Second host third in Championship
1 March ~ By any definition, Burnley v Derby is a big game. There are 14 matches to go in the Championship with the home team second and their visitors two points behind in third. The feeling is that if Burnley can win this game, automatic promotion is theirs to lose. Of the other challengers, QPR are falling away despite seemingly making a new loan a day, Forest apparently have a crippling injury list despite having a huge squad, and Wigan and Reading have probably left themselves too much to do.
Burnley are close to being a calendar year unbeaten at home and Derby have been on a fantastic run since Steve McClaren was appointed. A glance at the teamsheets would lead those unfamiliar with the Championship to wonder why these two teams are fighting it out at the top.
In fact they have quite a bit in common, being well organised, incisive, counter-attacking sides with exciting young players in key roles – midfielder Will Hughes and forward Patrick Bamford for Derby (scorer of a brilliant winner at Sheffield Wednesday recently) and strike partners Sam Vokes and Danny Ings for Burnley.
The match will be decided by the midfield duels between four experienced players – Craig Bryson and John Eustace for Derby against Burnley's Dean Marney and David Jones – all four being very good footballers who perhaps haven't had the credit they deserve for the excellent form of the two sides.
The other crucial area is in the central defence. Jason Shackell, signed from Derby, has been outstanding for Burnley this season alongside the evergreen Michael Duff – a £30,000 signing from Cheltenham in 2004 who has played 323 games for the club. Both may have a slight edge in ability over their Derby counterparts, Jake Buxton and Richard Keogh, and that little bit extra will be the difference. Kevin Clarke