Date:Sunday March 19 2006
There are now 8 games left in the Clarets' season. One which has gone from playoff hopes, to mid-table hopes, and eventually to relegation fears.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly where this campaign went so badly wrong. The finger pointers will point to the sale of top scorer Ade Akinbiyi for the change in fortunes, but looking closer would seem to highlight that as not being the case.
On Boxing Day 2005, the Clarets completed victory over this weekend's conquerors Stoke, stuffing high flying Watford at the Turf a week earlier. It was an Ade goal that saw off Stoke, but in truth, the forward's form after that somewhat slumped.
After defeat at Norwich on December 28, the following match at home to Sheffield Wednesday seems to be the turning point that changed our season so dramatically.
At the time, the Clarets were 7th in the Championship, joint sixth with Wolves, and the general expectancy was that this would be three more home points against a team that were right in the relegation mix following their promotion last season.
The performance on New Year's Eve was unexpectedly poor, with only a late Garreth O'Connor spot kick to show in a 2-1 defeat.
We followed that with a 1-1 draw at QPR, but it is our form since then which has seen us shoot down the league faster than a Ferrari at Sliverstone.
After the QPR game, we did not score another league goal in January, with the only other goal coming as we lost 2-1 at Derby in the FA Cup.
So if you consider that Akinbiyi's last goal for the club was on Boxing Day, almost a month before he left, the poor form was at a starting point before the Nigerian striker packed his bags for Bramall Lane, with the Sheffield Wednesday game a more arguable turning point.
So what next for the Clarets?
Off the pitch, last week was a good week for the Clarets, with the loan signing of Phil Bardsley from Man Utd, a defender who has had a share of first team football for the Red Devils this season.
That, coupled with the initial loan signing of Andy Gray from Sunderland, to be made permanent in the Summer, and the boost of Steve Cotterill extending his contract until 2010 should have given the Clarets a boost to take out onto the pitch.
The next game is the televised match against Norwich, followed by another home game against Southampton. With our home record up until December, and our new improved strikeforce, there is a chance of at least one win from those two fixtures, which would settle a few nerves in the stands at the Turf.
April could well be the most important month in the Clarets' recent history, as we have six games, with the season ending on April 30th with a home game against Luton.
We travel to Hillsborough on April Fools Day, looking for our season to again change in fortunes, this time for the positive to take us into the last five games with confidence.
We then entertain QPR, and will be confident of adding at least one point, as we did at Loftus Road in the first game of 2006, against a team close to us in the table.
The next games are Hull away, Crystal Palace at home, and Millwall away in a potential six-pointer in the penultimate game of the season. This is probably the most important game left this season, with Millwall currently just ten points behind the Clarets, although they have played a game more.
Crystal Palace are in a strong run of form, and are likely to prove the toughest test in the April run-in. The game at Hull represents a decent chance for victory, to add to our televised home victory earlier in the season.
The final game is against Luton Town, the reverse fixture of possibly our game of the season, with Ade's hat-trick and Jensen's sending off, and holding on for so long with ten men, and a player in goal. Hopefully, this game won't be important, as we'll have clinched safety by then, but now is not the time for complacency, and we must get points on the board sooner rather than later.
The boosts from the last week off the pitch should provide us with enough strength to beat the drop, but we need the new signings to fit in quickly, and finally get some goals on the board, as goals win football matches, and we haven't scored for 495 minutes.
Most would argue that we need 50 points for safety. Thats seven points from eight games, which we are more than capable of doing. It is our home form which will determine where we finish, but the two away games at Hillsborough and The New Den are the games where we cannot afford to lose.
Next season could be a good one for the Clarets, but this one is now about survival. Its not what we expected, but thats what we are now faced with, and come Friday, we need a strong gate urging Burnley on to a vital three points.
Where do you think the Clarets will finish? Where will the points likely come from? Post your comments, or join the debate on out forum.
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