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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 02/04/05, 3.00pm
Burnley
versus
Watford
 
Who?
By Matt Rowson

Doctor Who started again this weekend.

This event was preceded by a reasonable amount of excitement in the Rowson household, and not only borne of the urgent need for an entertaining distraction from goings on at Vicarage Road. I say reasonable, because I place myself in the large and healthy bracket of people able to enjoy the show's gleeful exploitation of the near limitless scope that its premise affords it without being too obsessed...I save my anorak and fixations for other things. Nonetheless, I was happy enough about the development to persecute my sister by wailing the theme tune at her at intervals throughout the previous weekend, and also to attempt the same to my co-editor via text message after the event on Saturday, his lack of response taken to represent a tolerant but mildly irritated tutting...

Tom Baker's wide-eyed lunacy was the defining incarnation of the title role for me, and loses none of its charm if revisited on one of the innumerable re-run channels. Peter Davison was tolerable but a little dull; Colin Baker not as bad as everyone seems to make out (although not a patch on his turn as Bayban the Berserker in Blake's Seven). But even during the dark days of Sylvester McCoy, when the show was virtually unwatchable, Doctor Who was still a mighty thing. Which is worth bearing in mind, really. The idea, the ethos was still very fine indeed, irrespective of foolish or misguided decisions made by its custodians and their consequences.

Similarly, much as it took a colossal effort at the arse-end of a four day Easter break to bring myself to write another word about Watford given the thoroughly alienating, dispiriting events of the last week, I've got myself in front of this screen by reminding myself that it's Watford that I'm emotionally wedded to... not boards of directors or their decisions, not even managers. But Watford... the people, family, friends, colours, places, sights and sounds. Not a bad weekend for AFC Wimbledon to confirm their second successive promotion, all things considered - they'll be in the Ryman Premier next season.

Burnley, meanwhile. If you're going to make this long trip to what's generally been an inhospitable venue (the last two season's results notwithstanding), you might as well do it when you're already pissed off with the world and football and therefore not in a position to have a good day ruined.

The Clarets' season has scarcely gone any better than our own - four points better off, albeit with a game in hand, the chief difference is that their form or lack thereof has been a steady feed throughout the season without the raised expectation and associated disappointments that longer runs of form entail.

Burnley have got to where they have with a squad that's built on quality above quantity - with Richard Chaplow and Robbie Blake sold on during January and Ian Moore leaving for Leeds prior to the poor men's transfer window (single glazing, presumably, with rotting wooden frames) closing last week, only seventeen members of the squad have any senior experience worth speaking of. Of those, two are loanees and one, player-coach Mark Yates, appears only to have had his registration retained to cover emergencies. The two week break will probably have done the small squad good, with a Mediterranean escape having been undertaken whilst we've been looking for a new manager...

There's some debate concerning who should line up in goal with Danny Coyne now fit again and impressing for the Welsh national side, but Brian Jensen having performed well by all accounts since Coyne's October injury gave him his start.

At the back, a few permutations are possible; Mike Duff, Cotterill's right-back at Cheltenham, has been a regular since his summer arrival by dint of both his versatility and Burnley not having anyone else. He faces competition for the right back slot from Frank Sinclair, now thirty-three, who had an impressive run-out at the Vic earlier in the season. Sinclair can also play in the centre, but the pairing there is likely to be Gary Cahill, hugely impressive during his loan from Aston Villa, and John McGreal, another successful Cotterill signing who sat out the Clarets' last match through suspension. Mo Camara is a fixture at left back, with former Manchester United defender Lee Roche likely to provide defensive cover from the bench.

Cotterill looks likely to field a five-man midfield, with Tony Grant sitting just in front of the back four. In front of him, scurrier James O'Connor is a likely starter having arrived from West Brom in the most expensive of the deadline day moves (175k) following a successful loan earlier in the season. He'll play alongside Micah Hyde, blowing hot and cold as ever but in good form of late and endearing himself with a bomb of a goal against local rivals Blackburn at Ewood Park at the beginning of the month.

John Oster, having been booted out of Sunderland for "misbehaviour" whilst on loan at Leeds, will appear on the right whilst on-loan Ipswich striker Dean Bowditch, who scored a hat-trick against Lennie Pidgeley last season, is likely to start on the left. Cover on the bench is likely to be provided by boo-boy Graham Branch, a comical centre-back in this fixture last season, with flaky winger Jean-Louis Valois and young ballwinner Joel Pilkington further options.

Up front, then, there's just Ade Akinbiyi, sent off three minutes after coming on as sub on his Burnley debut but a goalscorer in his second game at Bramall Lane. No cover is in evidence following Moore's departure, although Bowditch could be moved forward if needed.

The advantage of writing a preview, as BSaD stuff goes, is that it should be largely possible to do whilst focusing on another team entirely if, as now, thinking about Watford is something best avoided. Or so you might think, because even on what might be considered the safe ground of a Burnley messageboard there's blinking disbelief and incredulity at affairs at Vicarage Road. The new man, we are told, will be in place by the weekend, perhaps by the time you're reading this preview. Hope he's brought his magic wand.

Or should that be sonic screwdriver?