What an opportunity this is. While pundits, players and ‘Arry will trot out one cliché after another about the risks of playing a rubbish team in a cup blah blah blah, there’s no escaping the fact that Burnley over two legs is a glorious opportunity for us to get to Wembley. Yes, they knocked out Chelski and l’Arse (kids) en route to this semi; and yes, we’re an underperforming outfit these days. Nevertheless, this is a team in the division below us. Moreover, should we have a bad day, or should they produce a particularly inspired performance, we have a safety net by virtue of the fact that this is a two-legged tie. Even at my most pessimistic I can’t see us messing this up, not over two legs.Defoe is to be paraded before kick-off, like some sort of circus attraction, which ought to whip the crowd into a frenzy. I’m also confident that this spirit of goodwill will give birth to a ripple of applause when the dastardly Hossam Ghaly’s name is read out, which ought to be sufficient to drown out the odd isolated boo. If we get a goal in the first 30 mins the roof will come off (I know, I know – there is no roof) and we’ll produce a breathtaking, all-action-no-plot display to give us a six-goal cushion for the second leg (or, more realistically, both crowd and players will settle back into a dangerous level of complacency which we’ll come to regret in the return leg in a fortnight’s time). Either way, I’m confident we can put the tie beyond doubt tonight, especially if Burnley commit men forward in search of an away goal.
Team news is that Assou-Ekotto and his blank stare and mentalist afro is suspended, as is Jenas. I can think of worse news in the build-up to a game. More worryingly, Ledley is stuck together with safety pins and sellotape again, but Dawson has rediscovered his form in recent weeks, and Woodgate completes a sturdy looking centre-back pair, while Gomes is in tip-top form in goal. The absence of Bent leaves us with limited striking options, but with Modric and Lennon looking dangerous we’ve got goals in us.
A little depressingly, this is the highlight of our season, and as such I expect a very strong performance – and hopefully something like a two-goal win. Or is that too optimistic?