The Clarets continue their build up to the hectic Christmas and New Year schedule with a home game against Fulham on Saturday and they will be keen to get back to winning ways with no victory now in four matches. A very creditable draw at Eastlands and another point against Aston Villa in our last home game are all we have to show for an overall disappointing month. We are still to get that elusive first victory away from Fortress Turf Moor and we have lost to struggling clubs at the foot of the table in our last two games on the road with recent back-to-back defeats at West Ham and Portsmouth. We now face Roy Hodgson`s men in the first of two home games against London opposition with Arsenal to follow on Wednesday night next week. This is almost a repeat of last season`s ‘Capital Punishment` when we faced both these clubs in the Carling Cup in home ties and of course won them both.
This is the Premier League though and our task this time could be much harder. Fulham are a resurgent team after a mediocre start this season and are currently on a run that has seen them propelled up the table. They are currently in 8th spot on 22 points and have now only lost one of their last nine Premier League games. The good news for Clarets fans though is that their away form has not been that impressive with no win now in their last six trips on the road in the Premier League Their only win away has been at Fratton Park on the opening day of the season. However they have managed some impressive draws on their travels against West Ham, Man City and Wigan so we will not find this one easy, not that any are!
Predicted Team Sheet
Owen Coyle could face one or two dilemmas in his selection this Saturday. Steven Caldwell returns after a one-match suspension following his red card against West Ham and being our captain would be expected to go straight back into the centre of defence this Saturday. The problem is Andre Bikey; if we started the Cameroon international he would presumably return to his relatively new role in midfield after flirting again with central defence against Portsmouth in our last match. But who would make way for him? It would be very hard on Kevin McDonald who made his first start for the Clarets in the Premier League against Pompey last week and in effect was our man of the match. Many Clarets fans think he should retain his place and on the evidence of his mature performance last Saturday at Fratton Park I would agree. In contrast, Andre Bikey was perhaps our least effective player, looking confused over his role and making some fundamental errors in defence but would it be fair to drop him after one poor game. The only other option might be to play both Bikey and McDonald in midfield and put Blake on the bench. Blake has been average in recent games but is desperate to perform and earn himself a new contract in the summer.
I am glad I don`t have to make the decision and it will be interesting to see what selection Owen Coyle makes. Something tells me he will select the same eighteen that were named for five consecutive games before the enforced changes were required against Portsmouth.
David Nugent of course also returns after a Premier League ruling kept him from playing against his parent club at Fratton Park last Saturday. I would expect though that Coyle could simply name Nugent on the bench again.
This is the team I would like to see rather than the one I think Coyle will select:
Jensen, Mears, Carlisle, Caldwell, Jordan, Alexander, Eagles, Bikey, McDonald, Elliott, Fletcher
Subs: Penny, Duff, Gudjonsson, Blake, Guerrero, Thompson, Nugent
Burnley Team News:
Chris McCann has made remarkable progress and is targeting a return against Manchester United at Old Trafford on the 16th January. His recovery from medial and cruciate ligament damage has been described as miraculous! Martin Paterson (torn cartilage) and Jay Rodriguez (broken ankle) are understood to be making steady progress and could be available to play for the Clarets in the early New Year.
Other than these three long-term injuries, there are no reported additional injury concerns for Owen Coyle and we have no suspensions with Steven Caldwell now available after sitting out an automatic one match ban. On loan striker, David Nugent returns after being ineligible to play against his parent club, Portsmouth last Saturday.
Player to watch: Chris Eagles
He has been in impressive form of late and has been in the starting eleven now for the last six matches after struggling to get an automatic place in the team in the earlier part of the season.
Fulham will need to be on their guard with Chris around and I expect if he doesn`t score he will be an influential playmaker on Saturday and could link well again with Fletcher. The two seem to be developing a very good understanding and that was certainly highlighted in our recent game against West Ham at the Boleyn Ground when Eagles assisted two goals for Fletcher, with the Scot then returning the favour by dummying a cross by Mears for Eagles to slot home. Just a pity we still lost 5-3! Chris Eagles was also impressive against Pompey last week and but for Kev`s performance would have been my Man of the Match.
Fulham Team News:
Dickson Etuhu looks likely to recover from a knee injury in time for this clash but Andy Johnson (groin) and Diomansy Kamara (knee) will still be sidelined.
There was also some new bad news for Fulham after it was revealed that they will be without midfielder, Simon Davies. Davies picked up an ankle injury in Fulham`s game against CSKA Sofia last week and when the injury was not healing as well as they had hoped, he had a second scan which revealed the extent of the problem.
Player to watch: Bobby Zamora
Zamora looks set to lead the line for Fulham in this game with Kamara and Johnson out injured. The 28-year-old striker scored his sixth goal of the season to lift Fulham to eighth spot in the Premier League after they beat Sunderland last Sunday. In July 2008, Zamora and team mate John Paintsil were both signed from West Ham for a joint fee of £6.3 million. His first season at Craven Cottage though was not that fruitful and he scored just two goals in 2008-9. Fulham were close to selling the player to Hull City for £5 million but the striker turned a move down even though he could have doubled his salary. He wanted to prove his critics wrong and so far this season he has been reasonably successful. Fulham fans though have given him stick and he could be fired up again to prove a point.
Snuff out Zamora it would seem and it could be our day!
Back to the Future
You have to go back to April 1951 for the last time Fulham beat the Clarets at Turf Moor. That was three years before I was born and in the days when the average house price was about £2000!
They have had 29 attempts since that time in all competitions and suffered 24 defeats at Turf Moor with just five draws to fall back on. We have won the last 8 home games in a row against them.
The last time we played them of course was last season in a Carling Cup third round match back in September 2008 and they were the first of our London scalps after we beat them 1-0 thanks to a late goal from substitute, Jay Rodriguez in the 88nd minute. He had been on the pitch for just three minutes in what was just his second appearance in the Clarets first team. As cool as a cucumber, he rounded Fulham’s debutant goalkeeper Pascal Zuberbühle to place the ball into an empty net.
The last time Burnley were in the top flight in the 1975-6 season, Fulham were a mid-table side in the old second division and we would face them the following season following our relegation. The obligatory win at Turf Moor was 3-1 that season with goals from Hankin, Bradshaw and Noble and we also got a point at Craven Cottage after a 2-2 draw. Two first half goals from Fletcher and Noble were squeezed between a Fulham opener after 16 minutes and a late equaliser by the Cottagers with just two minutes of play remaining. We would finish just one point and one place higher than Fulham in 16th place.
Staffordshire referee, Alan Wiley will be in charge of this one. He has been in the news recently after being heavily criticised by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson during an outburst in a post-match interview following United`s 2-2 draw against Sunderland. Ferguson subsequently apologised but said that Wiley was ‘not fit enough for a game of that standard’ and accused Wiley of ‘walking up the pitch for the second goal needing a rest’.
So Clarets fans will be keen to see how fit the referee will be on Saturday!
Burnley`s form of late has been worrying, not so much the style of play more the fact we are dropping points and have been steadily falling down the table towards the danger zone. We are currently in 13th spot just four points clear of third from bottom club, Wolves. It is vitally important therefore that we get three points from this clash on Saturday and steady the nerves of both players and fans alike. We have to hope a combination of ‘Fortress Turf Moor` plus the fact this is one of Fulham`s bogey grounds with no win here now since 1951 (see Back to the Future) will have the desired effect and we can get back on track and hopefully this year avoid our traditional festive slump.
Our home form though of course has been impressive and we have to make sure that continues until we can start winning away and stop the pressure building up for ‘must win` games on home soil. Only Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal have averaged more points than us at home so it is vital we keep that up by adding another three on Saturday.
We will have a battle on our hands to secure those three points and certainly looking at Fulham`s form this has ‘draw` written all over it unless of course Mr Bogeyman hands out the normal fate to Fulham on this ground. A point though is not enough to relieve the pressure so we have to hope we can stop Fulham in their tracks and get all three.
I think this will be a tense match with just one goal deciding the victors. I will plump for a 2-1 win for the Clarets.
They don`t get any easier do they? Third place Arsenal visit Turf Moor on Wednesday night ( 16th December) and this time it won`t be their third-string team we face unlike last season`s Carling Cup clash. Kick-off is 7:45pm