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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 06/02/02, 8.00pm
Oh dear, complaints again...
By Matt Rowson

The Orcs were first bred by the Dark Power of the North in the Elder Days. It is said that they had no language of their own, but took what they could of other tongues and perverted it to their own liking; yet they made only brutal jargons, scarcely sufficient for their own needs, unless it were for curses and abuse. And these creatures, being filled with malice, hating even their own kind, quickly developed as many barbarous dialects as there were groups or settlements of their race, so that their Orkish speech was of little use to them in intercourse between different tribes.

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkein

I wasn't very nice about Burnley in the away tie preview either. A number of the irate items of correspondence from Clarets fans which followed (not, thankfully, in an Orkish dialect) touched on the fact that slagging Burnley as a hell-hole whilst purporting to write about (and therefore somehow champion) Watford was not terribly even-handed. In fairness, it cannot be denied that since the closure of Pie City, Watford is hardly much to write home about.

But it appears that the earlier preview failed to make the point it intended to make. Each of us can only make judgments based on our own experiences. We have no real "history" of consequential or heated encounters with Burnley to base any vendetta on, so there's no motivation in concocting a fictional account. The fact is that on each of my four previous visits to Turf Moor, these occurring over the course of eight seasons and with two different visiting clubs, the welcome offered to visitors has been far from friendly.

We're not talking one or two idiots shouting the odds, or an unfortunate run-in with the wrong crowd. We're talking something between hostility and open aggression from a large proportion of the local populace on the roads outside the stadium. Only Luton and Birmingham are comparable in terms of unpleasantness and in each of these cases there is a mitigating circumstance: Luton probably feel some sort of obligation to be hostile and put up with the same nonsense when they (used to - ha ha) come down to us; Brummies suffer from living in Birmingham. Hell, I'd be pissed off.

So apologies to Burnley fans to whom the stereotype of a narrow-minded bigoted knuckledragger doesn't apply, but until I see some real evidence that you exist my point of view will be unchanged. (Witty, well-maintained websites don't count, by the way. An infinite number of chimps with typewriters, etc. Napalm Death came from Birmingham, after all).

Burnley's season has taken a bit of a downturn of late. Everything's relative though of course, and this slump of one win in six (and that at home to Canvey Island) still sees the Clarets comfortably in the play-off positions rather than flailing pitifully in mid-table like some of us. This recent run featured defeats to both Cheltenham Town in the FA Cup last weekend, and a league concession to Sheffield Wednesday, who pulled of their party-trick of being god-awful but dragging their opponents down to unaccustomed depths and smothering them in dreadfulness.

With Nik Michopoulos out with a calf injury and Luigi Cennamo looking decidedly nervous when coming on as a sub at Whaddon Road, Stan Ternent this week signed Marlon Beresford on loan from Middlesbrough. The former Burnley stopper is likely to face the Hornets on Wednesday.

With absences to key personnel, the Clarets seem to have reverted to four at the back since our earlier encounter. Dean West, who played under Ternent at Bury, is solid enough on the right as long as he has someone in front of him to preoccupy the opposition's left flank. On the left, former Wednesday man Lee Briscoe is the likely choice, although Graham Branch is also an option. Branch has a tendency to back off his marker which Robert Page would be proud of.

In the centre, Ian Cox is reliable and consistent, whilst Arthur Gnohere sounds as if he really could be a Tolkien character. With Steve Davis injured and Mitchell Thomas only recently back in training from a knock himself, Gordon Armstrong is the first-choice deputy.

In midfield, Glen Little's spark on the right flank is absolutely vital to Burnley's attacking play. On the left, Alan Moore tends to drift in and out of games far more often than he was given the chance to do at Middlesbrough. In the centre, Kevin Ball just keeps on going alongside Tony Grant although Paul Weller is nearing match fitness and Paul Cook has returned from loan at Wigan to challenge again for a first-team spot. Brad Maylett is an option in a wide position, whilst Lenny Johnrose can also do the fetching and carrying job in the centre.

Up front, Ian Moore's workrate is generally more dependable than his goalscoring. His regular partner has been Gareth Taylor, who never seems to have been a resounding success wherever he's been (but somehow manages to score against us quite a lot.). Taylor's starting position could be under threat with the 1m signing of Robbie Blake from Bradford, who could make his way into the side for Wednesday. Ternent is looking to strengthen his hand still further with Bob Peeters of Vitesse Arnhem widely tipped as a target. In the meantime veteran Tony Ellis is still an option whilst Andy Payton has returned from a loan spell at Blackpool during which he scored his 201st league goal. Dimitrios Papadopoulos has generally failed to impress since his summer arrival, whilst Anthony Shandran was this week loaned to St.Patrick's Athletic in Dublin to get some first team action.

Wednesday evening is the first of a couple of home games leading us into a busy February in which we really have to start kicking some arse if we are to challenge for the play-offs. Those half-heartedly glowing embers need to ignite if that is going to happen. Repelling the evil hordes whence they came would be a good start.