Chris Young’s match analysis: Burnley 0 Sunderland 0

Santiago Vergini goes down in a challenge with Burnley's George Boyd
Santiago Vergini goes down in a challenge with Burnley's George Boyd
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KEVIN BALL limped onto the Turf Moor pitch for the half-time lottery draw.

Inevitably, there was a warm reception from the followers of Ball’s two former clubs, with the ex-Sunderland skipper still recovering from reconstructive knee surgery during the summer.

Fifteen years or so ago, this was the kind of game Ball thrived in – one where every 50-50 ball became a mini-battle in itself; one where dogged determination was as crucial in the armoury as ability.

Again, that resilience doesn’t seem to be a major problem for Sunderland this season. While victory eluded the Black Cats, at least they didn’t succumb to a Burnley side who won’t have the fire-power to remain in the Premier League.

But think back to Ball’s Indian summer at the tail end of his Sunderland career, and he was surrounded by players with the flair, creativity and potency to perfectly complement his graft and unwavering will to win.

It’s that aspect which is so dearly missing for Sunderland at present.

It’s preventing them converting a mediocre start to the season into a good one.

When every point is going to count in a much of a muchness bottom half of the table, hugely presentable opportunities for victory have now been spurned in each of Sunderland’s three away games.

The best praise which can currently be applied to Gus Poyet’s side is “steady”.

Steady is not necessarily a bad thing.

While every supporter understandably wants to witness the kind of wins recorded by Leicester over a defensively-horrible Manchester United side yesterday, Sunderland could do with a stable, boring campaign that culminates in a 12th or 13th-placed finish.

After the constant palpitations of last season, it would be refreshing – if not particularly entertaining – to avoid being on first-name terms with Mr Crisis.

But that steadiness needs to be accompanied by some sort of goal threat.

Five goals in five league games – two of which have come from set pieces – tells the story for Sunderland this season.

If Sunderland cannot put opposition sides under sufficient pressure, then their current resilience will inevitably begin to dip eventually.

Take Burnley, for example. Sean Dyche’s side should be relatively stable this season too. However, it’s unlikely to be sufficient for them to stay in the Premier League.

Perhaps there is a slight lack of confidence in Sunderland’s attacking ranks.

Undoubtedly, once Poyet’s men get that first Premier League win, it will be a weight off everyone’s shoulders.

The air of relaxed freedom in the final third, which proved so deadly at the end of last season, has not rolled over.

But if Sunderland had mustered just one goal at Turf Moor, Burnley would not have come back.

The Clarets were superbly well-drilled defensively, yet, with the key ingredient of their return to the Premier League – 48-goal strike double act Sam Vokes and Danny Ings – both on the treatment table, there was little genuine worry of the hosts scoring only their second goal of the campaign.

Summer signing Marvin Sordell, who miskicked an early chance, simply isn’t up to scratch, while although ex-Middlesbrough striker Lukas Jutkiewicz gave John O’Shea and Wes Brown a real physical battle, again the Premier League is a step too far for him.

But, despite enjoying the majority of possession, Sunderland were no more threatening themselves.

Other than Patrick van Aanholt’s late drive – which somehow bounced back off the far post and then wide off the heels of goalkeeper Tom Heaton – there was minimal pressure on the Burnley goal.

There were several two-minute spells when Sunderland looked like they were getting their passing game going and were setting their stall out in the Burnley half.

But they came to zilch.

Sunderland were either guilty of poor decision-making, poor execution or were simply muscled off the ball.

Poyet’s men barely zipped it around at tempo or with a purpose to truly stretch the home defence.

The balance going forwards is clearly still not right.

Emanuele Giaccherini produced flashes of threat when he drove forwards with the ball and picked out pockets of space.

But the question mark of where to get the most out of the Italian international is yet to be answered.

Poyet sees Giaccherini as capable of operating either centrally or out wide, but the use of him in the middle of the park during the first half and on the left after the break, suggests that the Sunderland boss is still in two minds over the ex-Juventus man.

Only Jack Rodwell in Sunderland’s ranks seemed to grasp the opportunity available to the Black Cats and how to make a breakthrough.

For the first time, Rodwell truly fulfilled Poyet’s remit of going from box-to-box and, had the bounce of the ball been a touch more favourable on a couple of occasions, the £10million summer signing could easily have got on the scoresheet.

The problem was that when Rodwell did get in the box to support Connor Wickham, the service wasn’t forthcoming.

Neither the widemen nor the full-backs could deliver that killer ball or get in behind the Burnley defence.

That was Wickham’s mitigation.

However, the 21-year-old did not help himself either with his decision-making. On one notable occasion during the first half, he shot harmlessly from the edge of the area when the unmarked Giaccherini had made a superb overlapping run.

When he’s feeding on scraps though, it’s perhaps inevitable that Wickham is looking to get on the scoresheet himself. Every good striker needs a selfish streak.

Even the introduction of the substitutes didn’t open up proceedings for Wickham. If anything, it got worse, with Jozy Altidore, in particular, producing some awful moments of control.

Had van Aanholt’s stoppage time drive rustled the net, then it would perhaps have masked Sunderland’s shortcomings and secured that much-coveted first victory.

But it’s time that the Black Cats progressed from average to good.

If they cannot do that in the Premier League visits of Swansea and Stoke to record a first top-flight win before the second international break, then the patience over Sunderland’s steadiness will begin to ebb away.

BURNLEY: Heaton, Trippier, Shackell, Duff, Mee, Arfield, Jones (Wallace 86), Marney, Boyd (Reid 90), Sordell (Barnes 62), Jutkiewicz. Subs not used: Gilks, Kightly, Keane, Ward. Booked: Marney (90)

SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Vergini, O’Shea, Brown, van Aanholt, Cattermole, Larsson (Gomez 67), Rodwell, Giaccherini (Buckley 72), Johnson (Altidore 67), Wickham. Subs not used: Pantilimon, Jones, Bridcutt, Graham. Booked: Rodwell (62).

Attendance: 20,026

Referee: Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe)

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