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Finally, we are getting a weekend trip to Newcastle and a 3 p.m. kick off on a Saturday, the first time that’s happened since November 1982.

Tomorrow will see us play at St. James’ Park against Newcastle for the fourth time in the Premier League. The first of the three previous was on New Year’s Day 2015 and we’ve since had two midweek games early in 2018 and 2019.

It was 6th November 1982 to be exact. We went into the game in 19th place in the league and Newcastle were no great shakes at the time, just six places above us at kick off although their 3-0 win, which came courtesy of goals from Kevin Keegan, Imre Varadi and Chris Waddle, moved them up four places while we dropped into the relegation places.

But tomorrow we get that opportunity of a Saturday afternoon crossing the Tyne Bridge into the Toon and St. James’ Park where we are still to win a Premier League game although, back in 1976 we won 1-0 with a Peter Noble goal which remained our final top flight victory until Manchester United were beaten by the same scoreline on the Turf in 2009.

We go into the game in the best form we’ve shown all season with four wins and a draw from the last five and we need to keep that going to push up to forty points. That’s the Premier League equivalent of fifty points in the Championship and Stan Ternent told us that was always the first target after which we could crack on and see where it took us.

I think we are all still pinching ourselves a bit with the form and results over the last few weeks and I reported last week that I thought we now had enough points to stay up this season although that should not be a consideration for us when we play tomorrow or in any other game.

We’ve done it without two of our key players as well to some extent. Ashley Barnes has been missing since the start of the year and Chris Wood came off early in the Southampton game and then missed last week’s win against whinging Bournemouth. Sean Dyche always says when a player drops out with an injury that’s in an opportunity for someone else and how Jay Rodriguez and Matěj Vydra are grabbing it right now.

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The players at Burnley will always say that the atmosphere is good no matter how we are doing, but Ben Mee said this week, with this run of results: “There’s a really good feel about the place. There’s a buzz around training, there’s a buzz around the place. We’re excited for the next game. We want the next game to come quickly and that all bodes well.”

Although he spoke about us being set up to achieve a good points tally, he also went right back to the Dyche mantra of one game at a time. With talk of a season similar to two years ago, he said: “We don’t mind people getting excited, that’s what it’s about, but we focus on what we need to do and not get ahead of ourselves.

“I think that’s what we’ve been really good at in the past years and what takes us so far. We focus on what’s ahead of us and shut out the noise about anything else. We’ll see where it takes us. If we win this, we get to forty points, which is a big prize at the end of the game. We want to reach that mark as soon as we can and then see where we can go.”

Mee missed the end of the 2017/18 season through injury; he’s not missed a minute on the pitch since in the Premier League, a total of 65 games, and he’ll be there again tomorrow, all being well, alongside defensive partner James Tarkowski who has been alongside him for every minute this season.

We learned yesterday that Matt Lowton isn’t ready yet and we know Ashley Barnes is still some way from being fit. Last week saw Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson return to the bench but another niggle looks set to keep him out tomorrow although Wood is fit and will return to the squad.

Wood, for me, is our best striker, but it would be a tough call for Sean Dyche to bring him straight back and leave out either Rodriguez or Vydra. They’ve grabbed their shirts recently, Vydra in the last two games, and I feel sure that we’ll start with them up front although at least we do have a forward option on the bench.

I expect us to line up: Nick Pope, Phil Bardsley, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor, Jeff Hendrick, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Dwight McNeil, Jay Rodriguez, Matěj Vydra. Subs: Joe Hart, Kevin Long, Erik Pieters, Josh Brownhill, Aaron Lennon, Robbie Brady, Chris Wood.

Newcastle, like so many teams, are having an up and down season. When they beat Crystal Palace at home on the Saturday before Christmas they went up to ninth in the table, their highest so far. Since, they’ve won only once in nine games, that a 1-0 home win against Chelsea, and with defeats in each of their last two games they’ve dropped to 14th where they sit with six points less than us. So tight are things though that before our game at Southampton they were above us on goal difference.

Their problem this season has simply been scoring goals. They’ve netted 24 so far which is level with the total scored by Crystal Palace and Watford but no team has scored fewer. Their forwards have failed to score the goals needed, something we hope will continue tomorrow, and midfielder Jonjo Shelvey (pictured below), who has scored five, is the only player with more than two goals this season.

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The one positive for them is how difficult it has been for teams to beat them on their own ground. Only Liverpool and the two Manchester clubs have lost less home games with just Arsenal, on the opening day of the season, Everton and Leicester having left with all three points.

Steve Bruce could have three players back available tomorrow. Shelvey is expected to play having missed the last six matches with a hamstring injury while Javier Manquillo and Emil Krafth could also return.

On the other side of the coin, Valentino Lazaro, signed on loan from Inter Milan in January, was sent off last week at Crystal Palace and will miss the game with a suspension. They will be without long term injury victims Paul Dummett, who score an own goal for us back in 2015, and Andy Carroll and the manager confirmed that Ciaran Clark is now going to be out for a spell with ankle ligament damage. Bruce though did admit that they only had around twelve outfield players fit a couple of weeks ago but that’s now increased to twenty.

He’s hinted at a change in formation and that might just have been linked by Keith Downie from Sky who reckons that Bruce has all but confirmed he’s going to scrap the five man defence and go to a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Downie thinks the most likely line up is: Martin Dúbravka, Javier Manquillo, Jamaal Lascelles, Federico Fernández, Danny Rose, Jonjo Shelvey, Isaac Hayden, Joelinton, Allan Saint-Maximin, Miguel Almirόn, Dwight Gayle. Subs from: Karl Darlow, Fabian Schär, Sean Longstaff, Matty Longstaff, Nabil Bentaleb, Florian Lejeune, DeAndre Yedlin, Matt Ritchie.

 

LAST TIME WE WERE THERE

 

This wasn’t a night to remember almost exactly a year ago and like this season we went there on the back of a good run. It had been our best ever Premier League run with five wins and three draws in eight games and the last of those was that terrific 2-1 home win against Spurs.

There was a blow ahead of kick off with Ashley Westwood not in the team. He’d been taken ill and had been sent home. It meant a move into the middle for Jeff Hendrick with Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson coming in after returning from injury and having missed the previous seven games.

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We didn’t start well but the saving grace for me was that the Newcastle team didn’t look that good and I just felt we needed to step things up a bit and we would be fine. Then Fabian Schär scored a stunning goal that went in off the post from fully 30-yards. That was midway through the half but we didn’t offer too much of a response and things got worse when Sean Longstaff scored their second seven minutes before half time.

James Tarkowski should have scored right on half time but missed the target and after the break we did offer a bit of a threat before Rafa Benitez reverted to type and sat on the lead. We never really threatened again. The unbeaten run was over and we could have no complaints.

The teams were;

Newcastle: Martin Dúbravka, Javier Manquillo, Fabian Schär, Jamaal Lascelles, Florian Lejeune, Matt Ritchie, Ayoze Pérez (Joselu 87), Isaac Hayden, Sean Longstaff (Mohamed Diamé 85), Miguel Almirόn (Paul Dummett 80), Salomon Rondόn. Subs not used: Karl Darlow, DeAndre Yedlin, Ki Sung-yeung, Christian Atsu.

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Phil Bardsley, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Jeff Hendrick, Jack Cork, Dwight McNeil (Robbie Brady ht), Ashley Barnes (Peter Crouch 71), Chris Wood (Matěj Vydra 83). Subs not used: Joe Hart, Matt Lowton, Ben Gibson, Stephen Ward.

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