By Matt Rowson
It's been all about efficient use of resources this week. Braving Bluewater a fortnight before Christmas was a challenge enough in itself last weekend, but then finding suitable presents for the most awkward menagerie of relatives imaginable whilst remaining within a halfway sensible budget was a task beyond my meagre capabilities (I got the presents, the budget went out of the window).
Later in the week, early attempts at this preview were kyboshed by our telephone going down. "A network fault - could take a week to sort out" say BT helpfully... only two days as it turns out, but enough to concertina all research and writing of this preview into one Thursday evening. Efficiency, again, a watchword, particularly since energy reserves have already been sapped by a drive to Hull and back today. At least the horrific tower of black smoke by Junction 8 has gone, meaning that this stretch of motorway is no longer a moron-magnet (three shunts counted on the way home on Tuesday evening alone). There was still a closure further up though...
Anyway, the point is, this is a preview on the run, off the seat of my pants, with no preparation and precious little vim left to drip into it. Sue me. And in case you hadn't spotted it already, the segue is coming now...
Efficiency is of course a positive slant on the policy decision that appears to have been made by Watford this summer, mirroring that made at Turf Moor a year or two earlier... focusing the make-up of the squad on quality rather than quantity. This leaves both clubs in the position of having a first eleven that is strong enough to make serious headway in the division, but susceptible to injuries and suspensions disrupting things, as we have discovered in recent weeks (and earlier in the season, when Marlon and Darius were both out in late September).
Brian Jensen will probably be in goal from the Clarets, having recovered from the rather suspect "injury" inflicted by Darius Henderson at Vicarage Road earlier in the season - an incident that still appears to rankle at Turf Moor, with several quotes along the lines of "we owe them one" in evidence. "Whatever", as Tsega would say...
Welsh International Danny Coyne, normally in direct competition with Jensen for a starting slot, is recovering from a knee injury... which is a bit of a shame, since it'll be ten years and a day since Coyne's most famous "dodgy keeper" visit to the Vic with Tranmere Rovers. Hemel-born Lee Grant has been signed on loan from Derby County as cover and should be on the bench.
At the back, the Clarets miss the presence of the formidable Wayne Thomas, also out with a knee injury, whilst Kenny Lowe completed a loan spell and returned to Wolves this week. However Jon Harley should return from suspension at left back (seeming a little less formidable now than when he scored against us for Chelsea in the Premiership, not Premier etc). John McGreal will play in the centre and it's a fair guess that Frank Sinclair, who covered uncomfortably at left back at Bramall Lane last weekend, will replace the departed Lowe in the centre. Mickey Duff, not in the best of form by all accounts, should play on the right, whilst Danny Karbassiyoon and Graham Branch are defensive options on the bench.
As far as I can tell, Burnley fielded a five man midfield against Sheffield United... Gareth O'Connor, one of three summer midfield signings from Bournemouth, has been fielded wide on the left where he is "wasted" according to one account, while several tell of his tendency to drift inside. Micah's mythical winter disappearing act has been cited on the messageboards, whilst James O'Connor, who first played under Cotterill during his brief spell at Stoke in 2002, should also feature - he scored in this game last season. Former Arsenal trainee John Spicer has also been getting a game... a friend of mine has, since we were about thirteen, greeted any reference to milk with the riposte "you're milky, Spicer", a line that took his fancy during a school read through of "Brighton Rock". However I doubt that Spicer's nickname is "Milky", although perhaps it should be.
The fifth member of the midfield appears to be Nathan Dyer, nominally a striker and with two goals in his four games for Burnley since signing on loan from Southampton - he appears to be going down well. Irishman Chris McCann is another option, but he has featured little of late and our encounter earlier in the season remains his one league start for Burnley. Wade Elliott should get a place on the bench.
Up front, Ade Akinbiyi has thirteen goals to his credit this season and has acquired cult status in East Lancashire. Less so Gifton Noel-Williams, who hasn't started for the Clarets since September but tends to make a second half entrance from the bench.
This fixture last season was Betty's first in charge, and in many ways this one will be even tougher. Our recent performances have been flattered by limited opponents, but this constitutues the first of a run of much tougher looking fixtures over Christmas and the New Year. Betty's comments on the Official Site on Thursday seem to suggest that the very block-shaped Jay Demerit will again be shoved into a round hole up front, contradicting earlier suggestions that Darius would be back involved before Christmas. Much as I love Jay's commitment, this development doesn't fill me with confidence.
Right. Now I'm going to bed. Have a good Christmas...