Plus: L's first Burnley game
Two games in a few days was always going to test Burnley, but four points from the twin trips keeps us right in the promotion mix ahead of a run of three home games.
This week, we have a piece from my girlfriend Laura on her experience of her debut Burnley match, but first up here’s me on how we bounced back from Birmingham.
Birmingham away was up there with our worst performances of the season. One thing Burnley did well under Sean Dyche is to bounce back - and we did that at Sunderland.
But not right away. With Jack Cork and Jay Rodriguez on the bench - arguably our two most important players - Burnley were incredibly poor in the first half on Saturday.
Sunderland’s 2-0 lead did not flatter them. With Ashley Barnes up front, Burnley resorted to hoofball, abandoning their principles, while the defence was a shambles.
It was obvious something needed to change and, at the break, Kompany came up with a new plan. Barnes was hooked, with Manuel Benson sent on. Nathan Tella went to play down the middle, reflecting Sunderland’s shape with no recognised striker.
It was an obvious move to make given Barnes’ struggles, though many managers would have turned to Rodriguez as a straight swap, but one that paid off in spades.
Tella started the comeback with a close-range header - his sixth league goal of the season - and when Benson’s cross-shot crept in there was only ever one winner.
Sunderland’s strikerless formation meant they could not relieve the pressure, as we hadn’t in the first half, with Burnley building unstoppable repeated waves of attacks.
Anass Zaroury’s sensational strike put us ahead, then Benson teed up Josh Brownhill to finish it off. That Brownhill had the telling touch was apt given he had been abysmal before the break, filling in for Cork alongside Josh Cullen, but his vastly improved performance after the interval was the beating heart of our fightback.
It felt like the sort of game that will be remembered for years, not just as one of the key staging posts in what we hope will be a successful return to the Premier League.
Kompany making the vital change is worthy of praise, yet there has to be criticism for our manager too. The Charlie Taylor at centre-back experiment has run its course, with Jordan Beyer badly missed in the last two games. Vitinho is half the player on the left, which begs the question why Taylor is still yet to be given a game in that role.
Taylor lacks Vitinho and Ian Maatsen’s speed, but his experience could be crucial.
The excitement on Wearside was in sharp contract to the dull game in Birmingham earlier in the week. Johann Gudmundsson’s curled opener gave the travelling Clarets hope they would see a big win on the road, only for it to end up in another 1-1 draw.
It’s hard to find new things to say about these draws. This time, Kompany had gone on the attack by throwing on another forward player. That Gudmundsson scored having come off the bench is to VK’s credit, but why Kompany did not change things back to our usual system once we had nudged in front is completely beyond me.
Some fans might argue Kompany can’t win. Try to sit on a lead and concede and we moan. Go for a second goal and concede and we moan. But our approach was naïve: You can’t be 1-0 up on the road in the last 15 minutes with five attackers on the pitch.
It was yet another important lesson that Kompany must learn, but the relentless grind of the Championship - Burnley are about to play three home games in eight days - means the chances to pause, reflect and improve are few and far between this season.
I'm starting to see the attraction
My first Burnley match was always going to be a worry for me, given how much my boyfriend loves his football [that’s me! - ed], but my worries turned out to be unfounded when we went to Sunderland this weekend.
In the queue for the turnstiles I was warned about a couple of not suitable to sing in front of your girlfriend chants, reassured that if people started jumping about too much he’d put himself between them and me, and then checked over by the adorable sniffer dog I had to try hard not to stroke - so far so good!
Getting to our seats wasn’t nearly as many steps as he’d pre-warned me (I have a chronic pain condition) and we had a really good view of the pitch too.
Ten minutes in, I told him I’d happily come to another match in the future, and he pointed out that ten minutes in was probably too soon to comment. Fair point, because it went downhill from there. Forty minutes in, just before half-time, Burnley were 2-0 down and he told me, in what I hope was a jokey way, that I was barred from ever coming again.
I was feeling a bit relieved at that point. I did tell him that Burnley just didn’t seem arsed about the game, as they, to me, were absolutely not trying very hard. I’d wondered to myself if they were always like that, and why he bothered following them around the country if so.
Luckily for me, the second half was loads better, although I’ll confess to missing Burnley’s first AND second goals because I was either watching the seagulls flying around the top of the stadium, laughing at the hilarious commentary of the small children behind me and nosying at what the police were up to (looking for whoever was throwing stuff at Sunderland fans!) I’d hoped to get away with missing the two goals and never tell him but I’ve had to confess now - sorry J!
Once I’d started paying attention again I did see the two most important goals, the winning ones, and the sheer joy from the fans when the final whistle blew, which definitely recovered the afternoon for me.
I’d expected the crowd to be a bit more jumpy, and to keep being knocked by people who’d had a few too many drinks, and to feel a bit intimidated at people being really loud and maybe a bit aggressive. It turns out I was mostly surrounded by semi-calm, polite and not at all rowdy fans instead, possibly because of the small children behind us, or possibly because Burnley fans aren’t hooligans [well, most of us aren’t - ed]?
I’ll hope it’s the second so that future games also go as well, because I’ll definitely be back, and I think I'm starting to see the attraction. My thoughts on my first football match with the boyfriend experience? Definitely positive ones.
What do you remember about your first Burnley game? Let me know.