Jordan Pickford best for Sunderland in poor draw vs. Burnley
Sunderland's inability to convert chances unless they fall to Jermain Defoe made relegation a near certainty on Saturday as Burnley, the Premier League's worst away side, secured a goalless draw at the Stadium of Light.
Almost beyond belief, another attendance of more than 40,000 turned up in hopes of seeing Sunderland's first home win since the 1-0 victory over Watford in mid-December. But after a dismal first half in which Burnley should have taken the lead, home fans saw a significant improvement marred by as inept a display of finishing as could be imagined.
Fabio Borini, Sebastian Larsson, Adnan Januzaj and Billy Jones, whose header sailed comically wide, missed the sort of chances any side fighting desperately to avoid relegation must take. Defoe, deservedly recalled to the England squad in recognition of his extraordinary achievement in scoring 14 goals for a rock-bottom side, had no serious opportunities to add to his tally.
The draw left David Moyes' side seven points adrift of a place of safety. If this is a club with a recent history of improbable late surges to survival, time has surely run out. It's difficult to see any outcome to the season other than relegation, probably in bottom place.
With four or five chances, the second half was undeniably better than the first, though all were squandered.
A sloppy, pedestrian first half deserved to be punished, and a better side than Burnley would have been at least one ahead at the interval. There are good players in Sunderland's squad, but they consistently show no sign of competing as a coherent force. Unforced losses of possession, a distinct lack of pace, error-strewn passing and needlessly conceded fouls summed up the team's failings.
Manager rating out of 10
5 -- Moyes' injury problems continue to pile up, with Lamine Kone hurt in training before this game and Jan Kirchhoff unexpectedly facing another long layoff, but the manager again failed to inspire his players to produce an essential win.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Jordan Pickford, 7 -- One fabulous late save prevented Sam Vokes from turning a bad result into worse, and he showed safe handling throughout. Distribution not always up to his high standards, but he was Sunderland's best player on another bad day.
DF Billy Jones, 4 -- With the goal at his mercy, he placed a second-half header so far wide that it looked as if he was aiming for the corner flag. Just not good enough at the level.
DF Jason Denayer, 5 -- Endured a mixed game, with everything from important last-ditch challenges and assured touches to a calamitous loss of the ball that ought to have set up Vokes for a late winner.
DF John O'Shea, 6 -- Played as if worried those around him would crumble at the least threat, but the resulting no-nonsense (though inelegant) clearances mostly served their purpose.
DF Bryan Oviedo, 6 -- Made plenty of errors but also provided one superb through ball to Fabio Borini and two crosses that ought to have produced goals.
MF Jack Rodwell, 5 -- Another of Sunderland's anonymous midfielders, not a patch on the player who once seemed destined for a long England career.
MF Sebastian Larsson, 4 -- Missed one excellent chance right in front of the goal and generally failed to stamp the least bit of authority on midfield.
MF Darron Gibson, 4 -- Apart from one fine shot just over the bar, did little to impress, and it was no surprise that he, along with Larsson, were substituted in the second half.
MF Fabio Borini, 4 -- Missed one great chance and one good one, and allowed his frustration to turn to the petulance that earned him a booking.
FW Jermain Defoe, 6 -- No chance to celebrate his England recall with a goal but offered the vision and positional sense that more competent teammates would have exploited.
MF Adnan Januzaj, 6 -- His effort, for once, could not be questioned, and he did produce occasional moments of skill. But he was also among the wasteful finishers.
MF Wahbi Khazri, NR -- Came close to supplying Defoe with a perfect through ball moments after coming on. How he fails to start in such a woeful side is an enduring mystery.
MF Didier Ndong, NR -- Showed urgency and desire but gave away potentially dangerous free kicks and was unable to break down a stubborn Burnley defence.
Colin is ESPN FC's Sunderland blogger. Follow him on Twitter at @salutsunderland