The arrival of Burnley at the Boleyn brings to mind Dickens' opening to "A Tale of Two Cities": It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Let's roll the clock back to the 28th of November 2009 and remember one of the most remarkable games of the last three years.
It ended up 5-3, of course, amazing enough in itself, but that only tells half the story. For sixty five minutes we were brilliant, playing pulsating football and suggesting that any talk of relegation was ridiculous; then came the substitutions, a change in Burnley's tactics, and one of the worst quarters of a game you could ever dread to see. After 64 minutes we were 5-0 to the good, but by the end we were hanging on against a ten man Burnley team who, had they netted their chances, would have drawn the game 5-5! Eagles looked like Messi and Fletcher like Shearer in the last 25 minutes of the game, and we looked totally at sea, unable to cope with a team destined for the drop. The writing was on the wall big time but the Zola Zealots somehow forgot the final quarter of the match and buzzed the word of the Italian god, insisting the only way was up from this point forward.
The scorers that day? Collison, Stanislas, Cole, Franco and Jimenez. Yes Jimenez. Remember Jimenez Cricket? He, of course, was one of our subs. Cole was withdrawn at half time, injured, and replaced by Hines. And Franco came off after 59 minutes to be replaced by Jimenez - and we were unable to hold on to the ball from that point. Burnley changed to 4-4-2 and we crumbled, and kept crumbling all season, only staying up thanks to the ineptitude of the Clarets, Hull and Avram managed Pompey.
Now roll the clock forward to February 6, 2010. Brian Laws was now manager at Burnley and they couldn't win a game for their lives - until Zola's boys pitched up, "boosted" by the arrival of Sullivan and Gold and the signings of McBenni, Mido and Ilan. The opening goal that day was a disgrace with Upson and Green leaving a long ball to each other and Nugent nipping in to lob home. Burnley scored a second direct from a freekick with Green flapping at thin air and it was only after Ilan arrived as a sub that we came alive. Mind you, Zola didn't notice because he preferred Mido to Ilan regardless.
A lot of water has gone around the industrial mill wheel since that 5-3 victory, of course. New owners, two new managers, a host of new players, loads of departures, and a bunch of happy agents many millions richer. Look at the team that day! Green, Collison and Cole started, and Faubert came on as a sub, but the rest of the players have been moved on: Hines and Stanislas have switched sides and will be looking to make a point to Allardyce; Kovac is in Switzerland; Gabbidon at QPR; Spector at Birmingham; da Costa in a Russian gulag; Franco has retired; Jimenez is in Dubai - doesn't that say it all?; Ilunga has been sent to Doncaster; and Parker, of course, is the Premier League Player of the Month at Spurs!
Burnley arrive on a decent run but really shouldn't present too much of a problem. Even Zola could beat them at the Boleyn, so surely Doctor Evil will have no problems! Cole to start? 4-3-3? It should be a formality. Shouldn't it?