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Bring On Burnley

Guest Kamy100

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Guest Kamy100

The last top-flight meeting between Rovers and Burnley was played on the first day of 1966, a good chunk of a lifetime ago. Rovers lost 2-0 but, despite going down that season, beat Burnley on aggregate, having whacked them 4-1 at Turf Moor in October ’65. Since then, the two clubs’ paths have mostly diverged: Burnley originally lorded it over Rovers, spending most of the time between 1966 and 1980 in a higher division. At the start of the eighties, however, the clubs swapped places when Rovers won promotion from Division Three and Burnley dropped out of Division Two. From then it, it was all Rovers: STAYING DOWN 4EVER; Uncle Jack; Dalglish, Shearer and the league title. There was a brief reunion at the start of the decade – thanks for that, Brian Kidd and friends – but even then Rovers asserted their supremacy with a 7-0 aggregate win on the way to promotion. Stan Ternent, the Burnley manager who presumably spent the next few months having his Chinese takeaways delivered, explained the defeat by comparing Blackburn to a Ferrari and Burnley to a mini. Life was good.

Even then, when the teams met as Division One peers, there was a perception Rovers were only down there by some terrible mistake. This was only a few years after the moneybags, title-winning years, when Rovers still had the finance to blow most of Division One, and a large swathe of the Premiership, out of the water. Like Newcastle finding themselves in the Championship, Rovers were seen by the wider world to have been victims of an unfortunate mix-up that would soon be put right. (Granted, the people who thought this generally hadn’t had to watch Ashley Ward wandering the pitch like a man who’d once watched a few football matches on TV and had a rough idea of what was going on but didn’t really like to spoil anyone else’s fun.)

In these more frugal times, Blackburn have been sucked into the lower-midtable clutch of clubs just trying to keep away from the drop, so we meet our dear friends on a more even keel. We’re no longer the moneyed ex-Champions; we’re an unfashionable Northern club punching above our weight. Just like Burnley.

In the run-up to the playoff final in May a board poster, whose name I’ve sadly forgotten, made a good point: Burnley in the Premier League could be good for Rovers. Given the ‘greatest league in the world’ is increasingly resembling a Formula One-style procession, in which league positions are decided ahead of time in smoky Gulf boardrooms and Nyon office complexes, what do teams like Rovers have to aim for? To play Washington Generals to the ‘big four’s’ Harlem Globetrotters? To dream about maybe reaching the Carling Cup quarter-final? With every big-money takeover our realistic ambitions get one league place lower. Given this, we should welcome every game that makes us nervous weeks before, every match that offers the stark prospect of either glory or despair. In a league filled with filler, a game like Rovers v Burnley, so resonant of the Lancashire tussles that were once the Grand Slam matches of the First Division, should be savoured.

Burnley, it must be said, have started the season well for a team expected to be whipping boys. It’s hardly surprising that bigger-name teams have been shocked into a catatonic haze when faced with Turf Moor in all its glory but a 100% home record is certainly impressive. That said, they’ve been pants away from home, and we need to take advantage of that on Sunday.

This game could be a crossroads. Rovers have started indifferently and the Blackburn End gave Sam Allardyce the first significant dissent of his Rovers tenure during the goalless draw with West Ham. Decent performances against Wolves and Villa have been encouraging, albeit alternated with performances against Everton and Arsenal just as bad as anything Burnley have served up away from home. Losing a home game against a team perceived as the weakest in the league, at least on the road, would be bad whoever it was; losing at home to our biggest foes would be as bad a result as Big Sam can dread. Being the first Rovers boss for three decades to lose a derby is not something for the CV. Conversely, a win would boost morale and raise spirits before that malicious fixture computer sends us to Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford in the space of a week. This is a game in which Allardyce’s innate caution needs to be reigned in and we need to attack. Now is the time to show who are Lancashire’s best. Come on Rovers.

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