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Fan Focus: Burnley (H) - “If we can’t win at Sunderland, we wont win anywhere this season!”

We’ve got Burnley podcasters No Nay Never back to give us their view on our clash against The Clarets. This time, it’s former Sunderland resident Jamie Smith in the hot seat.

Burnley v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

RF: Ask any Sunderland fan why they're a bit of wary of this game and most will point to the fact that you haven't won away all season. It would be so predictable if you picked up your first win on the road on Saturday. Is there any obvious answer as to why you aren't picking up many points away from Turf Moor though?

JS: Short answer - no! If it was obvious I'm sure Sean Dyche would have sorted it out by now. But I think at the start of the season we were a bit naive at times, especially in our defending, and that led to us taking some heavy defeats. Since December we've been a lot better and we have been getting closer, although results have remained poor. We've taken the lead in our last two away games so we are at least getting in a position to win matches.

But in reality it's just really bloody hard to win away in the Premier League - and we've not been good enough. Dyche has described our away form as an "anomaly" but over two seasons in the PL we've won one - ONE! - away game under him that hasn't been effectively a dead rubber. It's not really good enough and it remains a concern as we can't expect to be getting 30+ points at home every season (if we stay up, which we should).

RF: As you can probably tell, I'm not exactly confident, which is mainly down to our recent form. Can you give me a reason to be confident though? Any areas you can see Sunderland getting some joy from?

JS: We've struggled to keep clean sheets away from Turf Moor all season - the 0-0 draw at the SOL in the FA Cup is one of only a couple. So Sunderland can be confident of at least scoring as we let in some really soft goals, especially from crosses.

We have a problem seeing out halves as well. Our concentration just seems to disappear as soon as we get into the last couple of minutes and we've lost loads of points as a result. Every team can note points they've dropped but we've definitely lost more than we've won with late goals this season.

RF: I'd be interested to hear your perspective on Michael Keane, since you watch him every week. He looks like a really promising centre back and there's been a lot of shouts for him to be given an England call up - Do you think he has what it takes to break into the national side?

JS: I'm obviously biased but I don't see many, if any, better English defenders in the Premier League. It's a joke that John Stones went for £50m and we'll probably get half as much for Keane in the summer. Keane is a better defender than Stones. There is absolutely no doubt about it in my mind. I've been telling anyone who will listen all season.

A bolder manager than Gareth Southgate would have capped Keane already and while (ex-Claret) Gary Cahill has plenty of experience, a Stones-Keane combination is likely England's future so it should be used sooner rather than later.

Keane has had a couple of dodgy games this season and he can still improve in some areas, particularly in the air, but he's absolutely brilliant. I love the lad to bits and he's going to have an incredible career. Shame it won't be with us but players outgrow clubs, it happens.

RF: Andre Gray ran riot on New Years Eve and bagged another in the FA Cup replay, so we'll all be keeping an eye on him. Is there anyone else we should be worried about, heading into the game? Anyone in a good run of form?

JF: Errr no, not really. Gray has been carrying our goalscoring hopes for a while now and the other strikers in the squad, Sam Vokes and Ashley Barnes, haven't been playing that well, although Barnes scored at Liverpool last weekend.

Robbie Brady has done little to justify his club-record fee so far - apart from that amazing free-kick against Chelsea - and we need to see a lot more from him, while our other good creative midfielders Steven Defour and Johann Gudmundsson are both injured. Defour might be fit for the bench and I hope he is as we've missed him a lot in the last few weeks.

I'm sure Joey Barton will get a lively reception from the Sunderland fans and he tends to thrive in those conditions, so probably watch out for him spanking one into the top corner... or getting sent off for something typically idiotic.

RF: Any memories of past visits to The Stadium of Light/Roker Park?

JS: I've only been once to see Burnley at Sunderland and that was the last Premier League season. We were awful, one of the worst games we've played under Dyche, we just didn't turn up at all. It was in the middle of Danny Ings' protracted move to Liverpool and he obviously didn't want to be playing. It was painful.

I went to university in Sunderland so I've been to a few other matches too. I remember a midweek cup game against Blackburn (booooo) that is the coldest I've ever been at a football game. So not many happy memories! Never went to Roker unfortunately - before my time.

RF: How do you see Sean "No Carbs Before Marbs" Dyche approaching the game and what do you think the starting eleven will be?

JS: I sense he'll probably set us up to be as defensive as possible as that seems to be his default option, with Brady benched again and the work rate of Scott Arfield and George Boyd preferred on the wings. That said, we made a really good start at Anfield last weekend and might just try to do the same again. There's definitely a feeling that the Sunderland fans can turn on the team if they start poorly - understandably given the absolute rubbish they've had to watch for years now - and we need to exploit that.

I'd go for Vokes over Barnes and put Brady back in but Dyche prefers Barnes and we'll probably be unchanged from last week. Team will likely be: Heaton; Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward; Boyd, Barton, Hendrick, Arfield; Barnes, Gray.

RF: Finally - A prediction please?

JS: I've probably come across quite downbeat here but, with no disrespect meant, if we can't win at Sunderland we won't win anywhere this season. The away win has felt like it has been coming and we won't get a better opportunity than this.

I'm going for 2-1 to Burnley and I'm afraid I can't see Sunderland pulling off their annual miracle this time.


You can check out No Nay Never on their website and follow Jamie on Twitter.