Two points dropped or a point gained? That seemed to be the general debate as supporters exited the Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon.
For it seemed a missed opportunity for the Black Cats who, while far from dominating the game, had opportunities to put their visitors to bed.
In a game equally as drab as the goalless draw between the two sides in the FA Cup in January, chances were few and far between but some of the better ones arguably fell to Sunderland.
A failure to take them means it’s only a point for David Moyes’ men, but there are plenty of lessons they can take from the draw.
1. Sunderland look scared
What was noticeable in Sunderland’s attacking play, especially during the first half, was that they looked scared to go forward. There was no shred of inspiration from any of the forward players, with wingers Larsson and Januzaj looking afraid to take on their man and instead opting to pass backward. This frustrated the fans and stopped the Black Cats causing Burnley any real problems.
It’s perhaps understandable if there is an element of fear in the side. After all, Sunderland are bottom of the league and haven’t scored a goal in four games so confidence isn’t exactly going to be sky high. But these are experienced Premier League players who shouldn’t be scared to take on a man and create something.
It’s Moyes’ job now to instil some more confidence into his players and rid them of any fear. There are a number of potentially exciting players in this Sunderland squad, they just need to start playing without a weight on their shoulders and creating chances.
2. Quick thinking is required
Sunderland’s play was laboured and they lacked any form of creativity in the final third for most of the game. It was the arrival of Wahbi Khazri that sparked something – the Tunisian playing a one-touch pass through to Jermain Defoe with his first touch after coming off the bench. This kind of quick thinking was absent for most of the game but is required if Sunderland want to end their goal drought. Moyes likes his teams to be methodical and build-up the play, but some intelligence is most certainly needed to create attacking opportunities.
For all Jordan Pickford has received praise this season, he’s partially guilty of this. The stopper was reluctant to start quick counter-attacks after claiming the ball which gave Burnley time to recover and defend. A quick throw or kick could have started Sunderland on an attack in which they out-numbered their visitors, but Pickford tended to hold on to the ball instead. Moyes’ style of play involves patient build-up, it was the same at Everton and Manchester United, but he needs to encourage this kind of quick-thinking in his players.
3. Moyes the motivator?
After a poor first half display, the Black Cats came out buoyant after the interval and looked to get forward a lot more. Did they receive a half-time blast from Moyes? Potentially, but whatever the manager said it seemed to work. The Black Cats looked a different side and took the game to Burnley early on after the break. This in turn got the fans on side, and will have surely been Moyes’ intended response to his half-time team talk.
The Scot still divides opinion among Sunderland fans, but if the second 45 minutes of this game is any indication he may well have the motivational powers needed to keep the Wearsiders safe. He’s certainly a different personality to the chest-banging passion of Sam Allardyce or the knee-sliding of Paolo Di Canio, but why can’t he inspire the players in his own way? A more softer-spoken touch may well influence the Sunderland players just as much as Allardyce’ passionate rants. Sunderland definitely need some motivation from somewhere if they are to keep their heads above water, and Moyes may well be the man to provide it.
4. Communication could be better
Burnley rarely threatened during the game, Sunderland’s defensive line doing a good job to marshall the usually lively Ashley Barnes and Andre Gray, but the few chances Burnley created came from poor communication between the back five. Whether that was hesitation in coming to claim a ball from Pickford or defenders leaving a clearance to each other – it needs to be cut out.
Against better teams such mistakes would surely be punished, and on this occasion Sunderland need to be thankful that Burnley didn’t benefit. Part of this could be put down to the absence of Lamine Kone – the Ivorian missing through injury – but regardless, the communication at the back was poor. Manchester United are the next visitors to the Stadium of Light, and they’ll pounce on any opportunity possible. Sunderland need to ensure their back five are all on the same page and communicating effectively.
5. There can’t be any more missed chances
How many times have we said that this season? Sunderland have arguably had chances in most of their games this season to take more points than they eventually did, but failed to take them. It was, therefore, a case of deja vu on Saturday with the Black Cats again spurning some glorious opportunities.
Fabio Borini was guilty of not being at his best in front of goal, while Billy Jones missed a glorious opportunity in the first half – the full-back seemingly caught in two minds between heading across goal or in at the near post while ending up doing neither.
It’s now four games without scoring for Sunderland, and that needs to end soon. With the likes of Defoe, Januzaj and Borini in the side there should be goals near enough guaranteed, but things just don’t seem to be going the way of the Black Cats at the moment. That needs to change, and you sense one goal could well open the floodgates.