Burnley need a win to keep the play-off dream alive, writes Jamie Smith.
Four defeats in the last five have left us in the bottom half of the Championship facing a quiet end to the season.
We had promised so much at the turn of the year. Going into the away game at Reading we were one of the division’s form teams – now we’re looking at a top-half finish at best.
Michael Duff could be missing after he went off with a dead leg at Millwall, while Junior Stanislas is still out with his hamstring injury. Martin Paterson and Danny Ings are challenging Charlie Austin for a starting place up front, while some of the lads from the successful youth team could even be in with a shout of a promotion.
At the back, the Clarets are in massive difficulties if Duff isn’t available. David Edgar has had an improved campaign but is not capable of leading a back line, while Ben Mee has had shaky moments and Kieran Trippier looks as dodgy at the back as Tyrone Mears at times.
Andre Amougou’s Burnley career seems to be over and Danny Lafferty isn’t fit, so that leaves just Brian Easton. I like Brian, but he’s not shown himself to be up to Championship football. It could be a very poor back line today if Duff isn’t passed fit.
Midfield continues to be a problem as well, with Chris McCann not looking back to his old self yet and Marvin Bartley finding himself out of the team due to the resurgence of new dad Dean Marney. Out wide, only Ross Wallace can claim to have had a decent season so far.
Howe will probably give it a couple more matches before experimenting a little bit more with his team, waiting until the top six is mathematically out of the question, although personally I would start blooding some of the squad players immediately. Some of the regular starters just aren’t deserving of their place at the moment.
Crystal Palace are arguably the surprise package of the division at the moment and are now 12th and in with a slim shout of making it into the play-offs. Dougie Freedman led them to the semi-finals of the Carling Cup only to suffer late heartbreak – sound familiar? The nomadic striker has worked wonders at the club and they are now looking to the future, with stars such as Nat Clyne likely to have massive careers in front of them.
But Clyne is out for the trip to Turf Moor, which opens the door for Paul McShane, genuinely one of the players I’m most baffled is a professional. If he’s in the Palace team, expect goals. David Wright is available but Freedman may give him a little more time. Dean Moxey and Glenn Murray could also be back.
Palace haven’t lost in the league for almost two months, although five of that unbeaten run of seven matches have been draws. They have six wins on the road this season, while we have six victories at home, so our records are fairly matched.
However, we’re in a bit of a funk at the moment and have struggled at home all season, so I’m finding it hard to predict a home win. A draw, and a further step back from the play-off dreams.
Prediction: Burnley 1-1 Crystal Palace