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04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 14/08/04, 3.00pm
Hello, football
By Matt Rowson

Ha! I'd forgotten what a stonking win felt like. Goodbye summer, hello football, and if Monday night is a taste of what's to come then the spare room's yours whenever you want it and what do you fancy for dinner?

Like most of you (and, I suspect, the majority of football fans in the situation of dealing with an unprecedented 3-0 victory), I have spent the past few days adjusting my expectations for the season. "Out" are fears of a relegation struggle, "in" is an irresistible charge towards the Division Two Championship ("Championship Championship"? - Ha! Well thought out, chaps). We shall surely go the entire season undefeated (oh yes, except Preston away. And Gillingham, obviously) and the return of European competition (Copa de Ibiza excepted) is a few short years away. I wonder if Ian Richardson would fancy an honorary kick-off in our first Champions' League game?

To cover off the remote possibility that the above paragraph does not, in fact, represent reality, home victories against the likes of Burnley, candidates to be amongst the strugglers come The Reckoning in May, are surely a precaution best taken.

A bucking of tradition here; no vitriol or sarcasm directed towards Turf Moor, you'll notice. Not actually necessary in the current climate, anyone who's read these pages before, let alone been to Burnley, will be familiar with our perspective (Shit, was that sarcasm? Sorry, old habits...). In any event, Burnley don't need any victimisation at the moment as such is the paucity of their squad, in terms of numbers at least, that any bile would seem unfair. Like turning a tortoise onto its back and lobbing rocks at it.

Only last season Stan Ternent named only four subs on a number of occasions due to lack of numbers, this fixture's equivalent included, since when the squad has got thinner. Burnley have named the same starting eleven and same bench for the first two games of the season, both drawn. In addition to these sixteen the squad seems to boast two names, one of whom is new boss Steve Cotterill's thirty-four year-old player-coach Mark Yates, a former charge at Cheltenham. (Some) money available for squad strengthening or no, you kind of have to wonder what the plan is when injuries kick in (which they surely will, as in a small squad senior players will play all games that they are remotely available for, niggles or otherwise).

That said, there's no questioning the quality of the individuals that Cotterill has been able to attract, in the circumstances, nor the apparent policy of sorting the defence out and worrying about the rest once the Clarets are "hard to beat". The Burnley back line was one of the most comically theoretical entities we experienced at the end of last season, but summer recruitment sees four new names in the back five.

The first of these is Danny Coyne, back as a first choice after a year spent largely on the bench at Leicester. Always rated highly as a shot-stopper at Grimsby, the Welsh international's weakness is traditionally on crosses; however, he has impressed hugely two games in and represents a vast improvement over last season's custodian Brian Jensen, now his deputy.

Right-back is another old Cheltenham name, Northern Ireland international Mickey Duff, who looked decent in our League Cup encounters with Cheltenham four years ago. Former Man United youth teamer Lee Roche has slipped back to the bench. Mo Camara at left back is the sole survivor from last year's back line and seems to be benefitting from the solid base behind him. Nineteen year old Paul Scott is his deputy.

This base is provided by the experienced pairing of Frank Sinclair and John McGreal, summer Bosman signings from Leicester and Ipswich respectively. Both have impressed already, with McGreal in particular providing some much needed aerial attacking prowess on set pieces. Deputies include eighteen year-old Ryan Townsend and Graham Branch, although those who visited Turf Moor with the Hornets in April might question the second of the two as a serious option.

Branch is currently lining up on the left of a five-man midfield, but is still failing to convince the Burnley faithful. Despite the formation, Burnley's attack is desperately short of natural width with Branch's advancing years limiting his effectiveness as a wide man and Ian Moore reputedly looking desperately out of place on the right flank. The only other wide player in the squad is young winger Matt O'Neill, but his failure to get onto the pitch despite the lack of options doesn't say a lot for how highly he's rated.

More convincing altogether is the central trio. Tony Grant was one of few Clarets to consistently impress last season, albeit this form hasn't quite been reproduced as yet. Richard Chaplow, much coveted by Leeds, impressed greatly in twenty minutes at Vicarage Road last season and has continued to improve - he is touted by some as worth a try in a wide position. Then there's Micah, of course, who needs no introduction. The most inevitable and simultaneously the strangest of our summer departures, Turf Moor seems an odd destination. Nonetheless, we know what he's capable of and his attitude to this game might provide an insight into the manner of his departure.

The only obvious cover in midfield is provided by aggressive twenty year-old Joel Pilkington, and by player-coach Yates. Up front, a lone furrow is being ploughed by new skipper Robbie Blake... a fine striker at Division Two level, but not an obvious line-leader. A lack of height in attack is one particularly evident limitation, one which wouldn't particularly be solved by pushing Moore into his more natural role.

A different sort of challenge to last Monday then... QPR were aggressive in midfield and capable in attack (when they got the chance to show it) but slow and disorganised at the back. Burnley will be stronger defensively and hope to grab something. Another win would be nice. The beer in Munich, the paella in Barcelona, the wine in Bordeaux, I can taste them already...