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southampton 2 1000x500The Clarets travel to Southampton tomorrow for the opening day of the Premier League season but in our hectic start to the season we’ve already played three competitive games.

We’ve had three Europa League games so far, with another to come next Thursday, mixed in with the traditional pre-season fixtures. We’ve already been to Ireland, Scotland and Turkey with hopes that, a week next Thursday, we could be travelling to Greece.

But tomorrow, as Sean Dyche will tell you, it is back to the bread and butter. He has constantly told us it is the most important, and he’s right. Without the Premier League and our achievements in it last season, we wouldn’t have been visiting Aberdeen and Istanbul in recent weeks.

We go into the new Premier League season with little change in terms of the squad. Only three new players have come in and all of those within the last week. Ben Gibson’s signing from Middlesbrough was confirmed as we were playing our last friendly against Espanyol and four days ago he was joined by goalkeeper Joe Hart and striker Matěj Vydra from Manchester City and Derby respectively.

Vydra is still working himself towards Dyche fitness and will feature for the under-23s in their opening Professional Development League game against Cardiff in a couple of days time. Gibson was on the bench in Istanbul, presumably wondering what he might have to do to get in the team having watched the performances of James Tarkowski and Ben Mee.

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Hart, though, did play. A lot of questions were asked as to whether we needed another goalkeeper, even one with 75 England caps but, with Tom Heaton (ineligible), Nick Pope and Anders Lindegaard (injured) all unavailable, he went straight in and kept a clean sheet, the first Burnley goalkeeper to do so on his full debut since Alex Cisak in a League Cup game against Preston five years ago.

Hart is enjoying himself too. Speaking to the Lancashire Telegraph, he said: “The club kind of sold itself really given the atmosphere and how they go about things. It’s me down to a tee. Everyone is on the same page at this football club. Everyone is pulling in the same direction. It sounds like an easy thing to have but it’s not.”

He spoke with great respect for Dyche. “He showed great depth of knowledge of my career,” he said. “The fact is I’ve lost some respect but other people know what I’m capable of and what I bring to a team. Sean is a footballing man and I’m really pleased he saw that in me. I’m going to work damn hard, play with a smile on my face and enjoy it.”

That smile was there for all to see in Istanbul and I’m expecting it to be on view tomorrow at St. Mary’s. We know Pope is out but Heaton is available although he hasn’t featured in any game since suffering an injury at Preston almost three weeks ago. Hart came in for Anders Lindegaard who had also suffered a minor injury and I expect him to keep his place.

What will the team be? Robbie Brady remains out but he, like Vydra, is going to play in Monday’s under-23 game which has now been moved to a behind closed doors venue. Steven Defour is still some way from full fitness but the good news is that Chris Wood is expected to be involved after suffering from an insect bite.

I suspect Matt Lowton and Stephen Ward, both benched in Turkey, will return as will Aaron Lennon, who was fit enough to get a few minutes towards the end. Wood might have to sit on the bench with Barnes starting again.

The team could be: Joe Hart, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, Aaron Lennon, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Jeff Hendrick, Ashley Barnes. Subs from: Tom Heaton, Phil Bardsley, Kevin Long, Ben Gibson, Charlie Taylor, Jon Walters, Dwight McNeil, Sam Vokes, Chris Wood.

Southampton ended last season three points above the drop zone. It was touch and go but a 1-0 win at Swansea, who were relegated, four days from the end of the season proved to be the crucial result.

Mark Hughes has added to his squad during the summer. Mohamed Elyounoussi and Jannik Vestergaard have come in from FC Basel and Borussia Monchengladbach respectively while former Burnley target Stuart Armstrong has arrived from Celtic. They’ve also signed Manchester City goalkeeper Angus Gunn and, over three hours after the window closed, they announced the loan signing of former Burnley striker Danny Ings and that deal will be made permanent next summer.

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Could Ings start for his new club? Could he partner Charlie Austin? Although they were team mates at Burnley for two full seasons, 2011/12 and 2012/13, they only started together on 13 occasions in the league and those games brought just three wins. But we know how talented Ings is and we also know just how lethal Charlie can be in front of goal. If either or both of them start, they will be a handful for us.

Hughes said of Ings: “Danny is available and we’ll have a look at him in the next couple of days. Clearly there’s great enthusiasm from him and he wants to be a part of the opening game. He’s fit and well and has trained and had game time in pre-season. We’ll see how he goes but he’s certainly an option for me.”

Cédric Soares was a doubt having been ill last week but he’s reported back fully fit and Hughes has no injury problems at all going into the game.

We will look at last season’s 1-0 win at St. Mary’s below, our first ever top flight away win against Southampton. It will be our fourth visit in the Premier League. We lost the first two before winning last season while at home we’ve won twice and drawn once.

A year ago we kicked off the season in sensational style with the 3-2 win at Chelsea. Whatever happens tomorrow, it won’t be as spectacular as that I’m sure, but a good result will hopefully set us up for another good season.

 

LAST TIME WE WERE THERE

 

A 3-0 defeat at Manchester City was  our first defeat on the road last season in our fifth away game in the Premier League. Our next game was at Southampton and a 1-0 win was our third victory on the road, equalling our previous best in this league, achieved in 2014/15 season. It kept us in seventh place in the table, a familiar story for much of last season.

It certainly wasn’t an easy afternoon. Nick Pope was in good form for us and there were times in the second half when they were having far too much possession, forcing us to do far more defending than we might have liked although, to be fair, one big save apart, they didn’t really look like scoring.

There were around twenty minutes to go when it all changed and it was a change that shows why Sean Dyche is a football manager and I’m not. He brought off both Chris Wood and Jeff Hendrick and went 4-4-2 with substitutes Ashley Barnes and Sam Vokes.

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I couldn’t see how it could work to be honest, if anything I thought we might need someone else in midfield. But it didn’t just work; it changed the entire game and we put them under some real pressure. And that pressure told with nine minutes to go.

We moved the ball forward really well and eventually got the ball out to Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson on the right. His left footed cross into the box was met by Vokes and his superb header found the corner of the net with Fraser Forster unable to get across.

There was no way back for Southampton; Burnley had their third away win of the season.

The teams were;

Southampton: Fraser Forster, Cédric Soares, Virgil van Dijk, Maya Yoshida, Ryan Bertrand, Sofiane Boufal (James Ward-Prowse 90), Steven Davis, Dušan Tadić (Shane Long 76), Oriol Romeu, Nathan Redmond, Manolo Gabbiadini (Charlie Austin 65). Subs not used: Alex McCarthy, Wesley Hoedt, Sam McQueen, Pierre-Emile Højberg.

Burnley: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Steven Defour, Jack Cork, Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick (Ashley Barnes 65), Chris Wood (Sam Vokes 65). Subs not used: Anders Lindegaard, Phil Bardsley, Kevin Long, Ashley Westwood, Scott Arfield.

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