FOR those who like their football at 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, Huddersfield Town’s FA Cup replay win over Leicester City was a blow.
The Terriers’ progress to the fifth round earned them a home tie with Wigan Athletic on Sunday, meaning tomorrow’s scheduled Championship meeting with Burnley at Turf Moor has been put back provisionally until a week on Tuesday.
As a result, the Clarets’ next Saturday home game – against Bristol City on April 6 - will come 10 weeks after the last – against Birmingham on January 26 with the visit of Hull City moved to the evening of Monday March 11 to accommodate the Sky Sports cameras.
Not good for traditionalists, but a free weekend is particularly bad news for Charlie Austin.
For after marking his comeback from a five-week injury lay-off against with a goalscoring performance against Peterborough two games ago, the last thing the striker wanted was another break.
“I’m one of those players who needs to play and train to keep my fitness levels at the top,” said the 23-year-old.
“Some people need two or three days’ rest after a game, but for me I need to train and need to do it at a tempo all the time to be on top of my game and be how I am.”
After boosting his match fitness by getting through the full 90 minutes at Bolton, where a personal positive was tempered by a defeat, fixtures can’t come quickly enough for Austin.
In contrast, a free weekend has come at a good time for Sam Vokes, who can recover from the foot injury he sustained in the behind-closed-doors friendly against Stoke City on Tuesday afternoon, in which he scored both goals in a 2-1 win against a side including Michael Owen, Charlie Adam and Jermaine Pennant.
After stepping into the breach to fill the void left by Austin throughout January – scoring in a confidence-boosting 2-0 win at Millwall – Vokes could be facing a brief lay-off himself.
There are question marks over the striker’s availability for the visit of Middlesbrough.
But a fit Vokes is a threat to Austin’s place. The 24-goal top scorer admitted it was with mixed emotions that he found his way back into the side at the expense of the Wales international at both London Road and the Reebok Stadium.
“It’s a tough one in those situations because, yes, you do feel sorry, but you want to play as well so someone’s got to miss out,” said Austin. “I got back in and took my chance and scored. It was a good start.”
The former Swindon striker recognises the impact Vokes had on the team in his absence, and believes having him hot on his heels can only be good for his own performance.
“It’s a big boost for me. I know I’ve got to be on my game and get that sharpness back as quickly as possible because I know he can come in and take it off me,” said Austin.
“The lads over the five weeks I was out injured have put some great results in and big Vokesy’s been on fire.
“I was lucky that be gaffer showed faith in me to put me back in but I know I’ve got to keep working hard on the training ground and in games because Sam’s right behind me.”
In turn, that level of in-house, healthy competition, should be good for the team too, at a time when they need to be at their best.
“With 15 games to go we want to give it a good push and give ourselves the best opportunity of getting into the play-offs,” Austin added.
“No team wants to kick on. There’s no-one doing a Reading from last year.
“Why can’t we do it with 15 games to go? Put on a run like they did and give ourselves a real good chance because the lads really want it.
“All around the club, we really want it. We should be up there with the form we’ve been in since the manager’s come in.
“All the lads have bought into everything the gaffer’s offered us, so hopefully we can push on with that and what we have here anyway and give it a right go.
“We’ve had one point out of nine, but we’re still in and around there.”
The gap between the Clarets and the top six increased from four points to seven in midweek, after Middlesbrough beat Leeds 1-0. That advantage could stretch to nine points tomorrow if Tony Mowbray’s men beat fifth-placed Crystal Palace.
But Austin believes Boro’s visit to Turf Moor on Tuesday night is the perfect opportunity to show Burnley’s top six intent.
“We’ve dropped 22 points from winning positions, which is tough to take.
“But we have to forget all the stats now, with 15 games to go we’ve got to try to get as many points as we can,” said the marksman.
“We want to keep the pressure on Middlesbrough. Tuesday night at Turf under lights – there’s something special about Tuesday nights.
“I don’t know if anyone else feels it but I know the lads do.”