No early Christmas presents

Last updated : 19 December 2004 By Tony Scholes
James O'Connor - Burnley's best player on the day
I don’t think there can be any real complaints over the result, the home side had the edge and although they didn’t play particularly well, they were the best side on the day.

Up to kick off it had been a good day, a pleasant stop for drinks and lunch close to the Durham County Cricket Ground before making our way to Sunderland and after being blasted with Prokofiev were just about ready to go.

John McGreal, as expected, replaced the suspended Frank Sinclair but there were two other changes, both in midfield. Tony Grant’s hamstring prevented him from playing and Graham Branch came back in after his calf injury whilst in a surprise move Lee Roche was relegated to the bench and replaced by Jean-Louis Valois.

We started the brighter of the two sides and Valois set up Robbie Blake, yes he really does still play for us, who shot just over the bar but the home side soon retaliated with a shot from Julio Arca.

Arca, on the left, and Liam Lawrence on the right, were to give Michael Duff and Mo Camara very difficult afternoons and it even looked initially that they scored the two goals that kept the points in the north east.

There’s no doubting that Arca got the first and it all started after Blake’s cross field ball was picked up by Michael Bridges who made a run forward before playing in Arca who was coming in from the left.

Duff, in what was probably his worst performance in a Claret & Blue shirt, got it all wrong and ended up vainly appealing for offside as the Sunderland wide man slid the ball past the badly positioned Brian Jensen.

The Burnley keeper was having a mixed afternoon, he had made a couple of very good saves but this was the third time his judgement had been wrong and it was to prove costly.

Our heads weren’t down for long and we were level within a minute – with much owing to loan man James O’Connor down the right hand side. He turned his man superbly and got in a near post cross that Robbie flicked on for Branchy to sweep home right footed in his 200th league game for the Clarets. It silenced the previously celebrating Mackems.

Sunderland could have gone back ahead though on a couple of occasions before half time after we needlessly gave the ball away – one of the efforts was blazed high over the bar whilst Jensen dealt well with the other.

Maybe we weren’t fortunate to be level at half time but Sunderland had been the better side during the first forty-five minutes.
There was to be no change in the pattern in the early exchanges of the second half as Sunderland looked to get back in front and they did just seven minutes in.

Richard Chaplow - back on the bench and his first appearance since October
They won a corner on the left hand side but before they could take it we replaced the unimpressive Valois with Lee Roche, Valois was apparently injured. It is often said you should never make a substitution when the opposition have the ball and the next time we were to get a touch was to restart at 2-1 down.

Lawrence and Arca worked a corner together and Lawrence eventually crossed it from the left hand side. Suddenly the ball is in the net with Jensen totally misjudging the cross. It was poor goalkeeping and the stadium announcer revealed that Lawrence was the scorer but the goal has since been credited correctly to Bridges who got a touch after it had passed the keeper.

We were somewhat fortunate not to fall further behind when Gary Cahill, again in good form, did a Plymouth and handled after unnecessarily sticking his arms in the air. This time referee Dermot Gallagher waved play on. If Gallagher got it wrong then it was probably one of the few things he did get wrong all afternoon in what was a good performance.

It wasn’t as though Sunderland did create much else but although we had our fair share of possession neither did we. Twice we came close and both after excellent balls into the box from Robbie Blake.

Firstly he clipped a ball in for O’Connor who did everything right to bring the ball under control before hitting his shot just wide and then a ball in from the right presented Richard Chaplow with a half chance with his first touch after coming on for Branchy. This time the defender got their just ahead of him.

We were attacking at the end but the harsh reality is that we hardly troubled Thomas Myhre as Sunderland run the clock down and there can be no real complaints about the result.

The performance wasn’t a bad one but we were far from our best. There were good individual performances, Gary Cahill and John McGreal at the back, and my man of the match James O’Connor who had his best game yet for us in the midfield.

But there were some poor individual performances, the two full backs had bad games and I cannot remember Ian Moore actually doing anything, I hardly noticed he was on the pitch all afternoon and that is simply not on in what was a tough game.

Valois got injured again but his was another anonymous performance in any case but there was a positive for the Clarets in the return of Richard Chaplow.

From what I head afterwards we caught Sunderland on a bad day but hopefully we can get this out of our system and go and get ourselves a win at Crewe on Boxing Day.

The teams were,

Sunderland: Thomas Myhre, Stephen Wright, Neil Collins, Gary Breen, George McCartney, Liam Lawrence, Carl Robinson, Dean Whitehead, Julio Arca (Jeff Whitley 82), Chris Brown (Marcus Stewart 73), Michael Bridges (Stephen Elliott 73). Subs not used: Ben Alnwick, Matt Piper.

Burnley: Brian Jensen, Michael Duff, Gary Cahill, John McGreal, Mo Camara, Ian Moore, James O’Connor, Micah Hyde, Graham Branch (Richard Chaplow 73), Jean-Louis Valois (Lee Roche 51), Robbie Blake. Subs not used: Joel Pilkington, Amadou Sanokho, Matt O’Neill.

Referee: Dermot Gallagher (Banbury).

Attendance: 27,102.