Chris Young Analysis - Burnley clash is test of character for Sunderland

Adam Johnson in action against Leeds in the FA Cup
Adam Johnson in action against Leeds in the FA Cup
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PERHAPS we could all do with getting a good lungful of air, taking a step back and squashing the growing sense of doom with a splash of context.

In the midst of this post-derby slump, it might pay to adopt a glass half-full mindset when considering Sunderland’s prospects prior to a make-or-break month in the Black Cats’ season.

Yes, three Premier League defeats on the spin have sent Sunderland spiralling to just a point above the drop zone, yet those losses came against Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs.

All sides in the bottom half of the table will endure a sticky spell or two at some stage of the campaign.

Sunderland are very much still in the FA Cup.

Once Jermain Defoe knocks off the rust, he has already shown he will get into goal-scoring positions, however sporadic the service.

And should Sunderland record seven points or more from a very winnable next four Premier League games, then Gus Poyet’s men will once more be on track for a solid, if unspectacular campaign.

Let’s face it, the situation is a damn sight healthier than the plight Sunderland faced at various stages of last season.

One win – any win – would have hugely positive ramifications for the confidence of this Sunderland side.

However, there’s a “but”.

The nagging doubts for more than 44,000 Sunderland fans heading to the Stadium of Light tomorrow stem from current context.

The last two home games have been painful viewing – boring, slow and largely absent of any attacking threat from the hosts.

It’s no wonder that facing a Burnley side freed from the burden of expectation is a fixture which has left nerves on edge this week.

On the back of a paltry one home league win all season, this is a test of mental strength for Sunderland’s players, as much as technical or tactical ability.

Sunderland HAVE to overcome the home sickness tomorrow.

If the wait for Stadium of Light success runs into the subsequent encounters against QPR and West Brom, then the anxiety levels will increase tenfold.

But when there was little sense of confidence or forward momentum in Sunderland’s ranks against under-strength Championship side Fulham in the FA Cup last weekend, what can Poyet do tomorrow?

The continued absence of Lee Cattermole doesn’t help, for starters, with the Black Cats clearly missing the influence of their midfield linchpin over recent games.

Presuming Poyet sticks with 3-5-2 – and there is no certainty that he will – Adam Johnson will be welcomed back into the fold in the number 10 role which was bizarrely made redundant against the Cottagers.

With Cattermole sidelined and Jack Rodwell suspended, Seb Larsson and Liam Bridcutt will almost certainly complement Johnson in a midfield trio.

But while Costel Pantilimon and fit-again Wes Brown are also likely to return, there are unlikely to be many surprises from Poyet.

There is perhaps a case to include Connor Wickham ahead of Steven Fletcher, yet unless Poyet reverts to a flat back four, the head coach may limit himself to the three obvious changes.

Brown’s return shouldn’t be underestimated.

Sunderland’s back-line will need to be on their guard against Burnley frontmen Danny Ings and Ashley Barnes, who like the rest of their team-mates, will chase and harry in a bid to make Sunderland cave.

Both have proved that when the opportunities do come along, they are capable of taking them too.

But the onus is on Sunderland to find the breakthrough against a Burnley defence who were miserly in September’s stalemate at Turf Moor.

Yes, Poyet’s men need fans onside, but now is the time for them to take charge of their own destiny.

Sunderland need to emerge from a blip, not let it slide into full-blown crisis mode.

Verdict: Home win