Wednesday 13 December 2017

Laws left clutching at straws as hope fades

Campbell 25, Bent 40
Thompson 82

Jonathan Wilson

"YOU can’t predict what will happen in this league," the Burnley manager Brian Laws insisted. "There are three games and nine points and we will go for it in each game. We know we have to win two games to get out of it minimum, and that’s assuming teams around us get nothing."

After Saturday’s defeat to Sunderland – which would surely have been more emphatic had the home side not spent the majority of the second half in a comfort-induced slumber – Burnley are four points from safety, a position that will only look bleaker if West Ham United take a point or more against Liverpool tonight.

“Our chances are slim, not impossible,” Laws went on. “We have got to believe and get the players to believe it is still possible. No matter who writes us off, and people have written us off for months, we will give it a go. We take heart from teams who have done it. It will take great belief in ourselves. People thought we’d never win another game (before a week gone Saturday).”

Whether much heart can really be taken from that away win at Hull is debatable. For all Laws’ bold talk, 15 league games under him have produced only seven points, and there is little reason to suppose Burnley can match that tally in the remaining three, particularly not when their opponents are Liverpool, Birmingham and Tottenham.

It would be easy to blame Laws for Burnley’s tumble towards relegation, but as Steve Bruce, who played with Laws at Wallsend Boys Club and whose hug at the final whistle suggested genuine friendship, pointed out, they had gone nine league games without a win before he took over. Owen Coyle, it seems, saw the warning signs and jumped ship while he had the chance.

Perhaps Laws has to remain positive, but there seems something of Monty Python’s Black Knight about his insisting that each mortal blow is nothing but a flesh wound. Even Laws admitted, though, that Saturday was “a soul-destroyer” not just because of the result, but because of the way any momentum that might have been generated by the second-half display at Hull had dissipated within minutes.

Sunderland, whose Premier League survival was confirmed by a third successive home win, poured forward in waves – “like a big, top team” as Bruce put it – with both full-backs, Alan Hutton and Kieran Richardson, involved in the build-up to both goals.

Fraizer Campbell continued his excellent form by sliding the first from a Hutton cross, and then headed a David Meyler chip across goal for Darren Bent to knock in his 23rd of the season. Meyler and the Jordan Henderson, both only 19, impressed in central midfield, and both are likely to sign five-year deals this week.

Steven Thompson pulled one back with eight minutes to go, but even then there was no real sense that Burnley had the wherewithal to find an equaliser.

Laws battles on, but it increasingly looks a vain struggle.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Gordon; Hutton, Turner, Mensah (Ferdinand, 46) Richardson; Campbell, Henderson, Meyler (Zenden, 88), Malbranque; Bent (Benjani, 89), Jones. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Bardsley, Kilgallon, Da Silva.

Burnley (4-1-4-1): Jensen; Mears, Cort, Duff, Fox; Alexander; Eagles, Elliott, Cork (Blake 81), Paterson (Thompson 46); Fletcher. Substitutes not used: Weaver (gk), Bikey, Carlisle, Caldwell, Jordan.

Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).

Booked: Sunderland Malbranque, Mensah, Meyler; Burnley Duff, Thompson.

Man of the match: Hutton.

Attendance: 41,341.

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