Another away point as Clarets edge closer to safety
Ten weeks ago, Burnley drew 0-0 against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light; yesterday we did exactly the same, this time winning a third away point of the season and moving us that little bit closer to the points total we are going to need come the end of the season.
Some viewed this run of away games as the opportunity to grab that first away win; it hasn’t happened. Others saw it as the time when our hopes of remaining in the Premier League might collapse; that hasn’t happened either with us still a very healthy eight points clear of third from bottom Hull and with a much superior goal difference.
This latest trip to Wearside was never likely to give us a classic game. We looked the more likely by some distance in the first half but failed to capitalise, but after the break, despite continuing to dominate the play, it was the home side who created the best chances and might have gone on to win the points.
The journey was an easy one, not even any dogs this time walking along the A19 to slow us down. After a good breakfast stop it was an early arrival in Sunderland which gave me the chance to catch up with Mackem friends who, I can confirm, are not confident that there will be a big escape this year. For a club that constantly change manager, it’s something they want again. There appears to be little support for David Moyes. I told them to keep their hands off our manager. We all know they were sniffing round him in the summer of 2015 before Big Dik did an about turn. It won’t happen again.
Our manager, as expected, named the same eleven who had started against Liverpool and we were able to welcome back both Jon Flanagan and Steven Defour who took their places on the bench. Flanagan had been forced to sit out the game at Liverpool against his parent club and for Defour it was a first inclusion in the match day squad since suffering a hamstring injury in the win against Leicester on the last day of January.
The two sides were very much used to each other. The home league game had come on the last day of 2016 with the two FA Cup games against each other played by mid-January. We went into this game on top with two home wins to go with the draw at the Stadium of Light.
For much of the first half it looked very likely that we’d be recording a third win against them and a much sought first away league win of the season. We were better than they were, far better, and there is no doubt we should have gone in at the interval with a lead.
In the opening 20-25 minutes in particular we were in almost total control. Our movement was excellent and sharp and we were getting into very good wide positions with left back Stephen Ward particularly prominent. I lost count of the number of times he caused them problems with his runs down the left providing a number of good balls into the box.
Andre Gray was a constant thorn in their side. He got down their left, their right, made runs down the centre and was a real menace, but the chances fell elsewhere, mainly to George Boyd and Ashley Barnes who spurned the best two.
It was inevitably Gray and Ward involved with the early chance as they combined down the left with Ward getting the ball into the Sunderland box but Boyd didn’t get a proper contact on the ball and the chance was gone. We should have been a goal up.
Sunderland attacks were sporadic at best although there was always the concern with Jermain Defoe on the pitch, more so with the 34-year-old striker, who scored his first Sunderland goal in the corresponding fixture two years ago, having just been recalled to the England squad.
As it happened, the best Sunderland offered in the entire half involved Adnan Januzaj, a player who has now failed to score in 20 Premier League appearances for them. With Burnley players still incensed at his elbow on Ben Mee that forced the Burnley defender off for treatment and a change of shirt, he found Darron Gibson unmarked but the former Evertonian shot over the bar.
But with Boyd having missed the best chance of the half, Barnes equalled it just before the break. It looked easier to score when Scott Arfield’s ball came in but from close range he fluffed his effort, getting the merest touch to send it wide and with that we had to settle for 0-0 at half time.
There is absolutely no doubt that we should have been going in with a lead. We’d outplayed Sunderland by a margin and they must have been very thankful to reach their dressing room with the score still level.
The second half was a different story. Although we continued to dominate the play, it was Sunderland who had the chances and must have been wondering just how they didn’t score.
With only five minutes of the half gone they’d spurned two if not three good opportunities. Tom Heaton saved twice, from Fabio Borini and Januzaj, before Sebastian Larsson fired over. But the worst miss of the day came later in the afternoon when Billy Jones, a player as unpopular as any other with the Stadium of Light crowd, headed wide when it looked almost impossible for him to miss the target.
Suddenly the Sunderland fans, whose only contribution had been to boo every one of Joey Barton’s touches, were getting behind their team and they were to miss one more effort, right on time when Heaton again saved from Fabio Borini.
Just before that, however, we’d had our own big chance. Sam Vokes, on as a sub for Barnes, had earlier just failed to get on the end of a Robbie Brady cross and with the clock ticking down he made the most of a defensive error to break clear and get into the box from the right only for Jordan Pickford to save his angled effort with no Burnley player able to get on the end of the rebound.
Sean Dyche described it as a game of missed chances. We could also describe it as a missed opportunity because we were better than Sunderland and should have gone on to win the game. But it is another point, our collection has now reached 32 with that eight point lead. We won’t need many more and whether we get them at home or away doesn’t matter. We’ll get them, of that I’m sure.
We’ve got a break now. By the time Spurs and then Stoke come to the Turf in the space of four days after this international break we should have Steven Defour back up to speed and even possibly have Johann Berg Gudmundsson back with us.
Keep the Faith, was the constant call on the advertising boards at Sunderland yesterday. Their fans have lost that faith; thankfully we haven’t and we remain in a position far better than any of us could have imagined when the season kicked off last August. We don’t need to be told to keep any faith, we’ve just got it.
The teams were;
Sunderland: Jordan Pickford, Billy Jones, Jason Denayer, John O’Shea, Bryan Oviedo, Darron Gibson (Didier Ndong 74), Jack Rodwell, Sebastian Larsson (Wahbi Khazri 78), Adnan Januzaj, Fabio Borini, Jermain Defoe. Subs not used: Vito Mannone, Papy Djilobodji, Joleon Lescott, Javi Manquillo, George Honeyman.
Yellow Cards: Darron Gibson, Fabio Borini, Billy Jones.
Burnley: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd (Robbie Brady 74), Jeff Hendrick, Joey Barton, Scott Arfield, Ashley Barnes (Sam Vokes 65), Andre Gray. Subs not used: Paul Robinson, Jon Flanagan, James Tarkowski, Ashley Westwood, Steven Defour.
Yellow Card: Joey Barton.
Referee: Bobby Madley (Ossett).
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