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Dec 4, 2009

ESPN Soccernet Preview: Portsmouth v Burnley

• Live on ESPN 2 at 1230 GMT After two defeats in his first two games in charge it is already crunch time for Avram Grant and Portsmouth. Both losses have come at home, and on both occasions Pompey have conceded four goals. A third Fratton Park reverse in a week at the hands of Burnley will entrench the view that Portsmouth are already doomed to life in the Championship next season. Three points against the Premier League newcomers will bring them back in touch with the other stragglers at the foot of the table, and inject much-needed confidence into a floundering squad.

Burnley's refreshing approach to life on the road has made for thoroughly entertaining encounters but it is still to yield its first three points. They stemmed the pattern of early season thumpings - which saw them lose 2-0 at Stoke, 3-0 at Chelsea, 4-0 at Liverpool and 5-0 at Spurs - in the Lancashire derby with Blackburn but still lost 3-2.

In their last two outings away from Turf Moor they netted six goals but only managed a point, though that was a creditable 3-3 draw at Manchester City. The Clarets' home form has been excellent; if they can augment that with the odd away win they will surely secure Premier League status for another season.

Portsmouth player in focus: Aruna Dindane. The striker is joint top-scorer for the club but his three goals came in one game against Wigan Athletic. Even a hat-trick and a man-of-the-match performance against the Latics wasn't enough to dispel his burgeoning reputation as a profligate finisher, after a string of glaring misses in the early part of the season. Dindane's pace and movement is of Premier League class however, and he could be a key weapon in their fight against the drop if he can add a killer instinct to his game. He will certainly be afforded chances to increase his tally against the Clarets.

Burnley player in focus: Steven Fletcher. The Scottish striker has started every one of Burnley's 14 Premier League games to date. His recent record reads five goals in seven games; his last three strikes coming away from home. As his brace at West Ham testifies, he is a penalty box predator, and at 22 is already a regular in the Scotland squad. How he operates against a leaky Pompey back-line will determine the Clarets threat in front of goal.

Key battle: Kevin-Prince Boateng vs. Graham Alexander. Boateng is Pompey's joint leading scorer with three goals to his name. The one-time German Young Player of the Year has much to prove after a disappointing stint at Spurs and is the fulcrum of Pompey's cut-and-thrust at both ends of the field. Graham Alexander fulfils a similar role for Burnley, his main priority being to shore up their defence in the centre of midfield. Like Boateng, he loves to get forward, as his four goals this season testify.

Tactics: Avram Grant could switch to a 4-4-2 formation for the visit of Burnley after playing five at the back against Manchester United. Aruna Dindane and Frederic Piquionne are likely to start up front after being rested for the Carling Cup tie with Aston Villa. Owen Coyle will stick with his tried and tested five-man midfield, with Robbie Blake and Chris Eagles pushing up to support the lone front man, Steven Fletcher. The Clarets set their stall out to attack, and have netted eight goals in their last three away games.

Quotes: Richard Hughes on facing Burnley: "Saturday's the biggest game of the season so far - it's a must-win game. We've had some good performances but we're fed up with saying that because this is a results business."

Steven Fletcher on his recent run of scoring: "It took a while to get my first goal but since I got my first one I have been raring to go and hopefully I will get a few more. I am waking up with a smile on my face which is different from last season when I wasn't scoring so I am glad I am getting the goals and playing well as well."

In the news: Portsmouth are still reliant on the Premier League to clear up two outstanding issues. Firstly, Avram Grant is still waiting for the paperwork to be completed on his application for a work permit before he can be rubber-stamped as manager. Secondly, the club are hopeful the transfer ban imposed on them for unpaid transfer fees will be lifted by the time the January transfer window opens, allowing Grant to tinker with his under-performing squad.

Portsmouth team news: Younes Kaboul is banned for the game while Veteran keeper David James faces a race against time to be fit for Saturday. If he isn't, Asmir Begovic is likely to keep his place, despite conceding eight goals in four days this week. Steve Finnan and Papa Bouba Diop could come back into contention after spells out through injury. Jamie O'Hara was cup tied for the midweek loss to Aston Villa and will return to the midfield.

Burnley team news: Steven Caldwell's ban prevents Owen Coyle from naming an unchanged side for the sixth successive game. Kevin McDonald could come into midfield with Andre Bikey reverting to centre back. Midfielder Chris McCann could return to the bench after recovering from a knee injury. Martin Paterson and Jay Rodriguez are still some weeks away from a return. David Nugent is ineligible to play against his parent club.

Probable Portsmouth line-up (4-4-2): Begovic, Wilson, Vanden Borre, Ben Haim, Hreidarsson, Brown, Boateng, O'Hara, Yebda, Dindane, Piquionne.

Probable Burnley line-up (4-5-1): Jensen, Carlisle, Jordan, Mears, Alexander, Bikey, McDonald, Elliott, Blake, Eagles, Fletcher.

Soccernet prediction: Portsmouth know their predicament is a serious one when they are openly talking about must-win games in early December, but Burnley have goals in them and won't be afraid to pour forward and test their opponents fragile confidence. The game could be a high-scoring one, but the Avram Grant factor could tip this game narrowly in the hosts favour.

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