There has been a lot of talk about the amount of games Sunderland have in April and how they will define our season, but if they don’t beat Burnley on Saturday we could be so far behind will they even matter?
So given its huge importance, the pressure will be higher on Saturday than in any game so far.
And the pressure of expectation can either inspire players or it can overwhelm them and that is why the key to the whole game could come in the first 20 minutes.
Get off to a good start and it will be a huge release of nerves and tension but a bad start – and I don’t even want to imagine going a goal down – can cause panic and everything can unravel from there.
So at least the player’s minds won’t be cluttered – it is crystal clear, just get the job done. But Burnley, who I think are the hardest working team in the league and well organised, won’t make it easy.
They have already knocked us out of the FA Cup and won the league game at Turf Moor, an embarrassingly bad performance from Sunderland probably summed up when Steven Pienaar stood on the ball which led to one of the Clarets’ four goals.
Burnley dangerman Andre Gray got a hat-trick that day, although it was another blunder that set him on his way when Papy Djilobodji decided to barge into John O’Shea, which left Gray unmarked – no wonder David Moyes said it was one of his worst days in football management.
So we owe Burnley one. They have done us enough damage this season and if they take anything from Saturday’s game it will be another nail in Sunderland’s coffin.
However, Sunderland have plenty of things in their favour. They have just had yet another two-week break so should be fresh, they gave an improved performance despite losing against Man City, and Burnley are no Man City, and the injury list at last seems to be easing.
Also, Burnley have a terrible record on the road. They haven’t won a single game away from home (although that is the stat that makes me uneasy) so Sunderland must start making home advantage count, especially against teams with poor away records.
It goes without saying the fans have a huge role to play, just like they did at the end of last season, especially against Chelsea when the support and noise was unbelievable.
If the players are strong mentally and take responsibility then with everybody pulling together, I am confident of the win we desperately need.