Blackburn Rovers v Burnley, 12.30
17 March ~ Today's East Lancashire derby between Blackburn Rovers and Burnley sees the usual disproportionate policing, penalising supporters with a stupidly early kick-off, Glastonbury-style ticketing restrictions and the bussing in of away fans under helicopter surveillance. A boycott from Burnley supporters angry at being forced to travel on coaches and pay for the privilege has failed, mainly because the away support realise this is their best chance of beating Rovers for the first time in 34 years. The atmosphere will still be electric, despite all attempts to dampen it by the police.
Both clubs have relatively new managers with Sean Dyche taking over at Turf Moor, dumped by Watford’s Italian owners despite a good record, and Michael Appleton jumping ship from Blackpool to replace Henning Berg after his very short reign. Both have struggled to make their mark on teams fighting for Championship form with little chance of either making the play-offs and, in Blackburn’s case, now only six points above the relegation zone.
Appleton is making apocalyptic noises about the state of the team and the lack of effort from some players leading to Danny Murphy not only losing the captaincy but also being told he will never play for the club again. A lopsided squad constructed by Steve Kean and Shebby Singh has left a team with an abundance of players in certain positions and huge gaps in others which, combined with injuries, has left an expensive but threadbare Rovers side in deep trouble.
A Monday night home defeat to Hull City finished off Burnley’s outside promotion chances but fans are hoping that their better away than home record (which Dyche puts down to players being “scared of their own supporters”) will finally see a derby victory. Pinning their hopes on Charlie Austin’s fantastic goalscoring ability combining with the shocking state of their rivals, fans are demanding their first win over Rovers since 1979. Hovering around the outer reaches of the play-offs for part of the season, recent performances have declined badly with only one win from their previous eight matches leaving Burnley one of only a couple of Championship teams not involved in either promotion or relegation battles.
Despite the Clarets’ recent inability to beat Blackburn, the overall record between the teams is, like the distance between the towns, extremely close while the fans retain a dislike of each other bordering on the ridiculous. For 90 minutes today all thoughts of getting to the Premier League or winning cups will be forgotten as the players kick lumps out of each other, egged on by supporters desperate to avoid a Monday morning return to work baited by colleagues from the other town. Bruce Wilkinson