It really has been a good start to the year, but not a perfect one and that's why we are set to play Birmingham tomorrow on FA Cup 4th round day.
It's the first time in my half a century and more of watching football that clubs in the second tier have had scheduled fixtures on this date and thankfully, once we'd been knocked out of the cup at Barnsley, Birmingham fell in a replay to Leeds to ensure this game went ahead.
Having said that I would have loved to have been going over to Hull again tomorrow and trying to reach the last sixteen in the FA Cup but that's for another season and, instead, we've got an important league game that we hope will move us that bit closer to the top six.
There's a real cluster of clubs in the middle of the division and in the last few weeks we've been able to get ourselves to the top of that group. When we drew at Birmingham five weeks ago we came back up the M6 in 14 place and now go into the return fixture six places higher.
|The hardest I've ever worked says Kieran Trippier|
Since that draw we've played five times in the league. We've won four of them and lost just the one to Leicester with David Nugent scoring the only league goal against us since that late Zigic goal that gave Birmingham a point.
Right back Kieran Trippier spoke to the Burnley Express this week about the run and he gave some explanation to the turn round in form. He told the local paper: "I think it's the hardest I've ever worked. If you ask any of the lads I think they'd say the same.
"He (Sean Dyche) is one of the toughest managers, but he's a good manager as results have shown. We've been doing more fitness work, more defensive work with the forwards attacking us.
"No disrespect to Eddie Howe but the new manager's realised what was going wrong before he took over, he's put it right and hopefully we can carry on."
Trippier added: "We've got Birmingham now. We know what they're about and we'll be doing our studies on them and hopefully we can get another great win like Palace. It's great to be around the play offs and challenging. It's something that we aim for and it's something exciting for us and the fans and hopefully we can keep pushing."
Trippier has only missed two games since signing for Burnley and both due to serving one match suspensions after very harsh red cards. He's certain to be in the team tomorrow with Dyche possibly having more options than recently.
He was able to welcome back all of Chris McCann, Martin Paterson and Brian Stock to the squad last week with McCann playing the full ninety minutes and the other two both being named as substitutes, Paterson coming on for the injured Danny Ings in stoppage time.
Kevin Long, who might just have got a game but for an injury when Michael Duff was ruled out, could be back in contention and there is better news on the other injured players.
Charlie Austin has done some training this week but is considered touch and go. I don't expect him to start but he might just make the subs bench. Michael Duff's injury isn't serious but is likely to see him miss out again and there is good news on Ben Mee who is getting closer and could be back in contention soon.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Dyche stick with the starting eleven from last Saturday. Our team could be: Lee Grant, Kieran Trippier, David Edgar, Jason Shackell, Danny Lafferty, Dean Marney, Chris McCann, Ross Wallace, Danny Ings, Junior Stanislas, Sam Vokes. Subs from: Brian Jensen, Luke O'Neill, Kevin Long, Tom Anderson, Brian Stock, Marvin Bartley, Keith Treacy, Martin Paterson, Charlie Austin.
Birmingham are having a difficult time. Four days after our game against them last month they beat Barnsley at home, but they've followed that up with two draws and two defeats in the league as well as going out of the cup to Leeds.
Those results have left them in 20th place in the league although they are five points clear of the drop zone. Having said that the main problems at St. Andrew's are off the field.
Under normal circumstances the Blues' fans might have been enjoying this week with the COCUP semi-final result from Villa Park but instead they are wondering what the future holds for their club.
The financial situation has been well publicised and they have just about made every player available this month. It would not be a big surprise to see some go in the next few days with goalkeeper Jack Butland, for whom the fee required keeps on dropping so desperate are they for the money, the most likely to leave.
The problems continue though. Due to the finances, 26 of the 29 signings they've made since relegation in 2011 have been on frees, short term deals or loans. Pablo, Darren Ambrose and one of their two ex-Clarets Wade Elliott are the only players who have cost a fee.
Elliott is one of 19 players whose contract will end in the summer, as is our former captain Steven Caldwell. Manager Lee Clark had to lose Papa Bouba Diop because his contract couldn't be renewed although they have been able to extend the contract of former Watford, West Brom and Bolton full back Paul Robinson until the end of the season.
Even so, despite all this, they do have a big squad with some very good players in it which means they will be able to field a strong team against us.
For various reasons ranging from long term injury to compassionate leave, none of David Murphy, Darren Ambrose, Will Packwood, Akwasi Asante, Stephen Carr of Keith Fahey will be in the squad tomorrow.
Also out is Jonathan Spector. He's not fully fit and manager Lee Clark has suggested he could be ok for next week. They are also checking on Ravel Morrison who's on loan from West Ham. He's had an illness this week but is expected to be involved.
In last week's draw against Brighton, both Nikola Zigic, the giant striker, and Marlon King were used as substitutes and either or both could start at the Turf although Clark has said he does like to involved the likes of Nathan Redmond, Robert Hall and Morrison who do offer pace.
It does look as though they will have a similar squad to that used a week ago which was: 1. Jack Butland, 28. Paul Caddis, 6. Curtis Davis, 4. Steven Caldwell, 30. Paul Robinson, 7. Chris Burke, 33. Callum Reilly, 14. Morgaro Gomis, 15. Wade Elliott, 22. Nathan Redmond, 29. Robert Hall. Subs: 13. Colin Doyle, 8. Hayden Mullins, 11. Peter Lovendkrands, 12. Ravel Morrison, 27. Mitch Hancox, 19. Nikola Zigic, 9. Marlon King.
Last Time They Were Here
Burnley had just ended a run of seven games without a win in sensational style when Birmingham last visited Turf Moor. A Valentine's Day win against Barnsley had seen us reach 10th in the table but then no wins in seven had left us in 16th place with little hope of getting close to the top six.
However, three days before the Birmingham game we recorded a 5-1 win against Pompey at Fratton Park. It didn't move us up the table but there was a renewed confidence even against a Birmingham team that was destined for the play offs.
We went into the game short on numbers. Charlie Austin, hardly surprisingly given his second half hat trick at Pompey, was recalled but the big news came in defence. Ben Mee was ruled out and, rather than recall Brian Easton, Eddie Howe played Ross Wallace at left back.
With the out of favour players such as Andre Amougou, Zavon Hines and Keith Treacy all out on loan it left us with a very inexperienced bench with three of the four outfield substitutes, Wes Fletcher, Steven Hewitt and Cameron Howieson, never having played league football for us previously.
|A first team debut for Cameron Howieson|
The first half was all but a non event apart from Birmingham going in front after eleven minutes. That goal came when an unmarked Nikola Zigic headed the ball into the box. David Edgar should have dealt with it but he misjudged things and allowed Marlon King to get in a shot that beat Lee Grant despite him getting a touch to the ball.
With just under an hour gone, and us not having threatened at all, Dean Marney, our best player on the night, was forced off with a head injury. Rather than bring on the direct replacement Hewitt, Howe opted to abandon the diamond formation and went 4-4-2 with the introduction of Junior Stanislas.
Things improved immediately. For a quarter of an hour we grabbed hold of the game and put Birmingham under enormous pressure. Austin went close and Danny Ings should have done better when set up by Stanislas, but the pair we were involved when we finally drew level.
It was Stanislas, who had had such an impact, who got the ball in the corner and played it back for Ross Wallace. Wallace's cross was met by Ings who powered a header into the corner.
We were on top at that point and even a win was a possibility, but within a minute of equalising we were behind again as once more Edgar allowed King to get the better of him. King set up Jordon Mutch and it was 2-1 to Birmingham.
Howe brought on Howieson but with two minutes remaining it was 3-1. Michael Duff gave away a needless free kick. Grant didn't deal with it well enough, parried it to David Murphy who had the easy task of making it 3-1.
It was, apart from a fifteen minute spell, another poor performance from Burnley bringing our seventh home league defeat of the season.
The teams were;
Burnley: Lee Grant, Kieran Trippier, Michael Duff, David Edgar, Ross Wallace, Dean Marney (Junior Stanislas 59), Marvin Bartley, Chris McCann, Josh McQuoid (Cameron Howieson 84), Charlie Austin, Danny Ings. Subs not used: Brian Jensen, Steven Hewitt, Wes Fletcher.
Birmingham: Boaz Myhill, David Murphy, Curtis Davies, Steven Caldwell, Peter Ramage, Chris Burke, Guirane N'Daw, Jordon Mutch, Wade Elliott, Marlon King (Erik Huseklepp 90+1), Nikola Zigic (Andros Townsend 76). Subs not used: Colin Doyle, Nathan Redmond, Morgaro Gomis.
Previous Games against Birmingham
|Last 20 Years|
|2000/01||Division 1||a||2-3||19,641||Cox, Weller|
|2001/02||Division 1||a||3-2||18,426||Little (2), I Moore|
|2009/10||Premier League||h||2-1||20,102||Fletcher, Bikey|
Click HERE to see all previous results against Birmingham