Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Burnley preview

After the shameful display at the weekend, tomorrow night offers a fixture for the romantics to reminisce about....Burnley vs Charlton.

In light of Saturday's performance, the horrid weather and the usual midweek travel challenges, our away support at Turf Moor could well be in just double figures. At least Pards won't be able to blame the unrealistic expectations of the watching Addicks.

In case anyone had forgotten where the humble supporter lay in the 'priorities of the authorities' (a good name for an album there), Blackpool travel to QPR, on the same evening that we travel to Burnley. Of course it would be too difficult to carve the league into 'north' and 'south' for the purposes of selecting those fixtures to be played midweek.

A good friend of mine here in New York is a Burnley fan. Along with a fellow WBA fan here, we struck a unique betting proposition. For each of the six fixtures between our respective clubs, the loser (if applicable) would be obliged to purchase a top-quality bottle of champagne to share with his two compatriots. In addition, further bottle(s) would be due at the end of the season based upon respective league positions.

Ever the charitable type (especially where northerners are concerned), I leaped to the defence of my Burnley friend and declared the competition fundamentally unfair given the relegation battle they would surely soon to be embarking upon. "Have a 26-point head start," I offered eagerly, perhaps the most costly misjudgment since Richard Murray turned to Les Reed and said, "...well done, you've got the job." Just for good measure, I gave WBA a 2-point start as well.

In light of the two defeats so far, the current league table, plus a bonus FA Cup defeat for good measure, it's not for nothing that I'd surely be heartily cheered if I visited the vineyards of Moet & Chandon, or Verve Clicquot. I wouldn't mind, but it's not even my tipple of choice; it's guaranteed to end in a headache.

I've been desperately searching for positives from Saturday, and I think I've found one. If there's something worse than losing when you've played badly, it's losing when you've played well. The latter requires a tender approach from management to lift the players from their morose state. The former meanwhile requires a good old-fashioned kick up the backside, and hopefully (even in the minds of today's modern footballer) a strong motivation to win back some pride.

The omens are actually pretty good. Firstly let's cheer up a bit; we've only lost 5 of our last 18 league games, a run that immediately followed the home defeat against the Clarets. Admittedly we've only won 6, but the last two (shocking) defeats (versus Scunthorpe and Blackpool) were followed immediately by excellent controlled wins over Palace and Sheffield United respectively. Indeed we've only had one pair of back-to-back losses since October.

It's that Jekyll and Hyde nature of our form particularly in 2008 which continues to surprise and infuriate, probably not least Pardew himself. Some have suggested the spate of loan signings has destabilised the club, but the jury is out in my view. It is difficult to argue that Mills and Sodje have not added value, whilst it is surely too early to form a conclusion about Cook, Sinclair and Lita. Greg Halford just doesn't look like a footballer to me, and I'd much rather see Moutaouakil partnering Youga on the flanks, as he did to good effect for a while.

However the true value of the loan players may emerge just when we need it to, in the play-offs. Rather than a last-gasp attempt to secure automatic promotion, perhaps it is actually a moderately high-risk strategy to mould a new short-term team which can just do enough to secure a top six berth, but which then reaches its peak as others are fading. It doesn't take a enormous leap of faith to imagine that the nervous looking Sinclair, or the rusty Lita might both be tearing defences apart in two months time.

The answer probably just lies in the 'work in progress' nature of the team this season, emerging as it did from the ashes of last season. The sum of our bulging squad has clearly been less than its parts, but we're still fifth for goodness sake and still probably (just) odds on for a play-off berth. If I retrospectively inject my early-season optimism with a healthy does of realism, and handily ignore my champagne bill, then I might dare to suggest this season has been a minor success. Go on challenge me, I dare you.

I'm determined to second-guess Pardew's team selection at least once more this season, although his unpredictability, combined with Saturday's disaster, make this an even more precarious choice than usual. The away games at Burnley, Ipswich and Plymouth will define our season, so it's vital he gets it right: Weaver, Halford, Youga, McCarthy, Sodje, Cook, Zheng, Holland, Semedo, Varney, Gray. Subs: Elliott, Fortune, Ambrose, Iwelumo, Lita.

NY Addick predicts: Burnley 1 (Cole), Charlton 2 (Zheng, Lita). Att: 14, 209.


At 9:50 AM, Blogger Kings Hill Addick said...

I agree with the proposal to build a new team in time for the play offs, I just think it could be a dangerous plan if the building process costs us too many points between now and May 4th. However, I'll gladly buy you a bottle of Champagne if we win promotion. I'll even help you drink it if you're over for the play off final. I just won't be actually buying it until we know for sure. Never count your chickens.....

At 10:18 PM, Blogger Julia said...

Dear NYA,
Please make sure that you pay up with the real Macoy this time, not that fake Long Island stuff!!!!!
Up the Clarets !!!!!
Bertie Bee.


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