Defences Unbreached at Turf Moor
BURNLEY'S Premier League bubble may have burst with conclusive defeats at Chelsea and Liverpool but Turf Moor's defences remain unbreached and there's every reason for Clarets supporters to stay positive ahead of the Saturday lunch-time visit of Sunderland.
We've got Sky Sports for company for the first time this season - usually a good sign - and the players will be aching to put the ignominy of two below-par performances on the road firmly behind them. Even early autumn sunshine looks likely to make an appearance.
It seems a while since our last home match coincided with England's cricketers winning the Ashes on that brilliant August afternoon.
Our two defeats since pale into insignificance when compared with the travails of the nation's cricket team but it hasn't stopped some typically half-cocked and bemusing arguments thrown about in the wake of last Saturday's disappointing display at Liverpool. Many of these have failed to recognise the gulf in skill level between our hard-working players and the multi-millionaires we've been facing. The difference of playing at home and away, particularly against the 'big four', should also not be overlooked. We only need to look at our neighbours Blackburn who scored one and conceded 12 in their routine defeats at the top four clubs last season.
It's hardly time to press the panic button and it is vital that Burnley supporters approach this one with the same fervour and wholesome backing that greeted the lads in the opening Turf encounters with Manchester United and Everton.
The aspect of our game exposed most cruelly at Chelsea and Liverpool was our inability to retain possession well enough. At home, we have somehow mustered the energy to press the opposition into mistakes while our last ditch defending has been tremendous. Away, it has been more a case of losing the ball with sloppy passes and then chasing shadows as the opposition have moved the ball and bodies around us in a blur.
At Anfield, Benayoun was scintillating and the speed of Gerrard, especially over his first 10 yards, was astonishing. How could Graham Alexander be expected to live with that?
We shouldn't forget there's a reason the likes of Graham Alexander and Wade Elliott have not played in the Premier League before. These two, who have received the sharpest of the critics' sting, were doing just fine until the Chelsea game.
Sunderland will pose a different threat with tough-tackling duo of Lee Cattermole and Albanian Lorik Cana in the engine room. The latter has already received three bookings. In wide positions, it looks highly likely Andy Reid, back in trim and in favour with Steve Bruce, will start, probably with Steed Malbranque completing the midfield unit. Fans favourite Reid, whom I've always considered a more mobile Robbie Blake, could be a real handful if things go with form. Up front, Darren Bent and Kenwyne Jones or Fraizer Campbell, will give Carlisle and Bikey plenty to think about. We'll have to be at our best to contain them.
Owen Coyle has displayed some brilliant tactical nous already this season. Few would have foreseen Fletcher's switch to the left wing for the visit of the league champions, yet he had a superb game out there. Playing mainly on the right side of a midfield five at Anfield, he looked like a square peg in a round hole. Our young manager has a right to learn from this whole new experience too. And with the supporters backing, he will, no doubt.
It can be fun to speculate on team line-ups and what we might do differently but given's Coyle's general reticence in changing his starting team over the past year, I can't see him letting results at Chelsea and Liverpool influence his thinking too much.
For the sake of freshness, there is an argument for Elliott being replaced by Kevin McDonald, by Alexander being replaced by Joey Gudjonsson, Chris Eagles giving Robbie Blake a rest. However, I don't expect our manager to make wholesale changes.
I would like to see Blake on the left and Eagles on the right of the usual middle three with Steven Fletcher given the central role and Martin Paterson left on the bench with the bit between his teeth. I doubt this will happen though as Coyle appears to see the defensive side of Paterson's game as almost indispensable, which is of course also a valid argument.
There was something about Eagles in his cameo at Anfield that suggested he is one player, when on his game, with the potential to succeed on a Premier League playing field. Finding consistency in his game is the issue but he is going to struggle to find this from occasional forays from the bench.
However things turn out tomorrow, we will still, by my miserly reckoning, be ahead of our survival target. I can see us conceding our first home Premier League goal in a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Chris McCann on the mark for the Clarets. Cuban