x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Bold Burnley braced for battle

For Burnley and Birmingham City, who meet at Turf Moor today, the question of how they disprove predictions of their demise has brought wildly differing answers.

Promotion to the Premier League is a perilous business. The self-proclaimed best league in the world can also be the most ruthless, providing a financial windfall and a torrent of criticism, spitting out its cast-offs for having the temerity to believe they could compete with the elite. For Burnley and Birmingham City, who meet at Turf Moor today, the question of how they disprove predictions of their demise has brought wildly differing answers. Cavaliers and roundheads, idealists and pragmatists, crowd pleasers and the bane of their support, they aim to take different routes to the same destination: a far-off place named safety.

Burnley begin today two points closer. Their chosen route is reliant upon their visits home. With a 100 per cent winning record at Turf Moor and a 100 per cent losing record elsewhere, they surely need to emulate Stoke last season, when the promoted Potters effectively ensured survival by taking 35 points on their own territory. Turf Moor, as Birmingham will discover, generates a wonderful atmosphere. It is helped by the element of novelty that has lent a feel-good factor to proceedings (in contrast, Birmingham, in their third stint in the top flight within a decade, could not even sell all their tickets for the Second City derby), as well as nine successive home wins.

They are open to accusations of naivety, but attractive football has proved a winning formula at Turf Moor. Four of Burnley's five goals have been spectacular and their scalps (Manchester United, Everton and Sunderland) are equally so. It is on their travels, where they have conceded 14 goals in four games, where the troubles lie. Burnley gave away five goals at White Hart Lane last week. And this is where the contrast with Birmingham City is so stark. Under the guidance Alex McLeish their philosophies differ to the extent that the Blues have only conceded as many goals as Chelsea and Manchester United.

Parsimony has been achieved by negativity. If Burnley are bold, Birmingham have bored. During last week's 2-1 home defeat to Bolton, the crowd decided to impart a rare piece of tactical advice to McLeish. A chant of "4-4-2" did belatedly result in the arrival of another striker and Kevin Phillips scored City's goal. Even with Christian Benitez out, Phillips is unlikely to start. "It's an away match and we've tended to go 4-5-1 away from home," he said.

Burnley have captain Stephen Caldwell fit, although Martin Paterson and Chris McCann are long-term absentees. rjolly@thenational.ae Burnley v Birmingham, 6pm, Show Comedy Extra