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02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 30/11/02, 3pm
Avoiding disappointment
By Matt Rowson

If there's one sure fire way to avoid disappointment in life, it's not to go into things with any expectation of success or enjoyment.

Let's face it, it's going to rain. Whatever the weather forecast suggests. And the traffic's going to be crap. Four weekends between now and Christmas, what do you reckon. And if you're travelling by train, there'll be delays (that's you, Grant). You knew that.

And don't even think about buying a Lottery ticket, because you know what will happen... your numbers will come up, all six, and then you won't be able to find the ticket. Absolutely cast iron guarantee. And you'll never find it again. Just think how you'll feel. How easy will going into work be on Monday morning, for example. And just how much will you dread the first "so how was your weekend?" and the sympathy that will follow before the individual concerned rushes off to gleefully brighten up their dull Monday morning by passing the story on to the entire office, and then all their friends via email, and ultimately their friends' friends, and their friends' friends' friends, and you'll have been copied on the story three times by five o'clock.

Eventually you'll give up going to work at all, and just stay at home staring at daytime TV and living off jaffa cakes and toast. You'll end up twisted and bitter and spending your time shouting at small children.

So don't do it.

We are, after all, playing Burnley, and the general way of things at the moment is that when we play Burnley, we lose. It's the law. We have, in fact, lost our last five games against the Clarets, scoring one goal (Pennant last season) and shipping eight in the process. It really doesn't seem to matter how we play or how the game goes...we've lost games that we deserved to win, and lost games in which we've been comprehensively outplayed by much the same scoreline. Even the twin boosts of GT's first game back in charge of us and Chris Waddle's first in charge of Burnley in 1997 only resulted in a 1-0 win, our only victory in the last eight fixtures.

Burnley's form this season, not that this is remotely relevant, has been a bit hot and cold, characterised by long runs of defeats interspersed with long unbeaten runs, the current one presently at four games. They have a Worthington Cup tie at home to Manchester United next week. With any other opponents there may be cause to hope that this might work as some form of distraction; in this case, it is somewhat inevitable that our opponents will see themselves as playing for their places.

Our fate is compounded by the presence in the Clarets' squad of a whole host of individuals who have scored goals or won penalties against us over the past five years.

In goal is Marlon Beresford, in fine form during his third spell at Turf Moor but still only on a month-to-month contract having been released by Middlesbrough in the summer. Erstwhile first-choice Nik Michopoulos is on-loan at Palace, and with no other senior keeper on the books Stan Ternent has been naming five outfield substitutes in recent games.

Dean West will play at right-back; the Clarets' 'Player of the Year' formerly played under Ternent at Bury. At left-back will be Graham Branch (Stockport away, 1998), a confidence player who has looked uncomfortable in this unnatural defensive role. The central partnership has comprised Mark McGregor (Wrexham away, 1997) and Arthur Gnohere, a left-sided African-born Frenchman with a tendency to overplay it. This back four, having shipped six goals at Grimsby in their first outing as a unit, have since kept two clean sheets, but it seems likely that captain Steve Davis (Luton home, 1995) will return from injury. Ian Cox, however, (Bournemouth home, 1997, Burnley home, 2002) is out with a torn hamstring. Former Sunderland veteran Gordon Armstrong is another option at the back, having been retained on a one-year deal in the summer.

Burnley's midfield has been accused of a lack of creativity when things have been going badly, and are weakened on Saturday through the suspension of Lee Briscoe, who has accumulated five bookings. Former Middlesbrough winger Alan Moore should stand in for Briscoe on the left, with the prodigious Glen Little (Burnley away, 2001) on the right. In the centre, veteran Paul Cook has been captaining the side in Davis' absence but left Saturday's game early with a shoulder injury; if absent, he is likely to be replaced by Tony Grant. Paul Weller (Burnley home, 2002) makes up the midfield. Brad Maylett, a quick but punchless winger, is likely to be on the bench.

Up front, Robbie Blake has been in fine form; his regular partner Gareth Taylor (Burnley home, 2001), last season's leading scorer if still not universally popular, missed Saturday's game with an injury. He was replaced by the hardworking but hardly prolific Ian Moore. Dimitrios Papadopoulos, who made his full debut for the Greek side last week, is another option but Andy Payton (Burnley away, 2001) has had a hernia op this week and will be out until the New Year.

Burnley, then. Our last home game until the weekend before Christmas, a game that will see us drop further into midtable should we lose, with the Clarets currently just a place behind us. However bad it gets, console yourself with one thought.

At least the game's not at Turf Moor.