Hawthorns beckons for Clarets
Burnley go in search of away points tonight, to add to the one gained against Manchester United at Old Trafford, with a visit to face West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.
I don’t know why, but it is one of the grounds in English football I always look forward to visiting. It’s been modernised over the years since my first visit there in 1966 but has retained its traditional football ground feel and look.
I say I don’t know why, and that’s because we have not been particularly successful there over more recent years. Alex Elder and Gordon Harris scored in a 2-1 win on that first visit and we repeated that scoreline in the first away game of the 1966/67 season when Brian O’Neil got both goals for us.
I’m sure the West Brom fans dreaded our visits at that time. In the seven seasons previous to those two wins we’d won another four and drawn the other three. At the time, along with Leicester’s Filbert Street, it was considered one of the best grounds in the country for Burnley.
That started to change in the 1967/68 season when Arthur Bellamy’s late goal could be considered no more than a consolation; by then we’d conceded eight times, and the only win since came in 1969/70 when Steve Kindon scored the only goal in a 1-0 win.
Following our relegation in 1971, we didn’t play them very often at all. There was just one defeat in 1992/93 until the 21st century when we’ve been there six times in the league and picked up just one point, that in 2000 when Graham Branch scored a soft that should not have beaten Baggies’ goalkeeper Brian Jensen.
Apart from the draw in the FA Cup in 2009, it’s been five consecutive defeats in which we’ve conceded a total of 14 goals including two occasions when four have gone into our net, the first of them in 2003 when Jensen was playing his first away league game for the Clarets and more recently on our Premier League visit two seasons ago.
This time we go there ahead of them in the league although not by much it has to be said. We are currently one place and one point in front of them.
Burnley have welcomed back to training this week those players who were away on international duty. One of those players is Steven Defour who is back in England having won his 51st cap for Belgium in a friendly against the Netherlands in Amsterdam.
He’s confident that he can be part of a Burnley squad who can do well in the Premier League, certainly well enough to avoid a return to the Championship.
“We are playing well,” he said. “We have had some good results, but it’s just a start. We have to perform every week. Before, everyone was talking that Burnley would have a difficult year to stay up but what I am seeing and experiencing is that we have a team which has enough quality to stay up.”
He added: “The away game against United gave us a lot of confidence and I hope we can perform the same way and get something at West Brom. It will be a tough game because they are a direct opponent. I hope we can get a good result there, although it won’t be easy.”
There is no doubt he has become a popular player in the stands and he said: “The fans are amazing, They are giving us a lot of confidence. It shows also in the results that they are giving us a push in the back. I love their support. It has given me the confidence to take some risks on the pitch and I hope I can continue like this.”
Defour played the full 90 minutes in that recent international, something that he hasn’t done as yet with Burnley although , since signing for us, he has only missed two games, including the one against Manchester United, with a hamstring injury. He has, in the last week, spoken about how much stronger his is getting and that he doesn’t think it will be long before he is able to play through to the end of games.
All of our internationals have come back fit and Sean Dyche reported a clean bill of health other than potentially Stephen Ward who suffered a hamstring injury himself in that Old Trafford draw. Jon Flanagan deputised against Crystal Palace and I would expect him to continue at left back should Ward be ruled out.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see us unchanged from that Palace win. If so, our team will be: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Jon Flanagan, Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Jeff Hendrick, Dean Marney, Steven Defour, Scott Arfield, Sam Vokes. Subs: Paul Robinson, James Tarkowski, Michael Kightly, George Boyd, Patrick Bamford, Ashley Barnes, Andre Gray.
West Brom ended last season in 14th place as Tony Pulis enjoyed his first full season as manager. Once the season had settled down they were never far below that and their final points total of 43 was a comfortable six points clear of relegated Newcastle and a staggering 26 points ahead of their close neighbours Aston Villa.
Off the field, things have definitely changed. Jeremy peace, the long time owner of the club, has sold out to Guochuan Li from China and the new owner has installed John Williams, the former Blackburn chairman who was pushed out by Venky’s, as chairman.
On the field, it’s very much the same. If they were continue as they have done so far they would reach a points total of around 45 points and again would be comfortable in terms of the league table.
Their 2-1 win at Leicester last time out was their third league win of the season. They beat Crystal Palace 1-0 on the opening day of the season but their only home win to date was the 4-2 beating of West Ham in mid September and there was even a slight scare that day as they saw a 4-0 lead start to disappear.
Other than that, they’ve picked up points at home in draws against Middlesbrough and Spurs while they have suffered defeats at the hands of Everton and Manchester City who were 4-0 winners in their last home game.
Nacer Chadli leads the goalscoring list. The former Spurs player has scored four goals while Salomon Rondon is one behind with three. One player not on the scoresheet is Saido Berahino. He always seems to be the player in the news at West Brom but certainly not for his goalscoring exploits. He scored against Crystal Palace in February but that’s his only goal in 2016.
He won’t be playing tonight. It was revealed yesterday that the player who was on the naughty step when they played at Burnley two seasons ago, was returning to a conditioning camp in the South of France as he tries to get back to the level of fitness required for first team football.
Today he’s issued a personal statement about what has been the most difficult year of his career so far. He thanked the club for their continued support but became the second Premier League player this week to hit out at the media. He said: “Constant speculation in the media doesn’t help and I have made this statement in the hope that it will respect my privacy and determination to get my career back on track.”
The 23-year-old kicked off the season in the team but hasn’t played since mid-September. Salomon Rondon is fit to return having recovered from a hamstring injury at Leicester while Chadli faces a test as he hopes to get back after knee surgery.
Also expected to come into the reckoning is James McClean who missed the last game but scored that crucial winner for the Republic of Ireland in a week last Saturday.
They lined up against Leicester: Ben Foster, Craig Dawson, Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, Allan Nyom, Claudio Yacob, Darren Fletcher, Chris Brunt, James Morrison, Matt Phillips, Salomon Rondon. Subs: Boaz Myhill, Brendan Galloway, Jonathan Leko, Sam Field, Kane Wilson, Hal Robson-Kanu, Craig Gardner.
LAST TIME WE WERE THERE
Take me home. Those were the words of one of our fellow travellers just as we’d parked up there for our visit in 2014. Like tonight’s game, both our games against West Brom were televised by Sky in 2014/15 and the away game was given top billing at 4 p.m. on Super Sunday.
Why did he want to go back home? He’d just seen the team news. We were still without both Dean Marney and Danny Ings, but David Jones had also missed out and we went into the game with a 4-1-4-1 formation with Steven Reid in the holding role and a midfield four of Ross Wallace, Scott Arfield, George Boyd and Michael Kightly, four players more likely to be seen playing in the wider positions.
You did wonder how it might work and the answer was that it didn’t as West Brom recorded a 4-0 win.
A Kightly shot over the bar and a penalty appeal, rightly not given, was as good as it got in the first half for us, but we did survive for half an hour until Craig Dawson, a player we’d chased all summer, gave them the lead. It was just a routine corner but Dawson got the better of Jason Shackell in the air and in went the header despite Kieran Trippier trying to keep it out.
Had we gone in a goal behind at half time, who knows, but in time added on they got a second and again it was from a corner. This time Graham Dorrans, who we tried to get in the following January, flicked the ball on for Saido Berahino to head home from virtually on the line.
Sean Dyche took action. Off came both Reid and Wallace and neither would start for Burnley again. On came Nathanial Chalobah and Ashley Barnes as we reverted to the familiar 4-4-2. It was the first time Chalobah had played for us and he came so close to beating Ade Akinbiyi’s record for the shortest debut. Thankfully, Jon Moss decided a yellow card was sufficient for his reckless challenge on Craig Gardner.
Things were no better after the break. Berahino got his second just over ten minutes into the half and then right at the end we conceded a fourth when Dorrans fired a shot into the bottom corner.
That was three points from the first six games and only one goal scored, that in the 3-1 opening game defeat against Chelsea.
The teams were;
West Brom: Ben Foster, Andre Wisdom, Craig Dawson, Joleon Lescott, Sebastien Pocognoli (Cristian Gamboa 83), Graham Dorrans, James Morrison, Craig Gardner (Claudio Yacob 87), Chris Brunt, Stephane Sessegnon (Georgios Samaras 74), Saido Berahino. Subs not used: Boaz Myhill, Youssoff Mulumbu, Sebastian Bianco.
Burnley: Tom Heaton, Kieran Trippier, Michael Duff, Jason Shackell, Ben Mee, Steven Reid (Nathaniel Chalobah ht), Ross Wallace (Ashley Barnes ht), Scott Arfield, George Boyd, Michael Kightly, Lukas Jutkiewicz (Marvin Sordell 68). Subs not used: Matt Gilks, Kevin Long, Michael Keane, Stephen Ward.