Show no fear !
IT`S a rare thing indeed to encounter anything other than a bullish Blackburn Rovers supporter ahead of the East Lancashire derby.
Not so this time, it seems, as Rovers fans have been falling over themselves to tell us it`s ours for the taking.
The truth is they are merely getting their excuses in early but Burnley fans are concerned enough by their own team`s poor form. We need to forget the disappointments of recent home games and prey on the opponents` insecurities. They are injury ravaged, out of form and ragged, whether we are much better or not, it certainly makes a pleasant change to approach a game at Ewood without the sense of foreboding of previous times.
On all previous occasions I have been to Ewood Park (1982/83 were the first derbies I encountered), the odds have been firmly stacked against Burnley. Given the conduct of the travelling supporters on that occasion in 1983, a 2-1 defeat to two dubious penalties was, I dare say, perhaps a deserving outcome.
I was 10 years old at the time and sat in the Riverside Stand with a Blackburn Rovers supporting friend, his family and my Dad. My teenage brothers were in the Darwen End and as debris fell from the roof and police horses charged across the terracing, it was a frightening sight. Compounding the surreal scene, Clarets boss Frank Casper took to the microphone in the PA announcer box and told the Burnley hooligans that they were no longer welcome at Turf Moor. Blackburn fans cheered their approval. The pictures were screened on the North West Tonight later on. There is a tendency to make light of these events when they are consigned to history, but this was a dark day for Burnley and our club`s reputation. I have always had a nagging feeling that the treacherous run of form we have encountered ever since is some kind of karmic payback for the events of that day.
That said, I think we`ve paid our penance. The culprits of the time are probably either locked-up or perhaps reformed characters, married with children and possibly even taking their kids to the match on Sunday.
Both clubs have since etched impressive chapters into their respective histories. Rovers, of course, have the biggest trophy of all in their cabinet. And for all the favourable circumstances that might have helped that happen, it`s theirs and they deserved it. Just like we did 35 years prior. Our dreadful spell in the 1980`s nearly took us into oblivion but our steady rise back up the leagues has been, in the main, a wonderful journey to be part of.
Now it appears that both clubs face a crossroads. Blackburn have that sinking feeling, the unknown for them right now is whether they have reached the depth of it, or is there worse to come?
Defeat to Burnley at home is, of course, an unthinkable scenario to anyone of a Rovers persuasion. Its something the majority of home supporters on Sunday will never have seen. As long as the "Same old Blackburn beating Burnley" song can be sung, they are not in ultimate despair.
But while all things are far from rosy at Ewood right now, the reaction to Burnley`s defeat on Monday was as bitter as the weather, and as bad as it`s been for a while.
We have been so used to seeing Burnley collapse in the second half of the season, the jokes gone stale, and under Sean Dyche, things looked optimistic as we began to finally find our feet on our travels in January.
Indeed, our manager was revered as a 'Ginger Mourinho` on a splendid New Years Day out at Hillsborough. But you have to go a long way to find supporters as reactionary as the Clarets and just as the over excitement reached fever pitch with a stirring triumph against Crystal Palace, followed up on the road at Millwall, the wheels came off and what always looked to be a tricky February on paper proved just that with two points from a possible 15.
There went our pipedream and the nature of our recent displays has led to an altogether nastier reaction to the manager and his methods.
I believe we`re probably about where we should be given the quality of our squad on paper. For a while there it looked like Dyche was capable of revving up the players into a competitive, hardworking, united bunch that could perform above its station. The fact that we haven`t been able to sustain it is more indicative of the inadequacies and imbalance of a squad he inherited. It never looked a strong enough squad to last the course of the season.
That`s not to excuse the turgid fayre that Turf Moor has been treated to over the past four matches. But I think this period will soon be forgotten if Dyche can instigate a win at Ewood.
Dyche`s away record (W 4 D 3 L 4) is play-off form and Rovers fans know that a semblance of organisation appears to be all it has taken to turn over their confidence sapped collection of misfits at the present time.
It`s time for the Clarets to show some confidence in this fixture. Both the players and the fans need to relish the occasion, not freeze and ram home the advantage on their fragile hosts.
I will never forget the bravado of the Blackburn contingent at Turf Moor at what they termed the Dingles relegation party in the Premier League season. Their sustained level of mirth was impressive, one song in particular stood out.
"We`ll never play you again." Well that smirk has certainly been taken off their faces and now, with our penance paid, it`s time again to cause some anguish at Ewood, but this time, let`s settle it on the pitch.