Photos: Sunderland 2, Burnley 0
The Clarets were reliant on results elsewhere once again as Sean Dyche’s side avoided dropping in to the Premier League’s bottom three despite defeat to Sunderland.
Hull City’s heavy loss at home to Newcastle United in the day’s early kick-off was followed by reversals for QPR and Leicester City at the hands of Stoke City and Manchester United respectively while West Brom were downed by Spurs at the Hawthorns.
Those goals from Remy Cabella, Sammy Ameobi and Yoan Gouffran should have fired the Clarets in to life, but their performance levels from the first whistle were epitomised by the peculiarly restrained atmosphere at the Stadium of Light.
The visitors appeared lethargic and disjointed, extremely uncharacteristic from a group that had lined up alongside each other for nine consecutive games in the top tier.
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Striker Ashley Barnes had warned of the passing styles of Gus Poyet’s sides in the build up to the fixture, having worked with the Uruguayan at Brighton.
And that proved Burnley’s undoing in the North East with Sebastian Larsson and Jordi Gomez allowed to orchestrate proceedings in the centre of the park.
The pair were pivotal in the moves that led to Connor Wickham’s opener and Jermain Defoe’s first goal for the Black Cats.
Wickham threatened in the 11th minute, sweeping a left-footed effort past Heaton and in to the corner, though the England Under 21 international was denied on this occasion after flooring Kieran Trippier seconds before.
Barnes, alongside Foxes forward Leonardo Ulloa has conceded the most fouls in the division this term with 41, but the one-time Austria Under 20 cap won the set-piece that led to the away side’s best opportunity of the half.
Liam Bridcutt was the offender, Burnley’s David Jones was the provider from the right hand touchline, but Barnes nodded inches wide of Costel Pantilimon’s near post after climbing above Patrick Van Aanholt.
Trippier went close minutes later, in extremely fortuitous circumstances, when Pantilimon scrambled back to his line desperately before colliding with his upright after the full back’s diagonal pass benefited from the tailwind.
Sunderland hadn’t won at home in the league since October, when beating the Potters 3-1, but they started to address that statistic when opening the scoring in the 20th minute.
With Ben Mee pulled out of position and sticking close to Larsson, the Swede reversed an incisive pass in behind Scott Arfield to Anthony Reveillere and the former Napoli and Lyon defender crossed for Wickham who headed back across Tom Heaton and in to the corner.
Wickham’s fourth of the campaign was the 12th headed goal shipped by the Clarets so far this season.
The visitors responded just shy of the half-hour mark. Danny Ings, whose name has littered numerous column inches throughout the transfer window, found George Boyd and his attempt on the slide was pulled off the line by Pantilimon whose tall frame worked to his advantage.
But Burnley were cut open again, and it led to Sunderland’s second of the afternoon. Johnson worked the ball centrally to Gomez from the right flank and the Spaniard’s penetrative pass to Van Aanholt provided the Dutchman with the simple task of squaring for Defoe who touched home.
It was, however, a catalogue of errors that provided the platform for Defoe’s 125th Premier League goal against his 33rd different club at this level.
Arfield, as with the home side’s opener, was caught out from Gomez’s pass when failing to track the runner while skipper Jason Shackell had dropped deep to play Van Aanholt onside.
In the run up to the interval, David Jones sliced his volley wide after combining with Barnes on the edge of the box before Barnes’s drive from distance skidded past the post.
Dyche’s men improved after the break but still lacked the creative spark to trouble the opposition.
But they still failed to learn lessons from their first half mistakes. Within minutes of the restart Van Aanholt infiltrated Burnley’s left hand side from Johnson’s pass but Defoe failed to convert the defender’s pull back.
As play switched to the opposite end Boyd cut past his marker but his cross ricocheted off an unsuspecting Barnes after Dean Marney had crossed his path to attack the ball.
The striker’s next effort was then deflected wide for a corner following a break and assist from Ings.
Dyche rung the changes - with Ings and Boyd the surprise candidates to be withdrawn with Lukas Jutkiewicz and Ross Wallace their replacements.
Wickham fired over the bar and Larsson whipped a set-piece just wide of the upright as the half wore on, while Pantilimon made a smart reaction save to deny Vokes’s header just before the final whistle.