Burnley extended their unbeaten league run to 20 matches with a last-gasp equaliser against Middlesbrough in midweek but it was a game that dragged them out of their emotional comfort zone and there could be a heavy price to pay in a local derby just three days later. Take the 29/10 available on Preston to dish out a hammer blow to their automatic promotion hopes.
The Clarets were just seconds away from dropping out of the automatic promotion places when Michael Keane bundled home a 96th-minute corner, sparking delirious scenes at a packed Turf Moor. But the damage might be irreparable if the record finally goes at Deepdale instead, with Boro and Brighton bound to be boosted by any sort of slip-up here.
Defeat for Burnley could leave them three points adrift of the Seagulls and five behind Boro come Saturday evening, creating a situation whereby the top two would be just one more win away from a final-day decider at the Riverside in which a point apiece - not to mention a guaranteed £180m windfall - suits both.
Yet the sheer significance of that potential checkmate might be lost on the Clarets until it’s too late. Sean Dyche’s men are currently full of themselves, believing only they control their own destiny, and it might take the concession of the first goal here for an alternative reality to kick in, at which point their usual calm-headedness could rapidly descend into desperation.
If you think Preston are already on the beach, then you don’t know Simon Grayson or the masculine qualities that have enabled his team to punch above their weight in the top half of the division while fellow promoted sides MK Dons and Bristol City have struggled. Any you also underestimate the intensity of this Lancashire rivalry.
Every mid-table team lets standards slip at some point but the North End players felt Grayson’s wrath when they allowed a home game against Milton Keynes to peter out as a 1-1 draw last weekend, and they were much-improved when coming from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at Birmingham in midweek.
Now a televised win over local rivals would arguably be the highlight of a fine season, and it’s no small matter that the Lilywhites were worthy 2-0 winners in the reverse fixture last December, just one of many solid performance against the Championship heavyweights. In 11 previous matches against the top six, North End have kept seven clean sheets.
Given the context presented above of how quickly the complexion of this contest might change for Burnley, it’s worth speculating on various outcomes that capitalise on a sudden state of panic and expose their limitations as an all-out attacking team when required to chase. Let’s start with a bet on Preston to clear the -1 handicap at 17/2.
Meanwhile, correct score bets on Preston to win 3-0 and Preston to win 4-0 might be verging on the ridiculous for some. But if Burnley do find themselves 2-0 down at any point, they simply have to throw the kitchen sink in a way they are not just accustomed to doing. Jermaine Beckford’s recent return from injury means Grayson now has a variety of attacking options.
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