The international break seems to have come and gone in a flash - but not without casualties. We head to Turf Moor without the energy of Jewison Bennette or the stability of Dan Ballard, who have both joined Sunderland’s seemingly constantly growing injury list.
These are two players we could probably have used for the visit to high flying Burnley, but alas - our cursed bad luck goes on. We make our way to the north west in what will be our hardest game of the season with no fewer than eight senior players unavailable.
It is for this reason, and due to our relative mid-table comfort, that the trip is both a free-hit and a litmus test for the months ahead. Firstly, the free-hit bit.
Burnley have been in frightening form for most of the campaign. Two defeats from 38 matches is plenty proof of that - a record at home that still sees Vincent Kompany’s side unbeaten is all you really need to know about the task in hand.
With our injury riddled squad put into the equation, very few people will give us a hope in hell on Friday night. Yet we’ve been in similar positions before this season. Did many of us really expect to bring three points back from Norwich earlier this month, especially after a three game losing streak? Undoubtedly not.
Who is to say we can’t come back from Lancashire with something to show for it? Optimism 101 right here.
Our style of player has earned us plenty of plaudits this season. We’ve looked like a team that has a clear plan and, more often than not, it’s a plan which has been executed well. For the opening 45 minutes of the reverse fixture, we ran them ragged. The quality and depth of Burnley’s squad won the day, but we learned some lessons that day.
I want us to go to Burnley and play with the same sort of confidence and freedom we’ve come to associate with Tony Mowbray’s Sunderland. We’re expected to get beat, so why not have some fun trying?
Now onto the litmus test part. During a season where staying up was always going to be the primary objective, we’ve rarely been outside the top half and we’ve spent several weeks in the top six. With our spot in the Championship season all but mathematically confirmed, we can relax - but we also have the chance to give a good account of ourselves without the pressure of knowing a heavy defeat would kick us to the curb of relegation.
Playing against a team who will be crowned champions in a matter of weeks and who have the chance to break the 100-point barrier will always be daunting. But surely doing so under the circumstances we will be is one of the better scenarios to be in? I would certainly say so.