Date: 15th April 2016 at 1:17pm
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Forget the rest of the season, the Championship title race has now turned into a five-game mini-league.

Like a punch to the stomach, last minute winners by Brighton & Hove Albion and Middlesbrough have blown the automatic promotion race wide open again.

Burnley have been average this season. Any Clarets fan that has watched them with regularity would be inclined to agree. It’s been average football, but it has been winning football.

It seems a ridiculous statement to make with the team sat in second and off the back of an 18-match unbeaten run, but it’s testament to the winning mentality instilled by Sean Dyche.

When you drill down you see Burnley have only won three out of 18 games against the current top half, and have four out of the remaining five games against teams in those positions.

Are the players up for it? Yes, I believe they are. This is a Dyche team after all – now the fans now need to follow suit. The Clarets cannot rely on any favours from elsewhere, they are not going to come; Brighton and Middlesbrough now have the momentum.

30 January 2016 FA Cup fourth round : Arsenal v Burnley : Andre Gray of Burnley leaves Kieran Gibbs on the floor. Photo: Mark Leech

Burnley need the goals of the Championship’s top goalscorer, Andre Gray, against Birmingham. Photo: Mark Leech/Offside

“We take care of ourselves” – Dyche has said it time and again, it is no more prudent than now.

The pessimist in you looks at it that Burnley may fall into the dreaded third position, while the optimist sees a home win over Middlesbrough putting the Clarets firmly in the driving seat.

What I see is that Dyche has to rotate the team this weekend. Lloyd Dyer and Michael Kightly are both viable options to come in out wide, as they offer variations of directness and pace. You could throw Ashley Barnes into that mixer too as he has operated out wide with success in a claret and blue shirt.

Dyer, who has numerous promotions under his belt has seen it, done it and got the t-shirt in the Championship and has not seen a minute of football since he has been brought in. Burnley have been far too predictable recently, and throwing Dyer in the team would be a gamble, but sometimes you have to risk defeat to win football matches.

Kightly was an integral part of the Clarets’ last promotion campaign, he can score a goal, gets chalk on his boots and can beat a man.

It’s hard to see Dyche changing the team in game where in his mind, Burnley must not lose. The Clarets manager only seems to trust certain players in his squad.

Scott Arfield got a stay of execution after his winner; he is a Dyche favourite and has teamed up well with Stephen Ward, chipping in with some vital goals.

30 January 2016 FA Cup fourth round : Arsenal v Burnley :Scott Arfield of Burnley.Photo: Mark Leech

Scott Arfield is a Sean Dyche favourite. Photo: Mark Leech/Offside

Dyche said post Leeds on Arfield: “He’s (one of) the highest-performing statistical wide men in the division with goals and assists, he runs endlessly and he’s found another very good goal.”

David Jones is another who could be handed a rest. This is not punishing the player, it is using your squad to its maximum. I like Jones, he keeps the ball and knits play together – but he doesn’t open up a defence with a killer ball or drive through the heart of the pitch with bounding energy.

Obvious replacements are Freddie Ulvestad, who has been used fleetingly, or Dean Marney, who has the know-how and engine to pump the Burnley midfield. Some say he is too similar to Joey Barton – good players make it work.

Burnley were under pressure against Leeds United before Marney entered the fray, the Clarets were back on top soon after though and I think his experience will be vital in the run-in.

There are going to be plenty of twists and turns between now and the end of the season, but you’d hope Dyche’s experience in this situation will give Burnley the edge.

Three points at Birmingham on Saturday is a must if the club are to go up automatically in my opinion, backed by a sell-out following the boys need to attack from the off – it’s squeaky Brum time.

 
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