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Burnley v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - Turf Moor

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Talking Points: Was that Sunderland’s hardest-earned and most deserved point of the season?

Giving players some game time pays off; Ekwah makes his first league start; and the four horsemen of the apocalypse have returned to the stable.

Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images

Team Selection...

The gaffer alluded earlier in the week that the season might well be over in terms of the Lads competing for anything and with that, he would look to give people some game time to build experience for the 2023/24 campaign.

This could be why we started Ekwah and decided to leave two left-backs on the bench to start Gooch in the position. It may not be the case, but away against top of the league seems a strange moment to offer Ekwah his first league start.

Now depending on whether you are a glass-half-full or half-empty, six points to make up with eight games to play may or may not be possible. I think it’s something that would be certainly achievable given our run-in, and I’m not sure the manager should be writing off seasons until it’s no longer mathematically possible.

If that is Mowbray’s approach then it’s not something that’s gotten through to the players, as my next point picks up...

Burnley v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - Turf Moor
Gooch may not have expected to have started at left back at Turf Moor, but his performance justified the decision!
Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images

The high-intensity, high-press Sunderland we love is still on show

Clear-cut chances may have been at a premium for us, and we certainly rode our luck (more than) a little to avoid conceding, but at the very heart of the Sunderland performance was energy, drive and passion - the three things that we fans love to see more than anything from our team.

Pritchard, Gelhardt, Clarke and Roberts all pressed the Burnley defence into making decisions and taking action a lot quicker than they would have been comfortable with. Fortunately for them, Burnley had the extra quality to move the ball around the press, with forced errors few and far between.

Regardless of whether we are up against top-of-the-league or relegation battlers, it's the style that has made us fall in love with the club again, and the result last night really was secondary to this.

It does make you think about what might have been this season if we had done this throughout.

Burnley v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship - Turf Moor
Sunderland defended impressively from the front, with this high-energy approach seemingly back to stay.
Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images

Into the deep end of the pool for Pierre

As mentioned above, the inclusion of Ekwah was an eyebrow-raiser for me. Not because I’m not a fan - I’ve been quite excited to see what he can bring, but to give him his first league start at Turf Moor against a side all-but running away with the league is certainly chucking him in at the deep end!

On the whole, he’ll be pretty satisfied by his 63-minute (by far the longest he’s played in any one game) contribution. Out of possession he was solid, reading the game well, nicking the ball in front of the Burnley players, and mopping up the rare loose pass from the Burnley midfield. With the ball he was a lot more hit-and-miss. First half in particular he lost possession more times than any manager would be comfortable with - sometimes trying to find the simplest of square passes was beyond him. He found his feed a little better in the second half, with a whipped ball out wide to launch a Patrick Roberts attack being one in particular that sticks in mind.

Whether it was Mowbray ‘giving him minutes’ or not, it was unexpected but good to see Ekwah get some proper game time - and I’m all for seeing a bit more of him.

Fulham v Sunderland: Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round
Ekwah was a little hit and miss first half, but put in a solid performance overall in his first start.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Our hardest-earned and best-deserved point?

The first visiting side to stop Burnley scoring in nearly a year!

We certainly deserved it. From minute one to minute 96 we pressed when we could, we sat in shape when we needed to, and when things got desperate, the back four were more than willing to put their health and wellbeing on the line for the cause.

Yes, we rode our luck at times and for pockets of the game we were under pressure and thoroughly outplayed, but it was a game we were always in and possibly could have nicked it.

Burnley’s home record is phenomenal, before Friday night it was 14-5-0. They’d scored more than two goals per game on average and had only conceded 13 in their 19 matches at Turf Moor. Take nothing away from this draw, and do not underestimate just how much of an achievement it actually is in context.

Burnley v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
With the effort put in, it was almost certainly our hardest fought point of the season.
Photo by Dave Howarth - CameraSport via Getty Images

The apocalypse is over!

We watched Alex Neil walk off the Stadium of Light pitch four weeks ago having brought his Stoke team and embarrassing us. As we did, the world was ending having lost three on the spin with matches against Norwich, Sheffield United, Luton and Burnley to come.

Many (myself included!) looked at those next four games with stark horror that zero points were a distinct possibility. In fairness to the Lads and to the manager, they have stuck their chests out and have come back out swinging.

What could have been four defeats and zero points have instead been a win, two draws and a defeat, totalling five points. Whilst 5 points from a possible 12 in isolation isn't the return of a top-half team, considering where we were at coming into that run and who the opposition were, it should set us up well for a strong finish to the season.

Let's do what we can, and see where the cards fall.


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