Burnley v Birmingham: Fit-again Vokes adds colour to Clarets’ campaign

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It has been a tough old week for Burnley. Following last season’s Premier League cameo, which was well-received by many if not good enough to secure a longer stay, it hasn’t taken the Clarets long to remember just how tough it can be in the ruthless scrum of the Championship.

Following a hard-fought draw at Leeds on the opening day – when sub Sam Vokes headed in an 86th minute equaliser – Sean Dyche opted to name a strong XI in Tuesday’s League Cup trip to Port Vale, but could only watch on as his side were added to the unfathomably long list of upsets this week in a 1-0 loss.

To complete their week of reality checks, on Saturday they’ll welcome Birmingham City to Turf Moor, a club who perfectly demonstrate that relegation from the Premier League can often be only the beginning of a club’s woes.

Since tumbling from the top flight in 2011, a team who had gained a reputation as a Premier League yo-yo club (with three promotions and three relegations since 2001) have contrived to lose a yo, even flirting dangerously with dropping another division under Lee Clark before current boss Gary Rowett came along to offer some stability.

After a nervy opening win over Reading, followed by a successful negotiation of the League Cup’s second round with victory over Bristol Rovers, Birmingham fans can, for the first time in years, envisage a season of hope. The Blues are 12/1 to clinch promotion back to the Premier League, and how they fare in matches such as this will be key to whether those odds are worth taking a punt on.

The difference between Burnley’s fall out of the Premier League in comparison to their opponents’, is that the Clarets had sensibly planned for such a situation.

By selling Danny Ings to Liverpool, Sean Dyche has been allowed to keep the bulk of a squad that shone so brightly at times last season, while making some savvy and sensible signings the likes of Aston Villa’s Matthew Lowton and Belgian international Jelle Vossen.

And no matter how poorly Burnley start to this campaign, the club are not the sort to panic. Such stability reduces pressure from the top down, and as such at 9/2 they’re deemed sixth favourites to make an instant return.

Dyche has promised more arrivals before the deadline, with many Burnley fans worried about the goalscoring vortex caused as a result of Ings’ departure. But with Vokes back from an agonising season on the sidelines with a knee injury, Dyche will know that the return of a player who scored 20 goals in Burnley’s last Championship campaign could be his ready-made replacement.

Following his goalscoring cameo last week, expect the Welshman to have earned himself a starting role on Saturday, when he’s 5/1 to break the deadlock.

Goals have historically been in plentiful supply when these two sides meet, their last encounter at St Andrews in March 2014 finished 3-3, with Burnley winning 3-0 in their game at Turf Moor earlier that same season. Intriguingly, that blank from Birmingham is the only one from either side in their last ten head-to-heads.

Birmingham’s defence was the leakiest in the top half last season, but for all their inconsistencies they failed to find the net in only two of their final 16 games last season. In Clayton Donaldson and David Cotterill they possess experienced players and regular scorers, and the signs are that goals will be on the menu for both sides at Turf Moor.

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