Sunderland draw blank against Burnley to heap pressure on David Moyes

Louise Taylor at the Stadium of Light
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Burnley’s Andre Gray contests a high ball with Sunderland’s Jason Denayer.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Richard Lee//BPI/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Burnley’s Andre Gray contests a high ball with Sunderland’s Jason Denayer. Photograph: Richard Lee//BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

Anticlimax and downright disappointment are no strangers to Sunderland but such familiarity failed to assuage the pain of yet another game without a win and no goal for Jermain Defoe on a day when he had hoped to celebrate his recall to the England fold.

If a point was hardly much help to David Moyes’s bottom-placed side, it left Burnley still seeking their first away victory in the League this season after outstanding saves from the otherwise largely underworked goalkeepers, Jordan Pickford and Tom Heaton, once again emphasised their importance to these clubs.

Sean Dyche’s smile at the final whistle suggested the draw was far from a disaster for his team as, mindful of the dangers of being belatedly sucked into the relegation race, they inch their way towards the 40-point mark. “It’s so far so good but there’s still a lot of work to do,” said Burnley’s reasonably satisfied manager.

Moyes meanwhile had the presence of an unexpected guest – and its implications – to worry about.

Ellis Short, Sunderland’s owner – and a man very rarely seen at games this season – had startled club officials by turning up for this one and, with Joey Barton frequently dictating midfield, the first half must have made for uncomfortable viewing for him.

If the moment when Burnley’s self-styled enforcer was booked for hacking down Adnan Januzaj briefly lifted the crowd, Sunderland’s strictly limited manoeuvres offered precious little else to cheer about.

Indeed George Boyd would surely have given the visitors an early lead had he not misjudged Stephen Ward’s cross, shooting thin air before Jason Denayer cleared while Ashley Barnes later toe-poked inches wide with Pickford – and the entire home defence – momentarily frozen.

The Wearsiders are the only club in the bottom six not to have changed managers this season and Short’s surprise appearance prompted questions as to whether he was considering regime change.

While that seems unlikely – although hardly an impossibility on the part of an owner with serious form for March dismissals – Moyes cut a disconsolate figure in his padded dug-out seat.

“I saw Ellis this morning and he was fine. He owns the club so he’s entitled to come to matches,” said Sunderland’s manager, who lost Lamine Koné, his key defender, to an 11th-hour knee injury. “It wasn’t the prettiest but we had the chances to, on another day, have won.”

Sunderland’s first real opening arrived early in the second half when Fabio Borini could only shoot straight at Heaton after connecting with Bryan Oviedo’s splendid through-ball.

A marginally encouraged Moyes subsequently saw Heaton do very well to keep out a volley from Januzaj – cleverly cued up by the hitherto service-starved Defoe – before Seb Larsson sliced the rebound’s fall-out over the bar.

By now cascading rain had replaced the mist rolling in from the North Sea and Sunderland’s fragile optimism threatened to be washed away as a disbelieving Billy Jones punched the turf after heading Larsson’s cross wide.

Tellingly, Defoe’s body language looked increasingly frustrated, the stretching striker appearing furious at his failure to divert that effort past Heaton and then cursing a Januzaj shot that whizzed fractionally wide.

As the weather cleared, a flock of seagulls swooped into the stadium for a rather surreal fly-past, seemingly rousing Burnley. A Denayer error prefaced Pickford saving brilliantly from Sam Vokes – who also went close with a header – before the Belgian defender’s fine redeeming block prevented Arfield scoring.

Borini might have enjoyed the final word but Heaton’s reflexes denied the Italian before Short’s ears were assaulted by the boos greeting the final whistle.

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