They all seem like ‘must-win’ games these days but the match against Stoke City at Turf Moor on Wednesday night, I do really believe is the defining moment of our season and could decide whether we remain in the top-flight at the end of the season or not. Win this, Clarets fans really can believe again that we could still survive especially with another game at home coming up on Saturday against fellow strugglers, Wolves. Lose against Stoke or even draw and the doubts will remain with only hope and blind faith for some Clarets fans remaining. This game is that crucial with three points being vital for the team`s confidence and hopes of survival.
If we can forget about losing to Arsenal last Saturday, take the positives from that game and use them against Stoke then we should have a good chance of beating Tony Pulis`s men. We certainly should have more motivation than Stoke since our very survival in the top flight could depend on it against a side that already looks safe on 34 points in 11th spot and heading for a mid-table finish. Of course if we don`t win it is still mathematically possible to survive the drop but confidence of fans, players and manager alike are bound to be pretty low and with other teams in the relegation mix having their little runs, it is vital we keep in touch and start to get out of the drop-zone.
Come on you Clarets! Let`s all shout from the battlements of the new ‘Fortress Turf Moor` that is hopefully now being rebuilt on stone as we speak after sinking in the sands against Pompey!
Predicted Team Sheet
The big question is whether Steven Fletcher will be fit enough to play with a broken hand. It was judged to be too painful for him to be named in the eighteen against Arsenal at the Emirates last Saturday even with a cast or light protection on the hand. He will have a late fitness test to assess whether he can play but even if he passes that test there is an argument to suggest that both Paterson and Nugent have done enough recently to keep their place in the starting eleven.
With no news of any further injuries except for Chris McCann (knee) and Steven Caldwell (persistent groin strain) who are still sidelined for this match, Laws could easily decide to select the same eighteen that did particularly well to hold Arsenal to just a 3-1 defeat last Saturday.
If Fletcher is fit, I think he will probably be in the starting eleven knowing Laws but I would still select the following eighteen which is the same line-up as in our last match. It might be time to introduce some consistency now at this crucial stage of the season
Jensen, Mears, Carlisle, Cort, Fox, Alexander, Cork, McDonald, Eagles, Paterson, Nugent
Subs: Weaver, Duff, Jordan, Blake, Bikey, Elliott, Thompson (or Fletcher if fit)
Burnley Team News:
Fletcher awaits a late fitness test to see if he is fit enough to play with his broken hand.
Chris McCann is still sidelined with a knee injury and our captain, Steven Caldwell although making progress in his recovery from a troublesome groin strain is still not ready for consideration.
Player to watch: Leon Cort
Leon Cort as well as being able to provide some insider knowledge about his former club will also be keen to get on the score sheet himself from a set-piece against his old club. Brian Laws made it plain he wanted the side to score more from set-pieces and it had been hoped that Cort would be able to help in that process. So far though our record from set-pieces has been poor and we have yet to score from a corner this season.
It will also be interesting to see if Cort retains his remarkable record in defence of not picking up any bookings now in 189 League games. Cort was last booked during his days at Southend in a game against Northampton in April 2004.
Stoke City Team News:
Ryan Shawcross of course will still be suspended after picking up a three match ban following his red card in Stoke`s game against Arsenal recently. The strong tackle broke Aaron Ramsey`s leg and started immediate controversy as to whether the sending off was fair.
Stoke also have a number of injuries that could jeopardise Tony Pulis`s preferred team selection.
Glenn Whelan limped off with a hamstring strain against Chelsea in Stoke`s 2-0 FA Cup Quarter Final defeat at Stamford Bridge on Sunday and could be doubtful for Wednesday night.
Salif Diao is out with a calf problem while James Beattie and Matthew Etherington (both knee) and Danny Higginbotham (back) could also be sidelined. All four missed the Chelsea FA Cup match.
Player to watch: Rory Delap
Rory Delap and his infamous long throw-ins are the bane of most clubs in the Premier League and nobody really has an answer to it. We certainly didn`t in our opening game of the season against them at the Britannia (see ‘Back to the Future` below). Brian Laws thinks our former Stoke defender, Leon Cort will be able to give us some clues on how to defend against them but all Clarets fans will still be nervous when any throw-ins are given away in our half.
Back to the Future
The last time we played Stoke City of course was on the opening day of the season at the Britannia. It was not the perfect start to our first campaign in the top flight for 33 years. We lost the game 2-0 thanks to two first half goals. The Clarets back-four showed their naivety in the 19th minute after a sequence of errors culminated in a carelessly conceded free kick on the left. Liam Lawrence floated it over to the far post where Stoke centre-half Ryan Shawcross climbed unmarked to head past Jensen to put Stoke 1-0 up. The set piece kings had done it again and for their second goal after 33 minutes it was time for Stoke`s other main weapon to strike in the shape of the quintessential Rory Delap throw-in!
As the long throw came in there was panic inside the six yard area where the unfortunate Stephen Jordan made the slightest contact to nudge the ball beyond his own goalkeeper.
That defeat meant we had now gone four games against Stoke without a win (although 2 draws at least) so that will have to change on Wednesday night. The last time we beat Stoke was in a Championship game at the Britannia in September 2006. A goal by Andy Gray in the first minute was enough to seal victory that day.
Thirty three years ago the last time we were in the top flight, Stoke City finished 12th and enjoyed a double over the Clarets who of course were eventually relegated. They beat us 1-0 at Turf Moor in November 1975 before thumping us 4-1 at Victoria Road in March 1976, Hankin got our solitary goal that day in the 37th minute with the Clarets already 3-0 down after just half-an-hour played.
Well unless they change the scheduled referee again, which now seems to be happening with some regularity, we will have Lee Probert in charge of this one! The Wiltshire referee was appointed to the Select Group Referees list in 2007 and took charge of his first Premier League game in January 2007 between Sheffield United and Portsmouth. He has only been in charge of one league game involving the Clarets this season and that was the recent fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
This will not be easy but we have to be up for this more than Stoke who are effectively safe already and have a pointless ambition to get to 40 points and finish in mid-table above 12th. We are playing for survival in the top flight big-time and we have to show the passion and determination to win this one. There is no room for lack of confidence, no room for self-doubt and no room for under par performances. Everybody has to be at the top of their game so please no more Pompeys!!
2-1 Clarets but I don`t care what the score is as long as we win!
Another home game and another crucial six-pointer with fellow strugglers Wolves the visitors to Turf Moor on Saturday 13th March (Kick-Off: 3pm)