Date:Friday April 11 2008
12th April 2008
Just four games left of the season now, the first a home game against Sheffield United at Turf Moor this Saturday.
The Clarets go into this match with still a remote mathematical chance of finishing in 6th place, grabbing the final play-offs spot from about a dozen other clubs aiming for the same finish.
The miracle though involves winning all the remaining four games and hoping for a few favours from other clubs along the way.
Most Clarets fans have realistically given up hope of the play-offs other than for praying for such a miracle to happen. Let`s be brutally honest, we just have not had the bottle when it mattered and have suffered like many teams in this division from a lack of consistency with particularly worrying signs in defence. How many times have we been unable to clear our lines and make errors in defence leading to goals for the opposition? Have we once, given the opportunity to go into the Top 6 won a game and made it?
Let`s also be honest too about our squad, it just really hasn`t had the depth needed, either in terms of quality but especially quantity to see a sustained push for greater things. It has been another sad story really of second-half season blues.
As tiredness, suspensions and injuries take their toll; the effects are mirrored in smaller squads where options become fewer and fewer.
Some Clarets fans will now question whether we could and should have done better in the January transfer window and the loan window and brought in fresh faces. It seems all the other clubs vying for a play offs spot and automatic promotion did far better in these windows and got their men whereas we had to be happy with three loans and quite a few excuses about why we didn`t get our other targets.
If we seriously mean business this close season then we will have to significantly improve the squad with both more quality players and an increase in squad size to about 28-30.
The perils of a small squad have been adequately demonstrated by the demise of Colchester. They surprised many last season with a good start in the Championship, but like many promoted clubs fell away and under the same manager this season now find themselves relegated.
Our form this year has been mediocre to say the least. Between January and April to date, we have played 17 league games but only managed to get 24 points out of a possible 51 with just seven wins coupled with 3 draws and 7 defeats. Just not good enough really!
We are currently in 11th spot on 58 points, four behind Crystal Palace in 6th place, a team we play away on the last game of the season.
The Blades have just come through a gruelling 2-2 draw at home to local rivals, Sheffield Wednesday but under new manager, Kevin Blackwell the club have steadily climbed up the table. They are now on 57 points only one point behind the Clarets in 13th spot. We shall have to hope their local derby has taken the stuffing out of them for this Roses clash.
Owen Coyle will be without Clarke Carlisle, who sits out his final game of a three-match suspension and Stan Varga still seems to be suffering from a foot injury. Michael Duff could also be in contention although did not feature in the sixteen in our last match against Norwich despite being declared fit to play after his long battle with a cruciate ligament injury.
Arsenal loan, Mark Randall also tweaked his back in a midweek reserve game and was substituted, and fellow midfielder, Alan Mahon (knee) didn't train on Wednesday due to a knee problem.
One other selection headache could be the strike pairing and whether we play 4-5-1, 4-3-3 or 4-4-2. All formations seemed to be tried in our last match away to Norwich and none of them prevented the 2-0 defeat. Lafferty for the second time led the attack but this time it seemed ineffective. I would hope we start this match with Lafferty playing up front with either Cole or Akinbiyi supported by Blake and Elliott on the flanks. If we don`t play Lafferty out wide left, our only option these days seems to be to have Blake playing the wider left role.
The sixteen therefore could be something like the following:
Jensen, Alexander, Caldwell, Unsworth, Harley, Elliott, Gudjonsson, James O`Connor, Blake, Cole, Lafferty
Subs:Kiraly, Duff, Akinbiyi, McCann, Spicer
Come on you Clarets, we can`t give up on the play-offs until it is mathematically impossible and we need to finish on a high at least in the Top 10 to show any significant improvement over last season.
'The bottom line is we go into the game four points behind Crystal Palace, who we've still got to play, so there's a lot to play for.
'There are four games where you can go, as difficult as it is, and win those games, and if we get maximum points, then who knows where you'll be?
'All we want to do is go out and finish on a high, getting a few points under our belt between now and the Crystal Palace game and having a positive finish.
'We're still up at the top end of the league.
'There's not any doubt we've got a chance to have an impact in the remaining four weeks of the season and that's the way we'll be treating it.'
Carlisle suspended and sits out his final game of the three match suspension for a red card at Preston.
Duff could be in contention with Varga still suffering from a foot problem
Just get the feeling he is going to get a trademark goal from distance before the season ends. So glad he has proved a lot of the critics wrong this season and has put in a number of good performances.
Sheffield United gaffer Kevin Blackwell is expected to name the same team that drew 2-2 in the local derby with Sheffield Wednesday in midweek.
Rob Hulse could be named on the bench following a groin and knee injury
Paddy Kenny sems to have fully recovered from a back injury following his return.
He scored a stunning goal in the local derby this week and could be up for this game. Beattie powered in a thunderous, curling 85th minute free-kick from 30 yards to deny the Owls three points.
We managed a 0-0 draw in the match at Bramall Lane this season back in November 07. This was to prove the last point the Clarets would get under former manager, Steve Cotterill.
The last time we played the Blades at Turf Moor was two seasons ago back in August 2005. In their promotion season, they managed to get the double over us dfeating us 2-1 at home and 3-0 away.
Mike Russell (Hertfordshire)
A trip to St Marys to face Southampton on Saturday April 19th @ 3pmKO
Date:Friday April 11 2008
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