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man-city-1000x500Burnley have just enjoyed a week at home, picking up wins against Middlesbrough and Sunderland to take our points total to 23 at the half way stage of the season. Now, to kick off 2017, we are back on the road and face what should be one of the more difficult away games of the season when we travel to the Etihad Stadium to take on Manchester City.

Those two home wins, coming on the back of the defeats at West Ham and Spurs, have given us a real boost. I think we all hoped we might be out of the bottom three, those dreaded relegation positions, but to go into the second half of the season some nine points above 18th place takes some believing.

Admittedly, 11 of the 19 games played have come at home, but we are averaging two points per game at the Turf and if that continued for the remainder of the season then we would be very close to being home and dry if not already there.

But I suspect we are going to need more away points to add the solitary point we won at Manchester United earlier in the season. It would be nice if that total was to be increased today at City but I think we all know just how difficult a task it is going to be, even at a stadium where our two previous visits have ended in draws.

We are certainly taking a confident striker with us in Andre Gray. Having scored in the first win of the season against Liverpool, he had a difficult time with a suspension and then not being able to get his place in the team.

But he’s really come good alongside Ashley Barnes, scoring the winner against Middlesbrough and then bagging a hat trick in the Sunderland victory. “It’s been the best year,” said Gray, who topped the Championship scoring chart last season with 25, all but two of them with Burnley.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything more and to get a hat trick on the last day is massive. I’m buzzing. It’s an extra thing to add on top of it being a great week for us.”

Gray added: “I think it was three years ago I was playing in non-league. I never would have dreamed of scoring a hat trick in the Premier League three years on. The last two games have been massive, playing teams in and around us. Obviously there’s a long way to go but it’s a massive step for us. It gives us a bit of breathing space, but nothing’s done yet.”

I am sure Gray will point to his strike partner Ashley Barnes as being a major factor in him getting among the goals again and I would expect the pair to start this afternoon.

Sean Dyche will certainly have to make at least one change. With Dean Marney having picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in the Sunderland game, on the last day for five card suspensions, he’ll now sit this game out. But Burnley have Jeff Hendrick to come back in after he missed the Sunderland game for the same reason.

It’s always difficult at this time of year, with games coming close together, to learn of any injury problems. Jon Flanagan, who had played in the Middlesbrough victory, was ruled out against Sunderland with a knee injury he picked up in training. That allowed Matt Lowton to return with Tendayi Darikwa taking a place on the bench.

The latest news is that Flanagan will be assessed before the team travel although Lowton will certainly start after turning in probably his best performance for us two days ago.

I expect our team to be: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Jeff Hendrick, Steven Defour, Scott Arfield, Ashley Barnes, Andre Gray. Subs from: Paul Robinson, Jon Flanagan, Tendayi Darikwa, James Tarkowski, Aiden O’Neill, Michael Kightly, Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Sam Vokes, Patrick Bamford.

Manchester City, having lost at Liverpool on New Year’s Eve, have dropped to fifth in the Premier League, outside the Champions League positions. Although they had won their three previous games, against Watford, Arsenal and Hull, it is now three defeats in six with the two games prior to that group ending in defeat at home to Chelsea and at Leicester.

That Chelsea defeat was one they should really have won after dominating the first half and is the only defeat this season at the Etihad where they have also won five and drawn three games. Everton, Southampton and Middlesbrough were the three teams to take points in successive 1-1 draws, but they’ve beaten Sunderland, West Ham and Bournemouth, along with those recent wins against Watford and Arsenal, at home.

Bacary Sagna certainly sees today’s game as a difficult one for his team. “Burnley have always been a difficult team to play against,” he said. “They give 100% in every single game they play. They know where they come from and that they have quality players, many of whom I believe are underrated. They deserve to be part of the Premier League and are proving a lot of people wrong.

“Last year they did really well in the Championship. I was watching their games and they were playing good football. When we played them away at their stadium it was quite a difficult game so we know what to expect when we play them, but we think about the way we’re going to play and, of course, we’re going to be in front of our fans.”

Both Leroy Sane and Vincent Kompany are expected to miss the game and Fabian Delph is rated doubtful. Ilkay Gundogan has been ruled out for the remainder of the season but Nolito is available having been rested at Liverpool two days ago.

Brazilian forward 19-year-old Gabriel Jesus is now officially a Manchester City player having arrived from Palmeiras, but Pep Guardiola has already confirmed it could be a number of weeks before the £27 million signing is ready to play.

City will almost certainly make changes from the team that played at Liverpool when they lined up: Claudio Bravo, Pablo Zabaleta, Aleksandar Kolarov, Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones, David Silva, Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Yaya Touré, Sergio Agüero. Subs: Willy Caballero, Bacary Sagna, Fernando, Aleix García, Gael Clichy, Jesus Navas, Kelechi Iheanacho.

 

LAST TIME WE WERE THERE

 

Burnley’s first ever Premier League away point was won at the Etihad when we held Manchester City, then under the management of Mark Hughes, to a 3-3 draw. We led 2-0 though a Graham Alexander penalty and a goal from Steven Fletcher but then conceded three goals in 15 minutes before Kevin McDonald, with his only Premier League goal, scored three minutes from the end.

Our next visit came just over two years ago. Today we kick off 2017 there but two seasons ago it was our last game of 2014 and it was another unforgettable day for Burnley fans.

Expected to take something of a beating it all went as expected in the first half although not initially. We played really well in the opening twenty minutes. We might have even grabbed the lead, but City eventually showed their class and hit us with two goals of some quality, the first from David Silva and the second scored by Fernandinho.

We were thankful eventually to get to half time only two goals behind although, given the way we’d started, the scoreline was a little harsh on us.

What happened in the second will long live in the memory. We had some good fortune when George Boyd pulled one back when clearly offside, but we then took the game to City and gave them a real tough second half.

It looked as though it might come to nothing but with nine minutes to go we got exactly what we deserved with a stunning equaliser. He won the ball in the air and when it bounced back to him off Michael Keane he hit a wonderful first time shot into the top corner. City were stunned but they couldn’t deny us a fully deserved point.

How good was Barnes. After the game, in the fanzone, Andy Hinchcliffe told City fans: “If Ashley Barnes had played for City today, City would have won.”

The teams were;

Manchester City: Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Demichelis, Eliaquim Mangala, Aleksandar Kolarov, Fernandinho (Scott Sinclair 88), Fernando, Jesus Navas, David Silva, Samir Nasri (Frank Lampard 76), James Milner (Stevan Jovetic 62). Subs not used: Willy Caballero, Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy, Dedryck Boyata.

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Kieran Trippier, Michael Keane, Jason Shackell, Ben Mee, George Boyd, Dean Marney, David Jones, Scott Arfield, Danny Ings, Ashley Barnes. Subs not used: Matt Gilks, Kevin Long, Nathaniel Chalobah, Ross Wallace, Michael Kightly, Lukas Jutkiewicz, Marvin Sordell.

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