Ashley Barnes played in front of 911 fans in his first away game as a professional footballer so the Clarets striker had to pinch himself when walking out in front of 75,356 people at Old Trafford.
The 25-year-old partnered Birmingham City forward Matt Green and one-time Airdrieonians frontman Gary Twigg for Oxford as they lost 1-0 to Northwich at the Victoria Stadium in the Blue Square Premier.
Seven years on and the Austria under-20 cap walked through the tunnel at the Theatre of Dreams to tackle 20-time Premier League champions Manchester United in what was later revealed as the highest league crowd the Clarets had ever played in front of.
Barnes, who was sent out to the Kassam Stadium on loan by then Plymouth Argyle boss Paul Sturrock, said: “Not too many years ago I think it was 20 people and a dog. Now I’m walking out in front of 75,000. It’s magnificent and a real buzz. It just drives me on to enjoy it and prove what I can do. It was a great experience to play in a stadium like that when it’s packed, playing against quality players.”
Saturday’s venue, Stamford Bridge, doesn’t stretch to the capacity of Old Trafford but the attendance will still be in excess of 40,000. Most eyes will be on Chelsea as Jose Mourinho’s men close in on another domestic trophy, but Barnes is determined to throw a spanner in the works.
“It’s going to be another tough game but it’ll be one that we’ll relish again,” he said. “Hopefully we can go there and cause an upset. They are running away with it but hopefully we can go there and get some points for us.”
Asked about a potential battle with former England captain John Terry, he added: “I’m definitely looking forward to it. I relish every game and every battle that I have. I always want to come out on top. I’ll keep giving 110 per cent.”
Bookmakers have Sean Dyche’s side as far out as 16/1 to become the first club in 10 months to beat the Blues on their own patch in a league encounter. But Barnes remains hopeful of replicating Sunderland’s result that day as Connor Wickham and Fabio Borini cancelled out the opener from Samuel Eto’o.
“They are always going to write us off,” he said. “We came up so we were probably always going to be the favourites to go back down. That spurs us on to better ourselves so we can prove a point to everyone. Hopefully we can cause an upset at Chelsea and stay in the league.
“There’s pressure on every game. We’ve got to go in to each one on a high so we can try and pick up points along the way. All we can do is fight our hardest. Hopefully we can cause an upset in this league by staying in it.”
Barnes added: “I think we’ve proved our worth at this level. We’re more than good enough to stay in this league. You look back at games where we’ve dropped points which could’ve helped us climb halfway up that table.
“Points are what matter for us and we need to start picking them up quickly. If not it’s going to be a tough ride to get out of there.”