The light is slowly going out. Defeat yesterday leaves Burnley four points from safety and their prognosis will worsen if Wigan take something from Arsenal today or West Ham get a result against Liverpool tomorrow. The concern is not merely mathematical. Last week's win at Hull, after a run of four straight defeats, must have prompted hope that they would at least go down fighting; yesterday, though, Burnley were outplayed by a Sunderland side who seemed to become bored by their dominance.
The Burnley manager, Brian Laws, described his side's chance of survival as "slim but not impossible". "We take heart from teams that have done it," he went on. "It's going to take a lot of belief in ourselves. There's three games to go; nine points to play for and we've got to give it a go. The fact is we've got the lowest budget in the Premier League by a mile. We believe we can still do it, and if we do it'll be a great achievement."
Yesterday's win confirmed Sunderland's survival, but realistically they have already been safe for a couple of weeks and the release of tension allowed them, before the break, to produce the sort of carefree passing football that can only have reminded a tetchy, inhibited Burnley of the anxiety of their own position. What Michael Turner, a centre-back who never looks comfortable when he's not attacking high balls, was doing on the left wing in the build-up to Sunderland's second goal, only he will know, but the fact he felt inspired to sally into alien territory says much about Burnley's limitations. "We were close to blowing them away but did not take the chances," said the Sunderland manager Steve Bruce.
Both Sunderland full-backs, the on-loan Alan Hutton and pig-tailed Kieran Richardson, got forward at will, and both were involved in both Sunderland goals. Neither Chris Eagles nor Martin Paterson on the Burnley flanks did anything to induce a mood of caution, although given how little possession Burnley enjoyed, that perhaps was not entirely their fault.
The first half was all Sunderland. Burnley didn't muster a chance, while Brian Jensen had made an excellent low save to keep out a John Mensah header and Kenwyne Jones had hit a post even before Fraizer Campbell slid in the opener from Hutton's cross after 25 minutes. Campbell has been in superb form in recent weeks, and it was his diving header back across goal from a David Meyler cross that laid on the second for Darren Bent five minutes before half-time.
"We never got going in the first half," Laws said. "Bent and Jones caused us problems and pushed us so deep that our midfield dropped back to cover them and couldn't get forward to support our strikers. It was important in the second half that we came out fighting but we didn't start well enough. That was the soul-destroyer."
Burnley improved marginally after the break, but that may have been as much to do with Sunderland easing off as anything else. Even then they had produced nothing more threatening than a long-range Graham Alexander shot that Craig Gordon saved comfortably before Sunderland's defence parted to present Steven Thompson with an 82nd-minute goal.
That might have been expected to prompt a cavalry charge, particularly against a Sunderland side who have made a habit of conceding late goals, but Burnley produced nothing, and it took a decent save from Jensen to prevent Kenwyne Jones making it a third successive 3-1 home win.
As Chris Eagles ballooned a speculative shot, the home fans let loose a chant of, "That's why you're going down". They were right: that and the lack of bite in midfield and the great spaces Sunderland were able to carve in their back four: in all departments yesterday Burnley looked distinctly second rate.
Referee: H Webb
Man of the match: Hutton
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content