FOR years now, Blackburn Rovers have regarded Burnley like that annoying kid from the other side of the street.

You know the one, he’ll knock on your door and run away, or kick his football into your front garden and inadvertently trample through the flower bed to get it back.

A minor irritation, nothing more.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that when these two sides last met in the league at Turf Moor in 2000, Burnley were eighth in the old First Division and Rovers ninth.

But somehow the gulf still appeared to be there.

The Clarets had just been promoted from the Second Division, while Rovers had the makings of one of the best teams the second tier had seen in many years.

They would go on to finish second, only missing out on top spot that year because Fulham were arguably the finest outside the top flight.

The gulf was borne out when Rovers and Burnley met that season. Rovers won 2-0 at Turf Moor and were well above their East Lancashire rivals in the table when they claimed a 5-0 victory at Ewood in April. No-one could rule out the same happening this year, but somehow the playing field seems more even now.

The annoying kid from across the street has grown up.

For a time derby matches were Burnley’s big chance to prove themselves against their rivals. Now, it seems Rovers have just as much to prove. They need a win just as badly.

Few expected Burnley to go into the derby five points above Blackburn, even if Rovers do have a game in hand. But all notions of a shift in power can be thrown out of the window on Sunday.

This is not just a battle for three points, or even the bragging rights. It is a chance to make a statement.

If Rovers win convincingly they can once again claim to be the undisputed champions of East Lancashire. But this is no longer a derby where only one side must labour under the burden of proof.