Opportunity Knocks in Blues Battle
OCTOBER represents a month full of opportunity for the Clarets.
The incredibly difficult hand dealt to us has been negotiated head on by Owen Coyle's brave charges and we've ended September with a more than creditable nine points for our efforts. We'd all have settled for that when the fixtures came out and now we must go again, with renewed vigour, match by match.
It starts with the visit of resilient Birmingham City, led by the joyless Alex McLeish, who become the first of our fellow promoted clubs to visit Turf Moor on Saturday.
Three of our four tasks this month take place at our beloved mini-fortress and we will need every ounce of energy from the players and supporters to keep that 100 percent run going. The odds of maintaining an unblemished home record recede with every game, the law of averages tells us this, but might we dare to dream that Birmingham City, an unsavoury football institution from its players to its ownership - old and new - is not the team to turn us over.
Two dreadful away days have passed since Burnley's stellar victory against Sunderland thrilled us so much. While the points came at a cost that day with Chris McCann hobbling out of the action for anything up to three months, Martin Paterson and Jay Rodriguez have now followed suit too and those injuries - together with the nature of our performances - have sent a shiver of apprehension through our collective states of mind.
While this feeling might not yet have reached anguish - how can it when we're mid-table Premier League? - a certain fixture just round the corner and a repeat of a past humiliation or two can sometimes promote a fear of failure ahead of dealing with the task in hand.
But, at least until 5pm on Saturday, Birmingham City is our only issue and we can have genuine faith that Owen Coyle will do everything in his power to ensure the players see it that way.
Just like after the Liverpool loss, there have been many calls from onlookers for Coyle to make team changes. But once again, I expect him to request the same men to seek reprieve against the opposition.
From a personal point of view, I would like to see Chris Eagles come in on the right as his combination play with Wade Elliot and Tyrone Mears was a joy to watch against Sunderland. Plus, his overall application, including a lively effort at Barnsley, is deserving of a start. His inclusion would allow Steven Fletcher to play the central striking role and perhaps leave David Nugent on the bench, and hope that he makes the 'supersub' tag his own with another late-in-the-game match-winning appearance.
The only other possible change could be dependent on how the manager assesses the progress of Steve Caldwell after his calf injury. He's the club captain and leadership at the back has clearly been an issue in our away games. Either Andre Bikey or Clarke Carlisle could be vulnerable if the manager deems the captain fit enough to return.
By virtue of Alex McLeish's repeated negativity on how his Blues might fare in the Premiership, I tipped his team - along with Hull and Portsmouth - for relegation at the start of the season. There hasn't been much to change my mind about the other two but Brum have looked more than capable of holding their own.
Organisation is the watchword for McLeish and it says something for his team's ability to execute a game plan that all of their league matches so far have been settled by a goal either way. These include losing fixtures at Manchester United and Tottenham while their wins have been at home to Portsmouth and away at Hull, both 1-0.
Injuries have robbed Birmingham from the start of the season, particularly in defence, where McLeish's men have coped well in adversity. Roger Johnson, the £5m capture from Cardiff, has apparently looked every penny a Premier League defender.
Despite the Birmingham fans protestations - during last week's defeat to Bolton they were baying for '4-4-2' and singing 'we're supposed to be at home!' - it looks certain that a five-man midfield will congest the field. Expect an experienced central three of Lee Bowyer, Darren Ferguson and Teemo Tainio to be flanked by the dangerous Dubliner Keith Fahey and one of either Seb Larsson, Gary McSheffrey or the returning James McFadden.
Brum look set to be deprived of their £9m Ecuadorian hulk, striker Christian 'Chucho' Benitez. He has been back in South America this week visiting his father following his involvement in a serious road accident. Gary O'Connor looks the forward most likely to lead the line, with Kevin Phillips no doubt champing at the bit from the bench.
We did really well home and away against Birmingham last year and our performances were worthy of more than the two 1-1 draws we earned. Still, if we can snuff out the visitors' lone striking threat and contain a midfield thrust that is not naturally attacking, perhaps a 1-0 home win could again be on the odds.
And only then should we think about Blackburn.CUBAN