Owen Coyle’s faith in his first eleven is certainly an admirable trait, but many Burnley fans will have heaved a sigh of relief when Steven Caldwell foolishly dragged Zavon Hines down at the end of Saturday’s 5-3 defeat at the hands of West Ham.

For that action, which resulted in Caldwell’s sending off, will force Coyle to change his team for the first time in six matches.

Not since Chris Eagles came into the team for David Nugent has there been a change to the starting eleven and while Eagles and Steven Fletcher have flourished in their respective roles, other players have struggled.

Wade Elliott has found it difficult to get a foothold in matches with an auxiliary winger blocking his path to the flank and Andre Bikey’s progress at the heart of the midfield has been slow.

Meanwhile, Burnley have just one clean sheet since Caldwell’s return to the team – against a frankly terrible Hull side – the Clarets’ only two shut-outs of the campaign coming in the wins against Manchester United and Everton, when Bikey partnered Clarke Carlisle in the middle of the defence.

Graham Alexander’s poor performance in East London means his place is questioned again despite recent good form, although both he and left-back Stephen Jordan were reportedly below full fitness for the match. If one or both of those men were to be unfit for Saturday’s trip to Portsmouth that would force more changes to the team with Joey Gudjonsson and Kevin McDonald both looking for starts.

Coyle will have undoubtedly hoped to have been able to continue with Bikey in midfield until Chris McCann’s return from his knee injury, but Caldwell’s suspension foils that plan.

Although Burnley have a wealth of defenders in the squad this season only six have played any part in the league fixtures, with David Edgar and Richard Eckersley still waiting for their tribunal fees to be fixed and Michael Duff also without any match action so far this season.

Coyle’s reluctance to change his first team means his fringe players will, eventually, have to be thrown in at the deep end rather than being introduced slowly into the side. Coyle will hope only one change will be needed, but should Jordan not be fit, the option of shuffling the former Manchester City defender across the back line and bringing back last season’s first choice full-back Kalvenes will be thwarted.

The most likely scenario is probably to drop Bikey back into the defence and hand either Gudjonsson or, more likely McDonald, a start. However, with the 4-5-1 shape not working and with Robbie Blake struggling to make an impact on matches away from Turf Moor the time may be right to alter the entire set up of the team and partner Nugent with Fletcher up front from kick off for the first time.

In that case, Elliott could also move back to the flank, although there are doubts over Alexander’s ability to play as part of a midfield two and it would be a baptism of fire for McDonald or Gudjonsson without the security of a third central midfielder.

David Edgar must be growing frustrated with his inability to break into the team with him seeming as far away from the side as when he signed in the summer. By picking the same side so frequently this season Coyle has ironically made it more difficult to select his team when he is forced into a change and though Edgar has the pedigree to slot straight into the side it would be a surprise to see him in the line-up.

Bikey’s impending jaunt to the African Nations complicates matters further. He is one of only three of the summer signings, alongside Fletcher and Tyrone Mears, to be part of the team at the moment and questions could be raised about Coyle’s ability to improve his ageing team in the transfer market.

For the first time in weeks Burnley fans will be intrigued to see what team Coyle decides to pick with no starting eleven obviously leaping to mind. Although Coyle has adapted extremely well in most aspects to life as a Premier League manager, the Portsmouth match offers a massive challenge.

Pompey are rock bottom and will look at the visit of the Clarets as a chance to get points on the board. But Burnley are also hunting an important win, their first on the road in the Premier League and Coyle’s team selection will decide their chances.

This piece was written for FansOnline.

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