Lawrence sends Sunderland top

Burnley 0 Sunderland 2
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The Independent Football

A First-Half goal from Liam Lawrence and a late Marcus Stewart strike sent Sunderland to the top of the Championship last night, heaping pressure on Wigan and Ipswich who meet at the JJB Stadium today.

Burnley suffered in the danger zone and having watched his side register just 12 shots on goal in their past three outings, the Clarets manager Steve Cotterill must have been tempted to thrust £600,000 signing Ade Akinbiyi into action - but a thigh strain saw the former Stoke striker begin the evening on the bench.

How Akinbiyi will be wishing he had stayed there. Cotterill decided to play his final card by introducing Akinbiyi after 80 minutes, with the deficit 1-0. The much-travelled forward may have almost scored within seconds of coming on from a header, but less than three minutes after entering the fray he was shown a straight red card for elbowing, headbutting and grabbing the throat of Sunderland's George McCartney after they had challenged for a loose ball. A lengthy ban is likely to ensue.

The visitors welcomed Lawrence, Sean Thornton and Michael Bridges back into the side for a hat-trick of changes. On a terrible playing surface which featured large muddied strips parallel to each sideline, Burnley's Graham Branch was unlucky to see Jean Louis Valois' deflected cross skim off his forehead and away from danger after eight minutes.

Sunderland stuttered as the snow began to fall around Turf Moor, belying the incentive of a chance to move three points clear at the top. Ian Moore should have connected better with another wicked Valois delivery midway through the first half. But Burnley could not make their territorial advantage count and they eventually paid for it after 26 minutes. The home side failed to properly clear a right-wing corner and after Stewart saw his fierce volley blocked by Mo Camara, Lawrence rose to head home the opening goal.

The dangerous Valois almost responded immediately but saw his curling free-kick well held by the Sunderland goalkeeper Thomas Myhre.

Mick McCarthy's side went close to adding a second just before the interval when a Lawrence header was blocked with a suspicion of handball by Peter Whittingham. Stewart fired the rebound over the bar.

Sunderland, who missed out in the play-offs last season when they lost to Crystal Palace on penalties, secured the points a minute from time when Stewart turned in a low cross from the substitute Chris Brown.

Burnley: Jensen, Duff (Akinbiyi, 80), Cahill, Sinclair, Camara, Valois, Grant (Roche, 45), Hyde, Branch, Whittingham, Moore. Substitutes not used: Coyne, Pilkington, Scott.

Sunderland: Myhre, Whitehead, Breen, Caldwell, McCartney, Lawrence, Whitley, Robinson, Thornton (Welsh, 71), Bridges (Brown, 85), Stewart. Substitutes not used: N Collins, Alnwick, D Collins.

Referee: I Williamson (Berkshire).