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Sunderland are our visitors tonight as the Championship resumes following the last of the international breaks this season, and I read yesterday that clubs were going into the run in to the end of the season.

That’s the case, final straight it read, and it is although we still have just about a fifth of the season to play. Four of those are at the Turf with five on the road and it all kicks off tonight with Sunderland making the journey from Wearside.

A year ago, we were playing two leagues apart. On this weekend a year ago, Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gundögan scored in Manchester City’s 2-0 win at Burnley while Sunderland were beating Gillingham 1-0 at the Stadium of Light with a stoppage time winner from Nathan Broadhead who was, at the time, on loan from Everton.

As we suffered relegation, they reached the League One play-offs, beating Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 on aggregate in the semi-final before winning 2-0 at Wembley against Wycombe when Elliot Embleton and Ross Stewart scored their goals.

They were back in the Championship after four seasons in League One, hardly believable for a club of their size, but this is what can happen when you drop out of the Premier League in a mess with two changes of ownership following to go along with a couple of series on Netflix.

Having won promotion, they suffered an early season blow when manager Alex Neil up sticks for Stoke before the end of August and two days later they brought in Tony Mowbray.

They’ve had a similar season to a lot of clubs in the Championship, they’ve been up as far as fourth in the table going into 2023, but as low as sixteenth and now they sit in eleventh place and although a top six place might now look difficult, it can’t be ruled out in this topsy-turvy season. They currently sit seven points behind sixth place Millwall.

Their up and down form is illustrated in recent games. In January and February, they won three out of four but have since won just once in seven games, that win coming at Norwich in their last away outing. Since, they were beaten 2-1 at home against Sheffield United but it remains baffling that the Blades’ winning goal was allowed when there was clearly an offside, before drawing against Luton.

Their leading goalscorer this season is Ross Stewart on ten with Amad Diallo one behind on nine with both benefiting from having scored two penalties. Jack Clarke and Ellis Simms have both scored seven although Simms was recalled by Everton on New Year’s Day.

They have scored 53 league goals in total this season and only the top three have scored more. They’ve conceded 46 and no one in the top fourteen of the league have let in more goals. That suggests they are a side who like to attack and that’s what Mowbray has said they will do tonight.

He’ll be without leading scorer Stewart; he hasn’t played since January and won’t play again this season having suffered an Achilles injury. He’s not the only player who will be missing tonight for our visitors. Corry Evans is out with a cruciate ligament injury while Elliot Embleton has an ankle problem and he won’t be involved either. Ali Alese won’t play again this season and has returned to West Ham, his parent club.

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Two more players have returned from international duties and are ruled out. Dan Ballard, who was close to becoming Vincent Kompany’s first Burnley signing from Arsenal, will be out for a few weeks with a hamstring injury and Jewison Bennette won’t play again this season having suffered a shoulder injury playing for Costa Rica.

The good news for Mowbray is that Amad and Dennis Cirkin (pictured above) could both be available to him; the former was used as a substitute in the last game at Luton. Lynden Gooch, also used as a substitute against Luton is now fully fit after a while out.

Up front they will include Joe Gelhardt who is on loan from Leeds. He’s scored just once for them, at Rotherham, but is a highly rated young striker.

Their team at Luton was: Anthony Patterson, Trai Hume, Dan Ballard, Danny Batth, Luke O’Nien, Edouard Michut, Dan Neil, Patrick Roberts, Abdoullah Ba, Jack Clarke, Joe Gelhardt. Subs: Alex Bass, Lynden Gooch, Amad Diallo, Jewison Bennette, Alex Pritchard, Isaac Lihadji, Pierre Ekwah.

It seems a while since we last played. It’s closing in on three weeks since the last home game against Wigan which was followed by the win at Hull and the FA Cup defeat at Manchester City. In the two weeks since City, we’ve had a number of players been on international duty with all  but one of them coming back.

The exception is Lyle Foster; he scored both goals for South Africa in their 2-0 win against Liberia  in Johannesburg. He was an unused substitute in the return game in Monrovia but has since had passport issues which have prevented him from returning.

Other than Foster, Vincent Kompany has revealed a clean bill of health as we move into these final nine games in a position that I don’t think anyone could have dreamed of eight months ago when we kicked off our season.

Quite simply, it is now surely of when we clinch promotion rather than if. As things stand, should Middlesbrough win every remaining game, we need nine more points to ensure a return to the Premier League. A further six points would ensure winning the title. Sheffield United and Middlesbrough apart, only Luton, Blackburn and Millwall could now actually pass us if we weren’t to pick up another point and because of those three all having to play each other, we know that our current total of 83 points would ensure fifth place at worst.

We still have a lot to play for. Clinching promotion is the first of them and the title is the second. Then, we will be looking to potentially get to 100 points, which is more than doable although the Reading record of 106 still looks some way off. I’d also imagine scoring a hundred goals might be very difficult, we’d need to score 26 in these final games. I reckon a couple of teams might have to take a real hammering for that to happen.

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Yes, still a lot to play for and Ian Maatsen said in yesterday’s press conference: “I think we’ve achieved nothing so far. So, we just take these nine games as improvement even more than the previous games before.”

On playing at home, he added: “It’s special. I think when you are playing at home, I have no fear, I’m full of confidence. It shows every time, the fans, everyone is behind us for every single player. You really feel that. When you play at home you want to get even more from the fans, it gives you an extra boost.”

One player who is surely looking to getting back out there is Nathan Tella. He scored twice in the last home game against Wigan and then added a second hat trick of the season four days later at Hull to take his total to seventeen in the league.

You can’t imagine we’ll leave Tella out tonight but with a clean bill of health it’s anyone’s guess who will play. Will Taylor Harwood-Bellis, who last played on the Turf in December, return? What part will Manuel Benson play having returned from his injury at Hull?

As a guide, we lined up at Hull in our last league game: Arijanet Muric, Connor Roberts, Hjalmar Ekdal, Jordan Beyer, Ian Maatsen, Josh Cullen, Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson, Vitinho, Nathan Tella, Anass Zaroury, Ashley Barnes. Subs: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Charlie Taylor, Jack Cork, Manuel Benson, Michael Obafemi, Halil Dervişoğlu, Lyle Foster.




Sunderland’s two most recent visits to the Turf came in cup competitions. We beat them in a third round FA Cup replay in 2016/17 but three seasons later were beaten by them in the League Cup.

We have to go back to December 2006 for their last Championship visit. We led 2-0 through two Kyle Lafferty goals but both Grant Leadbitter and David Connolly scored in the final ten minutes, the second of them in stoppage time, to give Sunderland a point from a 2-2 draw. We’d just dropped out of the top six with Sunderland in mid-table. We finished fifteenth with Sunderland winning the title.

Their most recent league visit to Burnley came on New Year’s Eve 2016. We were fourteenth in the Premier League table and Sunderland sat eighteenth with this game taking us to half way in the season. It was a season that would see us survive comfortably but for Sunderland it brought an end to a ten year run in the top flight. They and Middlesbrough were miles behind at the end with Sunderland ending the season in bottom place with 24 points.

A year earlier, Andre Gray had scored a hat trick in the final game and he did so again here to become the first Burnley player to score a Premier League hat trick for the club since Sunderland born Peter Noble in 1975.

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We scored just once in the first half and that came when John O’Shea got a head to a ball that went through to Gray. His shot deceived goalkeeper Vito Mannone and we were in front.

Two goals in two minutes early in the second half ended the contest. Just six minutes in and Dean Marney chipped a superb ball forward. Gray got the better of the dreadful Papy Djilobodji and took the ball past Mannone before sliding the ball home from a wide position.

Two minutes later left him able to claim the match ball. The hugely impressive Ashley Barnes chested a ball down before playing a neat ball in for Gray who made no mistake with a shot into the corner.

Then came a rarity, a Burnley penalty, awarded for a foul by Sebastian Larsson on Scott Arfield. Barnes deservedly got his name on the scoresheet, converting from the spot.

Sunderland did pull one back through Jermain Defoe but they were a well beaten side in the end and they were fortunate not to concede further goals.

The teams were;

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Dean Marney, Steven Defour (Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson 68), Scott Arfield, Ashley Barnes (James Tarkowski 85), Andre Gray (Sam Vokes 78). Subs not used: Paul Robinson, Tendayi Darikwa, Aiden O’Neill, Patrick Bamford.

Sunderland: Vito Mannone, Billy Jones, Lamine Kone (Didier Ndong 24), Papy Djilobodji, Patrick van Aanholt, Sebastian Larsson, John O’Shea (Donald Love 72), Adnan Januzaj, Victor Anichebe (Steven Pienaar ht), Fabio Borini, Jermain Defoe. Subs not used: Mika, Jack Rodwell, Wahbi Khazri, Javi Manquillo.

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