Fight for Survival
SKY BET make Burnley 50/1 odds AGAINST achieving Premier League survival ahead of their visit to the KC Stadium tomorrow.
With five matches to go, the bookmakers odds make pitiful reading, especially considering we had collected 15 of our 24 points after Graham Alexander's double defeated Hull City at home back in October.
I remember dancing into a Hallowe'en drinking session in Manchester that night full of mirth at our Premier League progress. If someone had told me we would amass just nine points in between playing them again in April, I frankly would not have believed them, but such is the unforgiving existence of being a small club in the big time.
Such odds, however, won't stop 2,000 hardy souls trekking across the country to get behind their team. But as the expectations of even the most one-eyed Burnley fanatic align with that of the wider football public, the approach to the game from the club's much maligned manager will be a keenly observed sub-plot. Clarets followers are starting to look at life beyond the Premier League.
Beleaguered Brian Laws has needed all of his 'thick skin' this week. Just when we thought the season could not get any worse following defeat to Blackburn, we were three goals down in seven minutes at home to Manchester City.
To plummet matters further, the one player who has actually benefited from Laws at the helm, Kevin McDonald, abandoned his team-mates after being substituted at half-time in exchange for a pint of Carling down at the KSC 110 Club. The mindless aberration from the young midfielder was splashed all over the papers and attracted comment from many ex-Clarets including Brian Flynn who dismissed McDonald as a 'plonker.' While Laws is right to say his team are easy targets at the minute, an equally appropriate question could be why have we become such easy targets?
I missed last weekend due to a preferable family break in Devon. Having listened on the first eight minutes on the radio en route to the pub, I promptly turned round again, only tuning in to hear Jimmy Armfield comment on Radio 5 about how fantastic the Burnley supporters were at the end of the game.
While that didn't excuse the players and management, it did offer scant consolation that Turf Moor had at least regained some humour, albeit of the gallows variety.
We will need all that and more in the closing weeks of the season if we are to prevent our probable slide into the Championship feeling like a slow death. The only other way is for the team to genuinely go down fighting, look like a coherent unit and scrap like dogs for every point on offer.
This approach has not been evident over the past few weeks and that is what is leading many supporters to make premature judgements on Brian's capabilities as a manager.
He made the well-worn 'cup finals' cliche remarkably early in his tenure. There was still 13 games remaining - more than a third of the campaign - when Laws, on returning from some warm weather training with the players in Portugal, appeared to tremble at the prospect that lay ahead.
The return from those cup finals has been one point from 24 but much more troubling has been the deteriorating nature of the performances. Wigan excepted.
While we all felt the body blow of losing to that late Hugo Rodallega goal at Wigan, it is the manager's job to ensure the players are up for the battle the next time. It is the lifeless display at home to Blackburn that still sticks in the craw.
'Bouncebackability' - ironically a term coined by Hull's caretaker boss Iain Dowie - is something that Premier League managers need to have the hang of occasionally. We're still waiting for our first dose of this under Laws.
What we need to see in the final fling of the season is not survival, although that would be nice, but some semblance of discipline and togetherness in the team, some tactical acumen against the teams that lay in wait. Especially at Hull, whose threats don't exactly come from all over the park. It will be interesting, for example, how we seek to reduce the threat of Tigers talisman Jimmy Bullard.
Going up against the best in the business is what the Premier League is all about. While Laws has been found wanting against the likes of Allardyce and Mancini, at least against Dowie he has the chance to test his mettle against a manager whose success has been mainly out of the top flight.
Brian doesn't get too bogged down with dabbling in formations but I would expect him to go 4-5-1 tomorrow. Jack Cork should come in for McDonald and probably Elliott (could his energy be an answer to shackling the ebullience of Bullard?) along with Alexander in the middle. Take your pick in the wide positions from Eagles, Blake, Paterson and Nugent - I really don't know anymore. One of Fletcher or Thompson up front. At the back, we should welcome back Steve Caldwell with open arms, if only because he's the club captain and for that reason might instil some discipline into a ravaged defence. I'd like to see Bikey alongside him to counter the pace of either Altidore or Folan, but the languid Cort seems to be a Laws favourite.
Whatever happens, don't get too depressed, the World Cup's just around the corner.