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1516 burnley turf moor 04Having had days out in London for games against West Ham and Tottenham we’ve now got a home double header to look forward to against North East clubs Middlesbrough and Sunderland with Middlesbrough providing us with our Boxing Day opposition.

It’s only three years since we played them on the same date. That was at the Riverside during our first promotion season under Sean Dyche. We were beaten 1-0 to an Emmanuel Ledesma goal midway through the first half. Although they would beat us again later in the season at the Turf, with Jacob Butterfield netting the only goal, this defeat proved to be our last away from home all season.

It was the same last year when we battled through the floods to get to Hull only to lose 3-0; now that one was our last defeat of the season as we went 23, 23 undefeated to become Championship champions.

Between those goals at Middlesbrough and Hull we had a 1-0 home Boxing Day defeat against Liverpool which means we have to go back to 2012 for our last Boxing Day points and goals. It was Sean Dyche’s first Christmas in charge of the Clarets when goals from Charlie Austin and Michael Duff gave us a 2-0 home win against Derby and that was a third successive Boxing Day win.

It’s a tough one tomorrow. It always is against Middlesbrough who have secured two wins and two draws on their last visit, and once again we can bring in Duff. Apart from scoring in that Boxing Day win against Derby four years ago, he made his last ever Burnley start a year ago at Hull and he also scored in our last home win against Middlesbrough. Following goals from Jay Rodriguez and Wade Elliott, he scored our third just before half time in a 3-0 win in April 2011.

Apart from a spell in the first half in the last home game against Bournemouth, I thought we played really well and I think it is fair to say that the form away from home, despite the results, was better, certainly at Spurs and, to an extent, in the second half at West Ham. Who knows? With a little bit of fairness from the referees we might have got something.

Left back Stephen Ward was brought back into the side after the Hull defeat a year ago and he’s only missed one game since, ruled out of the Crystal Palace home game after suffering a hamstring injury at Manchester United.

The Republic of Ireland international is enjoying playing regularly again in the Premier League, something he did at Wolves a few years ago. He said ahead of tomorrow’s game: “It’s great to be playing in the Premier League. We worked very hard last year in a difficult league to get our promotion. I think the hunger this year is even bigger than it was last year to make sure we stay here.”

He added: “A lot of the lads had a taste of it two years ago. We probably just fell a little short in terms of experience and maybe that bit of quality here and there. I feel like we’ve rectified that and I feel there is a different hunger in the squad, and you could feel that from day one.”

Ward missed a large chunk of the 2014/15 Premier League season having displaced Ben Mee at left back in October, but he’s certainly one of the first names on the team sheet now.

What will the team be tomorrow? That’s a dilemma with Sean Dyche having Johann Berg Gudmundsson to call on again. He’s missed the last four games having come off just before half time against Manchester City with a hamstring injury. He’d certainly settled into the team at the time and it is certainly good news to have him back whether it is in the team or via the bench.

The other question waiting to be answered is whether Steven Defour will play. He’s played in all of the home games for which he’s been available but has been on the bench for each of the last three away games with Dyche opting for a 4-4-2 formation rather than with just one up front which has become the recent choice.

One player definitely ruled out is Matt Lowton who picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in stoppage time at Tottenham. That means an automatic one match ban, which he will serve tomorrow, but the five card yellow card suspensions come to an end as we go into 2017.

The players walking a tightrope are currently Jeff Hendrick and Dean Marney. Both have four cards so one more tomorrow or in the Sunderland game will see them banned for one game. Scott Arfield is the only other player under threat but he would need yellow cards in both games having currently accrued three, the last of them in the last home game against Bournemouth.

Should Defour and Gudmundsson return, and should Sam Vokes come back in up front, we could line up: Tom Heaton, Jon Flanagan, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Jeff Hendrick, Dean Marney, Steven Defour, Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Sam Vokes.

Middlesbrough followed us up last season. While we were clinching the title at Charlton on the last day of the season they were drawing 1-1 at home against Brighton, who had to settle for third place, Christian Stuani scoring their goal.

They were second at half way too but didn’t do quite as well in the second half of the season in terms of points. They won 49 points from their first 23 games but added only another 40 in the second half of the season.

Like it is for most promoted clubs, they’ve found life in the Premier League difficult after an absence of seven years, but a 3-0 home win against Swansea last weekend took them above us into 14th place.

Unlike us, however, they haven’t been totally reliant on home form. Ten of their points have come at the Riverside with eight on their travels. On the road they might have only won once, that at Sunderland in their first away game of the season, but they have only been beaten twice. They went down 3-1 at Everton in September and also lost their last away game at Southampton 1-0 two weeks ago.

Their goalscoring record is identical to ours, we’ve both scored 16 goals, but defensively they have been much better than us having conceded nine less goals. Their goals have been shared by seven different players with Alvaro Negredo, signed in the summer from Valencia on a season long loan, leading the way with five.

Two players who have made a habit of scoring goals against us over the years are not expected to play. David Nugent has made only four substitute appearances this season in the Premier League while Jordan Rhodes, who was an unused substitute last week, can add two starts to that total. Both appear to be surplus to requirements at the Riverside and both are expected to move on in January, Rhodes after just one year with the club when he, inevitably, scored against us.

They will be without Viktor Fischer with a knee injury and he is likely to be replaced by Stewart Downing. They are hoping to welcome back Christian Stuani who has been out with a foot injury. Gaston Ramirez returned last week against Swansea and should be fit to play.

Middlesbrough’s team against Swansea was: Victor Valdes, Antonio Barragan, Calum Chambers, Ben Gibson, Fabio, Viktor Fischer, Adam Clayton, Adam Forshaw, Marten De Roon, Gaston Ramirez, Alvaro Negredo. Subs: Brad Guzan, Espinosa Bernado, Grant Leadbitter, Adama Traore, Stewart Downing, George Friend, Jordan Rhodes.

 

LAST TIME THEY WERE HERE

 

What a night it was. Burnley and Middlesbrough went into the game at Turf Moor last season with both having just four games to play. It was, by then, a case of which two of the top three would go up automatically with the rest of the field already a considerable number of points behind.

Middlesbrough, who incredibly wouldn’t win another game, had 85 points. We had 83 and behind us in third place were Brighton who had 81 points and they were at home to QPR, a game they won 4-0 to move to 84.

After the farcical afternoon at Charlton in March, Boro had won six successive games. Three of them, including the last two against Reading and Bolton, they’d secured with stoppage time goals.

It all started with Grant Leadbitter fortunate to get just a yellow card for a foul on Joey Barton, but, in truth, they probably had the edge in the first half during which Albert Adomah hit our bar, so perhaps we were the happier to go in at 0-0.

We were much improved after the break although I wasn’t sure we’d break them down, and then it all went against us. Referee Mike Jones awarded them the softest of free kicks and when it came into the box it was Jordan Rhodes who got the last touch.

With 20 minutes remaining we were facing defeat and that would see us out of the top two. Sean Dyche made changes and significantly introduced Matt Taylor whose delivery was to prove crucial.

We put them under enormous pressure but still trailed at 90 minutes when fourth official Darren England stepped up to indicate a further six minutes. The roar inside the ground was incredible, but nothing compared to the noise just under two minutes later.

Boro were hanging on for their lives and when another effort was deflected wide I thought it just wasn’t to be our day. Taylor took the corner and I’d like to say Michael Keane scored a blinder. He actually shinned it in to spark off celebrations that were simply incredible.

The players, including the subs and substituted who left the bench, all charged to the police box corner while the noise inside Turf Moor was unbelievable. I can’t recall ever having seen celebrations like that at the Turf.

It all ended 1-1, we’d stayed above Brighton on goal difference and remained two points behind Middlesbrough. We all know the story now. We got three wins in our last three games, Brighton could only manage one with Boro relying on their last day draw against Brighton to stay up as they ended the season with four successive draws.

Keane said after the game: “It was the best atmosphere I’ve played in here. It was bouncing all game, especially in the second half when we were on top.” As for the goal, he added: “I got myself in a position and it’s hit me, fell of Wardy and then I don’t know whether I’ve shinned it or kicked it but they all count.”

The teams were;

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd (Matt Taylor 84), Dean Marney, Joey Barton, Scott Arfield (Lloyd Dyer 75), Sam Vokes, Andre Gray (Ashley Barnes 81). Subs not used: Paul Robinson, Tendayi Darikwa, Michael Duff, David Jones.

Middlesbrough: Dimitrios Konstantopoulos, Emilio Nsue, Daniel Ayala, Ben Gibson, George Friend (Ritchie De Laet 54), Adam Clayton, Grant Leadbitter, Albert Adomah, Gaston Ramirez (Adam Forshaw 75), Stewart Downing (Tomas Kalas 90+3), Jordan Rhodes. Subs not used: Michael Agazzi, Carlos De Pena, Julien De Sart, David Nugent.

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