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brighton 1000x500November started with a trip to Southampton and ended with a midweek away game at Bournemouth and now in December we are back down to the south coast again to play Brighton in the penultimate away game of 2017.

It’s been an incredible week to be a Burnley supporter. Last Saturday we went into our home game against Watford having already accrued 25 points in the Premier League, an incredible return in early December. By the time we left a freezing cold Turf Moor on Tuesday night we’d taken that total to 31, not far short of what’s going to be required to stay up this season, and we sat in fourth place.

We loved it and Sky milked it, even more so after Sean Dyche’s good mood left him telling us he was the proudest man in Proudsville. The television company even nipped into the Town Hall to talk to the Mayor about it all.

By Wednesday night, we had come back down to earth a bit. Liverpool could only draw against West Brom but that was enough to take them back above us while Tottenham’s Wembley win against tomorrow’s opponents Brighton saw them move back ahead of us also.

So, we travel to the Sussex coast in 6th place in the Premier League. We’ve been told we can dream but the manager has made it clear that it is very much business as usual at Turf Moor and Gawthorpe and we will continue training and playing, and showing the same attitude, as we’ve been doing all season.

In reporting the Stoke game, I reference an interview with Jack Cork from early November. At the time we had 19 points, and Cork said we would maybe try to get to thirty points by Christmas. It was an ideal that, to be honest, I laughed off at the time.

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Cork himself recalled it yesterday. Speaking to the press, he commented: “I said a few weeks ago if we could get thirty points by Christmas it would be perfect and set us up for the next half of the year and we could set some new targets.”

He added: “To reach thirty points with a few games left this year is great. The next target is now forty points and when we reach that we will try and set more targets from there and try and progress even more. We’ve got to keep pushing and see how far we can go.

“We’ve had a great start, it would be a shame if we then decided to give it up. Now we’re getting to a point where we could be safe, we need to try and push ourselves on and see how far we can go.”

Asked about Europe, he warned: “It’s nice to have those dreams and believe those sort of things, but I’ve been in a team before where we got carried away and started talking above our station and it’s come crashing down. We can’t get carried away. We need to keep doing the basics and what this team’s good at.”

Cork, in his third spell with the club after two earlier loans, has settled in well alongside Steven Defour in the midfield. Both players have started every game and Cork has played every single minute in the Premier League this season, a record now matched, following recent injuries, only by James Tarkowski.

Our injury worries are easing. Although long term injury victims Tom Heaton, Dean Marney and Jon Walters remain out of the reckoning there is good news regarding Matt Lowton and Ben Mee, both of who have been passed fit after missing the last four and two games respectively.

Stephen Ward came off just before half time in the Stoke win with a knock on the knee. He will be assessed with Charlie Taylor, who made his Premier League debut as his replacement, standing by.

Last season, for virtually the whole of the season, we had Heaton in goal behind a back four of Lowton, Michael Keane, Mee and Ward. It’s incredible to think that all five of them were missing for more than half of Tuesday’s win when we kept our eighth clean sheet of the season. It’s all about the framework.

At this stage in a match preview, I try to predict the starting line up. I think I can safely select the goalkeeper, the midfield and forwards, but I’m not at all sure about the back four. If Ward is fit, I’m sure he’ll continue but what about Lowton and Mee, their deputies have been Phil Bardsley and Kevin Long; both have been excellent.

I’m going to edge my bets this week and we’ll select from Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, Phil Bardsley, Kevin Long, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, Charlie Taylor, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Steven Defour, Jack Cork, Scott Arfield, Jeff Hendrick, Chris Wood, Anders Lindegaard, Ashley Westwood, Fredrik Ulvestad, Nahki Wells, Sam Vokes, Ashley Barnes.

When we were promoted in 2016, Brighton ended the season in third place but missed out on promotion in the play-offs. One year on, and with the same 93 points total we achieved in each of our last two promotions, they won promotion to the Premier League as runners-up behind Newcastle and returned to the top flight for the first time since 1983.

They got off to a losing start this season although I don’t think anything else could have been expected on the opening weekend with their first fixture against Manchester City. They’ve done ok and they had moved into the top half of the table by the end of November. Three games without a win since now sees them in 13th place.

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They’ve won four times, twice at home and twice on the road. Their home victories have come against West Brom and Newcastle while on the road they’ve won at West Ham and Swansea. Glenn Murray (pictured) is their leading goalscorer, he’s scored five times, two of those coming from the penalty spot.

Chris Hughton has an almost fully fit squad to select from. Only Steve Sidwell, the midfielder who scored two late goals to deny us victory at Brighton almost 15 years ago, is ruled out and it is thought that Murray and Pascal Gross could both be recalled after being named as substitutes in their midweek game against Spurs.

Brighton lined up at Wembley: Mat Ryan, Ezequiel Schelotto, Lewis Dunk, Shane Duffy, Gaëtan Bong, Anthony Knockaert, Beram Kayal, Dale Stephens, Davy Pröpper, José Izquierdo, Tomer Hemed. Subs: Tim Krul, Bruno Saltor, Connor Goldson, Izzy Brown, Pascal Gross, Solly March, Glenn Murray.

Former Burnley loan player Shane Duffy will line up in defence for Brighton and he’ll be up against some players who are familiar to Brighton fans. We signed Ashley Barnes from them in January 2014 but Sam Vokes and Chris Wood have also spent time at the Amex during loan spells, Vokes in 2011/12 and Wood in the previous season when he netted eight goals for them.

 

LAST TIME WE WERE THERE

 

Tomorrow will be the first time the two clubs have ever met in the highest division of English football and our last meeting came in the Championship in April of last year and what a game it was with four goals and massive controversy towards the end as Burnley fought to try and get an equaliser.

The name Dale Stephens was one on Burnley lips for some time. A transfer target for the Clarets, he even handed in a transfer request to try and get the move last season but ultimately stayed with Brighton and, on promotion, signed a new long term deal.

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He played his part in this game, giving the home side the lead on the half hour when, following a corner, he got in front of David Jones at the far post to score.

That lead didn’t last long, three minutes to be exact, when Andre Gray scored from close range after Michael Keane headed a corner into his path.

Brighton had been the better side and right on half time regained the lead when an Anthony Knockaert shot took a deflection off Keane. We couldn’t complain and for much of the second half we didn’t look likely to get back into it.

Matt Taylor came on and changed things for us with Dean Marney then replacing Jones. Now it was Burnley on top and we put them under some real pressure. With not long to go, we won a corner on the left. Taylor’s kick was met by Keane who headed home only for the bemused officials to wave play on despite the ball going so far over the line it was clear from the seats behind the goal.

We weren’t to be denied. Deep into stoppage time, Taylor again with a corner from the left found Keane. Once again Keane headed home. This time it counted and we’d won a much deserved and vital point.

The teams were;

Brighton: David Stockdale, Bruno Saltor (Gaëtan Bong 82), Connor Goldson, Lewis Dunk, Liam Rosenior, Anthony Knockaert, Dale Stephens, Beram Kayal, Jamie Murphy, Tomer Hemed (Steve Sidwell 85), Sam Baldock (James Wilson 43). Subs not used: Niki Maenpaa, Gordon Greer, Jiri Skalak, Kazenga LuaLua.

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Joey Barton, David Jones (Dean Marney 72), Scott Arfield (Matt Taylor 66), Sam Vokes, Andre Gray (Ashley Barnes 81). Subs not used: Paul Robinson, Tendayi Darikwa, James Tarkowski, Michael Kightly.

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