Burnley v Sunderland: Chris Young’s verdict

STARTING CHANCE? Emanuele Giaccherini
STARTING CHANCE? Emanuele Giaccherini
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ANY OMEN even hinting at potential Sunderland success at Turf Moor has been greeted with a glum response this week.

It’s no surprise.

Sunderland’s dire record in these “winnable” fixtures over the past 12 months has continually hamstrung the club’s efforts in the Premier League.

Other than January’s victories against Fulham and Stoke, it took until two of the final four games of last season for the Black Cats to grasp the mettle against their peers in the bottom half.

This season has started on the same note after slumping to defeat against a QPR side who have been crushed with notable ease by Spurs and Manchester United.

It’s a trait which has plagued Sunderland for years. Their last trip to Burnley almost five years ago to the day resulted in a 3-1 loss to the newly-promoted Clarets.

But regardless of the ominous lessons from history, there is a huge opportunity for Sunderland tomorrow to break their league duck, albeit Burnley will be equally motivated to make a first notch in the win column.

The injury absence of last season’s 26-goal top scorer Danny Ings - a frontman scouted by Sunderland over recent seasons - is a major blow to the hosts.

With his strike partner Sam Vokes also on the sidelines, the double-act which was the key cog in earning promotion is unavailable to Sean Dyche.

Instead, he is forced to rely on two frontmen yet to prove their credentials in the Premier League, Marvin Sordell and Lukas Jutkiewicz, although the latter opened his account for Middlesbrough against Sunderland in the 2012 FA Cup.

The lack of goals - as it will be for perhaps every team in the bottom half this season - is the big question mark hanging over Burnley’s bid to remain in the top flight.

They can ill-afford to miss penalties five minutes from time, as was the case at Crystal Palace last weekend.

Burnley’s defensive gaps were also apparent against Palace.

Perhaps inevitably, they will be there once more tomorrow.

The Clarets cannot afford to put 10 men behind the ball, as they did in their last home game against Manchester United.

After being handed uphill Turf Moor tussles against Chelsea and Man United, this is the one Dyche will be targeting.

Burnley will go for it. As a consequence, there will be opportunities on the counter-attack, presuming Sunderland stand firm defensively.

That will raise the eyebrows of Connor Wickham.

After being forced to feed on scraps against Spurs last weekend, this is the chance for Wickham to get up and running in the Premier League.

The key dilemma for Gus Poyet is how to organise the supply lines to Wickham, now restored to a central role.

The lack of a like-for-like replacement for Fabio Borini in Sunderland’s ranks was evident against Spurs. Ricky Alvarez will have to be used slightly differently.

That may entail Emanuele Giaccherini or Jordi Gomez starting centrally, with both Seb Larsson and Jack Rodwell positions coming under scrutiny after Spurs’ dominance in the middle of the park.

Alternatively, Poyet could opt to deploy two out-and-out wingers in Will Buckley and Adam Johnson, either side of Wickham.

Sunderland need to create though and they need to be ruthless.

There can be no repeat of those long periods of possession against QPR which came to naught.

Some fans have described this one as a “must-win” this week.

It’s far too premature to be attaching that moniker to any game at this stage of the campaign.

But with Swansea and Stoke following at the Stadium of Light prior to the international break, Poyet’s men could badly do with winning a couple of the next three to inject a sense of upwards momentum around the place.

It’s time for Sunderland to kick the habit against the lesser lights.

Verdict: Draw