NO matter what happens when the whistle blows on Sunday afternoon, Burnley will be making history when they take to the field at Ewood Park.
Never before have the Clarets been as many as 20 points ahead of Blackburn Rovers in the table going into a league meeting of the two East Lancashire rivals.
The sides have met 87 times in the league and, prior to Sunday’s fixture, Burnley’s biggest lead going into a derby match was 18 points during the 1965/66 season.
Then, it must be said, the Football League operated with the system of two points for a win – only changing to three for a win in 1981.
Burnley won the match 2-0 at Ewood Park on New Year’s Day 1966, although the game ended with Clarets keeper Adam Blacklaw having to grapple with a Rovers fan who had invaded the pitch.
Burnley finished third in the First Division that season under manager Harry Potts, while Rovers finished bottom – 35 points behind by the end of the campaign.
More recently, Burnley led Rovers by 15 points when the sides met at Ewood in April 1979 – still the last time the Clarets defeated their fiercest rivals.
Rovers again finished bottom that season.
But just as Rovers have had the slight advantage in league head to heads over the years – winning 38 matches to Burnley’s 33 – so too they have more often been the side higher in the table when the teams have met for the second time in a season.
On 25 occasions Rovers have gone into the second derby of a campaign ahead of Burnley.
Sunday will be the 18th time the Clarets have been higher in the table. On one occasion the two clubs were level.
The only time the gap has been greater than 20 points was way back during the 1889/90 season, when Rovers led Burnley by 21 points going into a game at Turf Moor.
Rovers went on to win the game 2-1 on their way to third in the table.
When the sides met in the Premier League four years ago, Rovers led Burnley by 14 points in the table when they arrived at Turf Moor.
Rovers won 1-0 thanks to David Dunn’s penalty, and Burnley were relegated.
Rovers also led Burnley by 14 points when they thrashed the Clarets 5-0 at Ewood Park on April Fool’s Day 2001, on the way to promotion to the top flight.
When the two sides met in September this season, Burnley led Rovers by only three points.
But that gap has since been extended to 20 points and the Clarets seem almost certain to finish higher than Rovers in the Football League ladder for a second season in a row. Last term was the first time Burnley had done so since 1980, finishing three points above Rovers.
Form goes out of the window in derby matches, so they say. But Burnley fans could be forgiven for thinking this is their best chance of beating Rovers for some time.