After the international break we travel North to play our Claret and Blue cousins Burnley, this weekend. Ahead of the game I spoke to Burnley fan Tony Scholes editor of “www.uptheclarets.com”:https://www.uptheclarets.com …. I know, I know to discuss all things Claret and Blue.
This is now your fourth season back in the top flight since the early 1970s and the days of Ralph Coates, Leighton James, Martin Dobson et al; you must be delighted with your progress after the years in the wilderness.
Those names, and some of those who went in the decade before them, were the players we were able to hang our memories on during the dark days of the 1980s, a time when we almost became a non-league club or even worse.
I’m a Burnley supporter, no matter what, so I watched us play fourth division football just as I watch us now play in the top flight again, but. like all Burnley fans, I am absolutely delighted at the progress our club has made in these recent years.
You still have to pinch yourself at times. We beat Everton at Goodison Park in our last game; on the same weekend thirty years ago we lost a league game at Scarborough.
You’ve had a great start, but where do you think Burnley will finish at the end of the campaign?
The start has been incredible. Our first four away games have come at Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool and Everton and we are unbeaten. Given we won just the one away game last season, that is some start on the road for us.
Obviously we would like to finish as high as possible but I doubt many would expect us to finish the season in the sixth place we currently hold. We discussed this on the way back from Everton two weeks ago and, as much as we’d love to finish much higher, a comfortable 17th place would keep us in this league for another year and that always has to be a target for clubs like ours. I think we will be higher than that but I’m not expecting us to achieve a Champions League place our anything like that, the Leicester achievement was a very definite one off.
Where do you think West Ham can realistically finish the season?
When you look at last season’s final table, only six points separated Southampton in 8th place and Watford who were 17th. West Ham, like ourselves, were in that group and either of us could have finished in any of those positions and your win at Burnley on the final day of the season actually took you above us.
I really think the league will be similar this season with a middle group who could finish in any number of positions and I suspect West Ham will be in that group. So, on that basis, I’ll suggest similar to last season when you finished 11th.
Which three teams do you think will suffer relegation and who will lift the title this season?
I could say I’m not too bothered as long as it isn’t us but I think most would now consider Crystal Palace to be in a very difficult position. Yes, they can get out of it, but no goals and no points going into the second international break suggests a major struggle.
Huddersfield are finding it more difficult now after winning their first two games and I think both they and Brighton will be close come the end of the season although I’m pleased to see Swansea down there after their manager’s fist pumping antics in front of our fans last season.
Will Bournemouth recover? I think they will find it difficult too but, if pushed, I’ll go for Brighton and Swansea to join Palace.
As for the title, I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t go to a North West club, and more specifically to one of the Manchester Clubs. If pushed, I’ll go for City to win it and United to finish second.
Are you happy with the make-up of your squad? Are there any areas in particular need of strengthening?
Like all clubs would probably say, it could do with strengthening. I do think we are a central defender short and I would have liked a wide player to have come in before the deadline; we were close on that one I believe. January will be key and, depending on the position in the league, it can make the difference between panic buying or squad building signings and I’m expecting the latter.
How do the fans rate Sean Dyche as manager? He is that rare creature not to be immediately sacked on being relegated, so I suppose the board must be behind him at least.
I think the board would have been publicly hanged in the town centre had they sacked him. His appointment in October 2012 was the best thing to happen to our football club in years. He fits the club perfectly in every way and his achievements with us now have supporters believing he’s the best manager we’ve ever had at Burnley.
Our fear now is not him being sacked but him moving on to a bigger club. It’s hearts in mouths every time a job becomes vacant.
How do you rate West Ham’s Slaven Bilic as our manager?
Everything seemed to be going well for him in his first season, but since he’s always seemed to be on that tightrope with constant suggestions he could lose his job.
In truth, I can’t really answer this one. Has the recruitment not been as good in the last two years and what was his role in that? Our manager oversees everything so rightly can be praised or blamed, I’m not sure on Bilic but he certainly has to deal with your two owners which I’m sure can’t be easy.
Any tips for West Ham fans making the trip up to Burnley?
You won’t look out of place, that’s for sure, you’ll find plenty of claret and blue around the place. It’s certainly nothing like it will be for our supporters going to the reverse fixture. You can park virtually outside Turf Moor and you will find yourselves very close to the action inside Turf Moor.
Do you have any particular memories of West Ham/Burnley games of the past?
I missed the win at the Boleyn Ground in 2011 through illness so the only time I’ve seen us win there was in 1973 when a Colin Waldron goal gave us a 1-0 win. That one was a feisty affair that was shown on Match of the Day.
At home, a 3-1 win in this very week in 1968 proved to be a memorable one. It was a midweek fixture following a 4-0 home defeat against Liverpool. Due to injuries, we were forced into making about five changes and brought in some of the kids who had won the youth cup in the previous year.
We played superbly to win the game and that kicked off a run of eight consecutive wins. You mentioned Martin Dobson in your first question, and a young Dobson was in the team that night along with players such as Dave Thomas, who went on to play for England, and Steve Kindon.
If you could have any current West Ham player in your first team who would you choose and why?
Whilst appreciating the talents of such as Manuel Lanzini, the one player I would choose is without doubt Michail Antonio. HIs pace, his assists and goals would be perfect for our side and I still shudder at a performance he gave against us for Sheffield Wednesday in the month before Sean Dyche arrived at Burnley.
Which Burnley player(s) will be key to your hopes this season?
It’s very much a team ethic at Burnley and in the few games this season it has been different players coming to the fore when needed which makes it very difficult to pick out individuals although I do think the midfield partnership between Jack Cork and Steven Defour is making a big contribution to the way we are playing.
How do you expect Burnley to setup against West Ham on Saturday/ Team/formation? What is your prediction for the final score?
We are not a team to make too many changes and I would think there is every chance the team will be the one that started at Everton in the last game, provided the international players have all returned fully fit.
That would mean a 4-4-1-1 formation with Jeff Hendrick playing behind the lone striker Chris Wood. If so, that team is: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, Robbie Brady, Steven Defour, Jack Cork, Scott Arfield, Jeff Hendrick, Chris Wood.
As for the result, I don’t really enjoy doing predictions but you wouldn’t expect me to go for anything other than a Burnley win, and I’ll go for 2-0.
Thanks for your time Tony. It’s great to hear from such a hard-core fan. (Tony told me he saw his first Burnley game 57 years ago this weekend!)
I’m afraid I will have to disagree with him though. I’m hoping that last minute goal by Diafra against Swansea can spark us on to a more convincing victory: I’m going for 1 – 2 to the Hammers. Come on you Irons!
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