After months of waiting, footballing action returns to Hurst Cross on Friday night as Paul Phillips and Steve Halford’s men welcome illustrious opponents in the form of Championship outfit Burnley FC.
A new-look Robin’s side began their 2015-16 pre-season campaign with a defeat away at North-West Counties Premier Division side Abbey Hey last weekend and the club will look to get back to winning ways immediately against the Clarets.
Only six faces from last season took to the field at the Abbey Stadium last Saturday and with numerous trialists and new signings on show, it will take time for the Robins' squad to fully gel together as a team. There were however plenty of positive showings against the Red Rebel’s with the likes of Jay Gorton and Steve Mason in defence, this new partnership looks set to be a constant next season.
Midfield general Lee Rick and top goalscorer Martin Pilkington entered the fray in the second-half against Abbey Hey as a number of first-team players watched on from the terraces. Messrs Coppin, Gee and Wilson all gained a valuable rest, but probably expect all four to play an integral part in this hotly awaited clash.
Going into the fixture against the men from Turf Moor, the clubs hierarchy have announced the acquisitions of former FC United left-back Kyle Jacobs and North-West Counties player of the season Joel Melia, with both set to come straight into the side on Friday evening.
The former has great experience in the higher echelons of the Non-League game having featured for the likes of powerhouses Chorley FC and Stockport County. Whereas the latter is relatively inexperienced in the seventh tier of English football, he brings a sterling pedigree to the club having featured prominently for Barnoldswick Town FC last season.
After the departures of a number of key names including Ashley Young and Jack Higgins, the nucleus of a new team is coming together nicely and the test of playing a side made up of predominantly professional players will only benefit the team.
A three month hiatus from playing action in Ashton-under-Lyne is set to finish in a matter of days and after Friday, games in OL6 will come thick and fast to the delight of the Robins supporters. The side will have the privilege of facing Trafford, Chorley and Northwich Victoria at Hurst Cross during the next three weeks, however the test of facing a Burnley XI will surely be the toughest of an already challenging pre-season campaign.
Having produced a commanding performance during the Robins' first pre-season fixture, club captain Jay Gorton will once again be looking to manifest his dominance across the defence against an incredibly strong Burnley side. His game time will be more vital than ever, due to Jay missing the first four games of the Evo-Stik season as a punishment for receiving a red card in the Curzon semi-final play-off game!
The ex-Mossley AFC defender unfortunately suffered a plethora of injuries during 2014-15, nonetheless he is now back and looking fitter than ever, meaning our defence should flourish in the months to come.
Gorton figured alongside a number of centre-back partners last season including Higgins, Mason and Wilson with this inconsistency continually being the side’s downfall. It is yet to be seen who will be playing to the left of him, but whoever it is this shouldn’t affect the 29 year-old so expect plenty of clean-sheets and man of the match performances from the 2013-14 Supporters Player and Player’s Player of the season.
It is incredibly difficult to gauge the Burnley XI side that will start on Friday due to the nature of the game and the number of expected trialists, youth and reserve players on show. Wearing their famous and historical Claret and Blue jersey, the team will definitely be no push-overs though, as a number of the squad will be looking to stake a claim to be in and around the senior team for the up-coming Sky Bet Championship season.
Burnley’s Under 21 squad have previously plied their trade in the Barclays Premier League U21 League, defeating some of the country’s most prestigious academies including Manchester United and Manchester City.
Michael Jolley’s men enjoyed a prosperous 2014/15, as they ended their season on a high by defeating Oldham Athletic 3-2 on the 28th April 2015.
After enduring the trip to Hurst Cross on Friday night, the Claret’s Under 21 side will then journey to face the likes of Sheffield FC, Colwyn Bay, West Bromwich Albion and Evo-Stik Northern Premier side Ramsbottom United in pre-season action before starting their own respective league campaign.
The squad may also be made up of a number of the club’s talented Under 18’s branch after the young scholar’s flourished last season.
Taking their place once again in the North-West Youth Alliance League, Terry Pashley’s youth side have caught the eye with their attacking style of play and they will be looking to once again challenge for the league title after going close last season.
Gone are the days of an all-English youth set-up, as the Robins faithful can expect to see some of the world’s hottest prospects on show. Look out in particular for the colourful characters of Libyan defender Haman El-Fitouri, Spanish goalkeeper Tony Aghayere and Australian midfielder Aiden O’Neill.
Please note also that the Burnley First Team play away to Acrrington Stanley the following day, so there might be some familiar faces visiting Hurst Cross to cast an eye over the development players who start their pre-season against us.
BURNLEY FC KEY MAN:
Midfielder Steven Hewitt enjoyed a short stint at Vanarama Conference side Southport FC between March and April last season, with the 21 year-old scoring the decisive goal that kept the Sandgrounders in the fifth tier of English football.
Playing a total of seven games at the Merseyrail Community Stadium as well as being in and around the Burnley senior side on numerous occasions, Hewitt has showed real signs of improvement and this experience playing in the Non-League game should hold him in good stead for the season ahead.
The Robins back-four should watch out for his lung-busting runs from midfield, his pin-point passing ability and his knack of being in the right place at the right time to score that all important goal when it matters most!