The Clarets’ dismal recent record in the Carabao Cup was extended by another shock defeat as Sunderland came to book their place in the third round.
After the number of games they slogged through last season and what it perhaps took out of their team in the League One run-in, many supporters were hoping the Black Cats would make their excuses and leave the cup competitions at the earliest possible opportunities but instead they have made it through to the third round, where they will face Sheffield United.
The first-round win at Accrington Stanley was important in rethinking their ideas and kick-starting their season, and the hope must now be that this fully deserved victory over Burnley gets Will Grigg’s season – his whole Sunderland career, even – up and running. If it does, it will be more than worth another 90 minutes of football at Bramall Lane.
Denver Hume, Lynden Gooch, and Luke O’Nien were the only survivors from Saturday’s impressive 3-1 win over Wimbledon and even O’Nien was in a different position, pushed into the hole of a 4-2-3-1 formation from right-back. Burnley went further still, making ten changes.
The gap between the haves and the have-nots of English football have been stark in Lancashire recently, and the depth of the Clarets resources highlighted it for much of the first half until the hunger of Sunderland’s busier Bs and some good fortune turned the game their way. With ten minutes to half-time, no one could have seen it coming.
Burnley had taken complete control when the ball fell to Grigg and in the blink of an eye, he scored a typical poacher’s goal.
Hume’s cross inside was poor but Burnley debutant Danny Drinkwater turned it into an excellent pass, picking out Grigg, whose instincts had perhaps taken him behind the back four. The finish was just as intuitive, sweeping the ball past Joe Hart before anyone could react.
It was Grigg’s first goal since April’s 5-4 defeat at home to Coventry City, and only his sixth in all competitions since joining from Wigan Athletic in January for a fee which started at £3m and could reach £4m.
The game started breezily, but as soon as Jay Rodriguez gave Burnley a 12th-minute lead, it became one-way traffic.
Former England international Aaron Lennon looked bright from the off and when he cut inside after seven minutes he ran into his fellow winger Dwight McNeil, who took the ball from him and fired wide of Lee Burge’s goal.
All Sunderland could offer in return were blocked shots from O’Nien and Gooch.
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were mesmerized by Matej Vydra twisting like Chubby Checker on steroids they neglected to follow Rodriguez running past on his right. Vydra slipped the ball to his strike partner, who did much the same to beat Burge and score his first goal since returning to his home-town club.
It marked the start of a first-half siege, but with luck on their side, the Wearsiders held firm. Tom Flanagan blocked from Lennon, then his center-back partner, Jack Baldwin, stopped Rodriguez playing the ball across after a good run by former Black Cat Phil Bardsley.
When Lennon forced a good low save from Burge it took the goalkeeper out of the equation and left Vydra an open goal. He hit the post.
The Black Cats started the second period with two goals in three minutes, home manager, Sean Dyche, called, “unacceptable” from his side.
When Gooch forced a save with his long-range effort after 48 minutes, Flanagan produced a center-forward finish as instinctive as Grigg’s to head into the net.
Two minutes later, George Dobson scored a scarcely believable third, opening his account for the club. Gooch played a corner short to O’Nien on the byline and he pulled the ball back for Dobson to get chalk on his boots too, striking the ball sweetly as he arrived on the edge of the area. The midfielder admitted afterward his finishing had been awful in training all week, but you would never have guessed.
That left 40 minutes for Sunderland to cling to their place in the third round, but the way they worked, you’d have thought they were minutes from the trophy itself.
Burge made an excellent save from Kevin Long’s header at a corner, then showed bravery to touch the ball away from Rodriguez when it came back in. But if he was expecting to be severely overworked in the final half-hour, it did not turn out that way thanks to those in front of him.
O’Nien’s 65th-minute tackle could have been his Drinkwater moment, but in his first senior football this season, maybe even his final appearance for the Black Cats depending what happens between now and Monday, Baldwin threw himself in the way of Chris Wood’s shot.
The New Zealand substitute was the biggest threat to Sunderland’s lead, but when he beat the onrushing Burge to a bouncing ball, his lob finished the safe side of the post.
When Vydra produced a smart turn, Flanagan hammered the ball behind for a corner, and pressure from Conor McLaughlin saw Rodriguez head over in added time.
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