Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Patched Up Black Cats Claw Way to Top

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Patched Up Black Cats Claw Way to Top

Article excerpt

Byline: By Stuart Rayner

Anyone who switched on Sky Sports at 9.20 last night got a real treat. Just pity those of us who had to sit through the 80 minutes of dross which preceded it.

A combination of the skill and, more decisively, stupidity of Ade Akinbiyi conjured an exciting finish out of a less than thrilling Friday night for television viewers.

Sunderland rarely reserve their best for the cameras and have an unfortunate tendency to start choking when the championship summit is in sight.

Manager Mick McCarthy has given up alcohol for Lent and last night his team cast off their bad habits to secure their place at the top of the table.

It wasn't just the Turf Moor pitch which was patched up, both sides suffering a number of injuries, though Sunderland's superior squad depth meant they had fewer players carrying them on the field.

Sunderland recalled Sean Thornton after suspension, Andy Welsh making way. Michael Bridges was preferred in attack to Chris Brown as Stephen Elliott succumbed to a groin injury. Steve Cotterill chose not to risk Akinbiyi from the start after the much-travelled striker's recent groin trouble, leaving the recent signing from Stoke on the bench.

Deprived of John Oster because of an agreement between the two clubs, the Clarets asked the likes of Frank Sinclair, Graham Branch and Micah Hyde once again to play when not fully fit.

The home side started the brighter, left-winger Jean Louis Valois the chief threat as he foraged down the most inconsistent part of the pitch. On the opposite flank, Ian Moore and Graham Branch were seemingly more intent on switching positions than providing balance to the midfield.

Jeff Whitley nearly handed Burnley their first real chance when he was caught in possession in front of the back four. Burnley worked the ball to Valois, whom the Irish midfielder fouled 19 yards out.

The winger produced a good ball from the free kick, but Moore was unable to head home under pressure from Caldwell.

It was the visitors, though, who opened the scoring when Liam Lawrence finished off the corner he won. Mo Camara first saw Lawrence play the ball off him for the flag kick, then blocked Stewart's left-footed volley when the cross came over.

Lawrence, though, showed a striker's instinct to react first and convert Sunderland's first shot of the game.

Their second was a clever one, Carl Robinson letting fly from outside the area. Although the shot was directed straight at Jensen, it landed on the six-yard line, the edge of a re-turfed patch. The goalkeeper reacted well, but it highlighted the difficulties in store at the Jimmy McIlroy end.

And Lawrence nearly did it again from a corner shortly before the break. The right-winger's header came direct from Thornton's corner this time, but his reactions were not so impressive. …

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