on a number of injury concerns after only 12 fit players were able to train in midweek.
The three players that look the most doubtful are Martin Paterson (hamstring), Steven Thompson (ankle ligament) and Steven Caldwell (knock)
Player to watch: Brian Jensen
We really have to keep the Blades out on Monday and our back four will need to be on their guard. If they are not we need the Beast to play a blinder and put in a performance reminiscent of his cup games.
Sheffield United Team News:
Sun Jihai(knee),Matthew Kilgallon(knee)and Stephen Quinn(back)are all major doubts for this match.
Brian Howard serves the first of a two-match ban after picking up his 10th yellow card.
Player to watch: Darius Henderson
Darius Henderson signed for Sheffield United from Watford in July 2008 for £2 million after agreeing a four-year contract.
The 27-year old striker is not a prolific scorer averaging about 1 goal in 4 games but a dangerous player none the less and one that needs to be watched.
Last Time We Met
We defeated the Blades 3-2 in an exciting game at Bramall Lane back in December last year. The first time we had won there since the seventies! Alexander, Paterson and Eagles got the goals. Never has there been a more important time to get a double over a side as this Monday night.
A goal by Andrew Cole in this fixture at Turf Moor last season though was not enough with the Blades winning 2-1 just over 12 months ago.
It just goes from bad to worse! The referee will be our good friend (NOT!!)Graham Laws(Tyne&Wear)
Come on you Clarets,it’s time to pull something special out the hat!
This will be a nervy squeaky bum game all round but we simply have to win and I will go for a 1-0 victory to the Clarets.
Just two games of the season left after the Blades match (plus hopefully the play-off games) starting with a trip to St Marys to face relegation-threatened Southampton on Saturday 25th April (3pm Kick-off)