Date:Saturday March 8 2008
6th March 2008
The Clarets face a difficult match against 3rd place Stoke at the Britannia Stadium this afternoon.
High flying Stoke are on 61 points and have won their last five home games, although they have also recently suffered two defeats in their last two matches both away to Preston and QPR without scoring.
In contrast the Clarets have been struggling recently, although they are still within a chance of finishing in the play-off places. We are currently in 9th place on 51 points, now four points behind the 6th placed club, Plymouth.
Although we have the second best away record in the League this season, we have struggled badly and lost in our last two away games at Plymouth and Hull and only picked up one point from our last two matches. We simply have to get something from this match to keep our play-off dreams alive. A further defeat and we will see our chances further slipping away and we will then also face next, two difficult games at home to play-off/promotion contenders Charlton and Wolves.
The Stoke fans will be at a loss today since for the second time they can no longer traditionally boo former gaffer, Steve Cotterill, although they might turn their attention to former Stoke players, Ade Akinbiyi and James O`Connor. Owen Coyle`s first match in charge for the Clarets was also ironically against Stoke back in November at Turf Moor.
The two second yellow offences for captain, Steven Caldwell and midfielder, Joey Gudjonsson in the Hull game also means they will be suspended for this match after both were sent off. The bad news continues for the Clarets as we now hear that Chris McCann could be out for the next three matches with a thigh injury after being substituted during the Hull match.
Michael Duff is still a few reserve games away from being considered for a return to the first team, Garreth O`Connor has also picked up a knee injury and Steve Jones has still not returned to full training after picking up medial ligament damage in his knee back in January.
Alan Mahon though could be considered for selection after coming through 90 minutes of a reserve match this week.
The back four should see Jon Harley return. He missed out on the Hull match in midweek being absent due to family reasons, attending the birth of his son. Stan Varga or David Unsworth will replace Caldwell but the intriguing dilemma for Coyle will be his selection in midfield and attack.
I believe this is an ideal opportunity to play Blake in midfield behind both Cole and Akinbiyi. We don`t really have an option on the wide left and despite less than impressive performances recently, it makes sense to keep Lafferty out wide with the option of bringing him into the strike pairing if required as a Plan B.
Coyle may however prefer to play Randall in midfield and give him the opportunity to start for the first time since joining the Clarets on loan from Arsenal.
Brian Jensen made another howler of a mistake leading to Hull`s first goal on Tuesday night. A similar error to the one he made away to Plymouth. I would not be surprised if Kiraly returns to the starting eleven today.
I would like to see a line-up therefore something like this:
Kiraly, Alexander, Carlisle, Varga, Harley, Elliott, James O`Connor, Blake, Lafferty, Cole, Akinbiyi
Subs: Jensen, Unsworth, Randall, Spicer, Mahon
'As much as we know the spirit and hunger within the lads, we can't be gifting teams leads every week and expecting at every opportunity to come back,'
'I've stressed to the lads that, come this stage of the season, as years go by there are times you don't get involved in this sort of thing, so when you get an opportunity let's grasp it.
'Let's take the bull by the horns and make sure you're in that shake up.
'If it's not to be, then make sure it's not through lack of effort.'
Pulis could give a debut to his new loan from Middlesbrough today.Central defender, Chris Riggott is on loan with the Potters until the end of the season.Midfielder Rory Delap could come in for Glenn Whelan, who serves the second of a two-match suspension. Whelan of course was linked with a move to Turf Moor in the January window but Coyle pulled out after it was revealed the player was seeking to break our wage structure in terms of his salary demands.
Will the new boy be able to help snuff out the attacks from Cole and Akinbiyi? Lets hope he gets first day nerves.
Steven Caldwell and Joey Gudjonsson are sitting out bans following second yellows in the Hull match. Chris McCann is sidelined with a thigh strain. Alan Mahon could be in the sixteen.
Returning to the ground of his former club along with Ade Akinbiyi, both players will hopefully be wanting to impress. O'Connor was linked with a move back to Stoke in the close season under Steve Cotterill's regime but nothing ever happened. Hope Ginge will be up for this one, he does seem to be building Stoke up:
'I think Stoke have a good chance of getting promoted this season, it's very tight up at the top and anyone who does go up will really have to earn it.
'Selfishly, I have to say it would be a massive three points for us, but all the Stoke boys are thinking that too 'We know it will be a difficult game against Stoke, Tony Pulis' sides are always highly organised and they fight for everything.'
He was also asked who he thought might win the match and rather strangely said albeit jokingly:
'I'll sit on the fence; I wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of either one of the managers.'
The Britannia Stadium is normally a lucky ground for the Clarets. We have won there in four of the last five visits. Last season we managed a 1-0 victory in September 2006 with Andy Gray getting the goal. Stoke however have since defeated us by the same score at Turf Moor back in January 2007 and also grabbed a point this season in a 0-0 draw in November 2007. This game was Owen Coyle's first match in charge as Clarets gaffer.
Howard Webb from Rotherham, a Premier League referee..but then so was Riley!!
Very nervous about this one, we are playing badly with only one point from the last two games having also lost our last two away games with poor performances. Somehow, we have to get our play-offs hopes back on track and we need at least a point from this game. These games traditionally finish 1-0 to either side, and Im hoping its 1-0 to the Clarets today but 1-1 is probably a better prediction.
Charlton at home this Tuesday night @ 7:45pm (11th March)
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Date:Saturday March 8 2008
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