With little over five minutes on the watch last weekend, we were 2-1 down and facing the very real prospect of dropping into the relegation zone if Fulham beat one of Aston Villa or Wolves – two teams Scott Parker’s side had to play before our trip to Burnley this Sunday.
A week later and we’ve not only benefited from a deserved equaliser against Spurs, but also seen Fulham lose not once but twice, with last weekend’s late collapse at Aston Villa followed by a 92nd minute defeat to Wolves on Friday night.
This creates an opportunity we must grasp with both hands at Turf Moor, as we go into the game knowing a win would send us SIX points clear of the drop zone with a game in hand.
Now is the time to learn from previous failings. We recently headed into ‘six-pointers’ at West Brom and Brighton fully aware of what a win would mean, yet failed miserably in both.
The question is, does Bruce stick with the side and formation that looked much improved in last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Spurs or bring fit-again duo Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson back into the starting 11?
A no-brainer for me, but a decision he must get right in a game that offers us a huge chance to take a mammoth step towards survival.
- Callum Wilson – Passed fit for Burnley after coming through training. The question is, will he be named in the starting 11 or on the bench?
- Jamaal Lascelles – Ruled out of the game with a suspected stress fracture in his foot. Some fears he may not play again this season.
- Federico Fernandez – Appears to be back just when we need him, with Bruce confirming he’s trained all week. Could start for the first time since January.
- Ryan Fraser – Ruled out with a groin problem that’s got no better since he returned from the international break with Scotland.
- Andy Carroll – Deemed touch and go for this after training properly for the first time in two and a half weeks on Friday.
- Isaac Hayden – Ruled out for the season with a knee injury; however it’s good to hear he will NOT require surgery.
- Fabian Schar – Remains out with a knee injury as he continues his recovery from surgery.
For the hosts, full-backs Erik Pieters and Phil Bardsley have been passed fit, but Ashley Barnes, Kevin Long and Robbie Brady remain unavailable.
(3-4-1-2): Dubravka – Fernandez, Clark, Dummett – Murphy, S Longstaff, Shelvey, Ritchie – Almiron – Wilson, Joelinton.
Clark IN, Lascelles OUT? – An easy swap no the skipper is out. Clark was poor in his last start at Brighton but doesn’t usually let us down, meaning he is almost certain to come back into the side here.
Fernandez IN, Krafth OUT? – With Lascelles ruled out we need height, experience and leadership, something Fernandez can offer. As for Krafth, you’d like to think we’d take him out of the firing line, with the Swede not the answer at centre-back whatsoever – not to mention against a big Burnley side who like to throw balls into the box.
Wilson IN, Gayle OUT? – This would involve Bruce changing a winning side and throwing Wilson straight into the side, however it seems the latter is ready to return after training all week. I see Joelinton keeping his place after doing so well in that 2-2 draw with Spurs – a call that could keep Saint-Maximin on the bench – but I think Bruce will want his top scorer back in for this one. After all, he takes that big chance Gayle may miss; and that could end up being the difference in a tight game like this.
Elsewhere, it’ll be interesting to see if Joe Willock can force his way back into the starting XI. The Arsenal loanee was dropped last Sunday but ended up scoring a late equaliser against Spurs, giving Bruce a decision to make after Sean Longstaff performed well on his return to the side.
You’d like to think Bruce would learn from our pathetic approach at West Brom (one of our last ‘winnable’ away games) and actually attempt to win this one, not avoid defeat, however I fear he might opt for the latter.
Saying that, it’s fair to say Burnley are a tough nut to crack at Turf Moor and a team few actually beat on their own patch, with Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea and Tottenham the only sides to do so since September.
A part of me hopes we’ll be lifted by last weekend’s improved display and boosted even further by the return of Wilson and Saint-Maximin, however it remains to be seen if both will start.
Hoping for a big win that puts us on the brink of safety, but a low-scoring draw feels more likely.
Prediction: Burnley 1-1 Newcastle