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For twelve of the twenty Premier League clubs, the mid-season break is over with six fixtures being played over the next four days starting with the Wolves v Leicester game this evening.

We are one of the twelve who had a week off last week and, after picking up seven points from games against Leicester, Manchester United and Arsenal, we are back on the road to Southampton tomorrow and without doubt in a healthier position than we were on our return from Chelsea five weeks ago.

We go into the game on of four teams on 31 points and that group includes Arsenal, our most recent opponents, and Southampton, who we play tomorrow. It’s anyone’s guess how many points might be needed this season to ensure safety. Last season, in the end, 35 was enough although this season the stats seem to suggest it could get up to around 37 so we know we still need to keep getting points to reach that first target of safety.

When looking at tomorrow’s opponents, Burnley eyes will probably be on former Claret Danny Ings. He’s been in outstanding form recently. Only Jamie Vardy and Sergio Agüero have scored more Premier League goals than him this season and eight of his fourteen goals have come at St. Mary’s.

He won’t be the only play featuring against a former club though. Burnley will have both Jack Cork and Jay Rodriguez in the team, two players who helped the Saints establish themselves back in the Premier League following promotion in 2012. Cork had played for them in their promotion season and went on to make 115 league appearances for them while Jay Rod netted 26 goals in 104 games, a figure reduced because of a serious injury he sustained in 2014.

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Cork is very much a Claret again now. He made his debut for us as a substitute at Fulham in January 2010 having been brought in on loan by Brian Laws. He replaced Wade Elliott that night. He left a positive impression on the supporters who were delighted to see Laws bring him back again early in the following season. He moved on to Southampton and then Swansea and it was out of the blue when Sean Dyche got him back in claret and blue in the summer of 2017.

“I’ve been fortunate to have played at some good clubs which have given me good memories, and I’ve been lucky to have some good experiences at Burnley,” Cork said this week. “I came here when I was twenty on loan for the second half of the season just hoping I’d get some games,” he added. “The club was in the Premier League and it was just a good opportunity.”

He added: “I think the fans took to me quite well the first time I was here. I always looked out for the club and I feel like it’s always been a part of me because of how successful it was in the first period I was here. It was nice to come back and it’s even better that it’s been a good three years to follow that on with really.”

He hasn’t missed many games since he returned  and this season, having been forced off with an injury at Aston Villa, he missed the home game against Everton and the next match at Leicester. Initially he partnered Steven Defour but his partner for the last two years has generally been Ashley Westwood and it would be a surprise if the pair weren’t in the centre of midfield tomorrow.

We know that Ashley Barnes and Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson are still out. Both featured during the New Year’s Day game against Aston Villa Barnes hasn’t played since while Guðmundsson was forced off with a recurrence of his hamstring injury in the following game against Peterborough in the FA Cup and he hasn’t played since.

There have been doubts about both Matt Lowton and Charlie Taylor. Reports suggest Taylor will play while Lowton is only 50/50 and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Phil Bardsley come back in. He injured his back in the win against Leicester and was ruled out of what would have been a return to Old Trafford for him.

When predicting the team, I don’t think anyone would have expected Ben Gibson to be in the starting line up but I think we can also rest assured that he won’t be on the bench either . I think he’s more likely to take in a Championship game tomorrow as a spectator, maybe Middlesbrough v Luton.

Sean Dyche has confirmed that latest signing Josh Brownhill will travel having trained with the squad since we returned for a few days off and it may well be he will take one of the substitute positions.

If Lowton doesn’t make it, we should line up: Nick Pope, Phil Bardsley, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor, Jeff Hendrick, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Dwight McNeil, Jay Rodriguez, Chris Wood. Subs from: Joe Hart, Kevin Long, Jimmy Dunne, Erik Pieters, Josh Brownhill, Mace Goodridge, Aaron Lennon, Robbie Brady, Matěj Vydra.

October 2019, I was watching on television when Southampton were well and truly hammered 9-0 at home by Leicester. Anyone taking in that game would probably have had the manager on his way within days and them nailed on for relegation but it’s not quite worked out like that although they lost their next two games and that left them just a point ahead of Norwich at the bottom of the table with eight points from eleven games.

Since, only six teams have picked up more points than the Saints and that’s pushed them currently seven points clear of the drop zone and just behind us on goal difference. A game against them now is very much a different proposition although six of their wins this season have come away from home.

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Their strength seems to be going forward. Despite that poor start, they’ve scored three goals more than us although they have conceded eight more. And we know where that goal threat comes from. They’ve scored 31 Premier League goals with 14 of them scored by Danny Ings who is having a superb season, probably his first virtually injury free since his Premier League season with us five years ago.

We won’t want to see him scoring against us and we will also need to keep an eye on the ever impressive Nathan Redmond while James Ward-Prowse, who has scored four times this season and is second highest to Ings, is dangerous from free kicks.

Into November, I would have thought they were relegation fodder. I’d be very surprised if they were to go down now.

We got above them with the point against Arsenal as they conceded four second half goals at Liverpool after what had previously been a good performance from them. It’s so difficult against the top two now in this league and I don’t think any notice should be taken at that result as we look to tomorrow’s game, it is the sort of result any side can suffer at either Anfield or the Etihad when the home sides play well.

Southampton made one signing during the recent transfer window, that of Tottenham’s Kyle Walker-Peters on loan and he comes into the reckoning tomorrow.

The Southampton team in that game was: Alex McCarthy, James Ward-Prowse, Jack Stephens, Jan Bednarek, Ryan Bertrand, Moussa Djenepo, Oriol Romeu, Pierre-Emile Højberg, Nathan Redmond, Shane Long, Danny Ings. Subs: Angus Gunn, Jannik Vestergaard, Sofiane Boufal, Michael Obafemi, Will Smallbone, Kevin Danso, Ché Adams.

 

LAST TIME WE WERE THERE

 

They were very different circumstances. The game was played on the Sunday as our 2018/19 season got underway just three days after we’d played a Europa League qualifier in Turkey.

Tomorrow, as shown above, provides Jack Cork with a Burnley milestone and last season there were two. Ben Mee played his 250th league and cup game for us while Ashley Barnes became the first player to make 100 Premier League appearances for the Clarets.

On the subject of Cork, he had the ball in the net only for it to be ruled offside and for a long period of the game we were the better side and Southampton were thankful to goalkeeper Alex McCarthy more than once.

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We even had a little period of the game when they had both Charlie Austin and Danny Ings up front but they showed their best form in the latter stages after Austin had gone off with Ings to the fore.

But if either side deserved to win this it was us and it got the season off, in terms of performance, to a very good start. I don’t think anyone there could have envisaged what might happen in the next four league games.

The teams were;

Southampton: Alex McCarthy, Jack Stephens, Jannik Vestergaard, Wesley Hoedt, Cédric Soares (Mohamed Elyounoussi 56), Oriol Romeu, Mario Lemina, Ryan Bertrand, Charlie Austin (Manolo Gabbiadini 72), Stuart Armstrong (Danny Ings 56), Nathan Redmond. Subs not used: Angus Gunn, Jan Bednarek, James Ward-Prowse, Pierre-Emile Højberg.

Burnley: Joe Hart, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, Aaron Lennon, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson (Charlie Taylor 87), Jeff Hendrick (Ashley Barnes 76), Chris Wood (Sam Vokes 73). Subs not used: Tom Heaton, Phil Bardsley, Ben Gibson, Jon Walters.

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