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Sep 18, 2009

Burnley home form to be put to the test

ESPN2's Saturday lunchtime kick-off sees Burnley return to Turf Moor to put their 100% home record on the line against in-form Sunderland, after heavy defeats at Chelsea and Liverpool.

Owen Coyle v Steve Bruce

After successive thrashings on the road, at Stamford Bridge and Anfield, Owen Coyle and Burnley return to home comforts hoping to recreate a slice of the magic that has already seen them slay Manchester United and Everton at Turf Moor. The survival prospects of any promoted side hinge on their home form, and the visit of Sunderland will afford a valuable insight into how well equipped the Clarets are. With Birmingham, Wigan and Hull visiting south east Lancashire in their next three home games after this, an adequate reflection of the task facing Coyle will emerge at the end of October. Points against Sunderland are essential.

If Saturday's game is an acid test of Burnley's Premier League durability, the same can be said of Sunderland's ambition to throw off the shackles of relegation and challenge for a top-half finish. Steve Bruce has recruited wisely, especially in the shape of Darren Bent and Lee Cattermole, and he will be expecting the focus of those extra millions to provide a superior touch of class to turn the encounter in his favour.

Andre Bikey v Darren Bent

Andre Bikey's Burnley career started with back-to-back clean sheets against Manchester United and Everton, but in the last two games his side have conceded seven times. Along with Portsmouth and Hull, they now share the worst goal difference in the top flight. Another tight relegation battle is expected and a healthy goal difference, as the old adage goes, is worth an extra point come the season's end. Sunderland's strike force will occupy meaner defences than Burnley's this campaign, and given that scoring at the other end is proving problematic, a clean sheet takes on extra importance.

Darren Bent's four goals in five games for his new club should come as no surprise. It is often forgotten he still managed 17 goals last term for a club [Tottenham] that made no secret of their desire to offload him. With a constant arm around his shoulder in the form of Bruce, Bent should break the 20-goal barrier this season. Buoyant confidence levels mean he will expect to add to his tally at Turf Moor. His pace will worry Bikey and his partner in central defence, Clarke Carlisle, as much as Kenwyne Jones' aerial threat.

Wade Elliott v Kieran Richardson

Wade Elliott will forever be a Burnley hero for his spectacular goal against Sheffield United in last season's play-off final that catapulted the club into the top flight. Despite being employed on the right he is comfortable with either foot, as his delicate winner against Everton showed. Up against stand-in left back, Kieran Richardson, Elliott will see plenty of the ball and be encouraged to run and run at the makeshift defender. How he fares could go a long way to determining Burnley's goal threat.

Bruce's decision to allow Danny Collins to join Stoke was brought into focus by the injury George McCartney picked up on international duty, prompting Richardson's deployment at left back for the visit of Hull. He performed adequately, but the Tigers' goal came from a successful foray down the right flank. Richardson will be briefed for a busy afternoon as Burnley try to exploit his weaknesses in defence, especially as his cover in front is likely to be the unreliable, and occasionally unfit, Andy Reid.

David Nugent v Michael Turner

After coming off the bench at Anfield, David Nugent may be line for his first start in claret and blue against Sunderland, if Coyle decides to play two up front. Nugent started just 22 games in two years at Portsmouth, scoring four goals, and has a big Premier League point to prove - something Coyle is banking on to drive his performances. Burnley's two wins so far have been by a solitary goal; Nugent's job is to effectively play poacher and dovetail with the Clarets' more creative sparks - Elliott, Robbie Blake, Martin Paterson and Steven Fletcher - to maximise Burnley's scoring potential.

Turner's Sunderland career got off to a dream start against former club Hull City, though a debut goal was taken off him and credited to Tigers' defender Kamil Zayatte. The fact Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez expressed his interest in Turner shows the 25-year-old's pedigree and Bruce is delighted with his capture. The aim will be for Turner to form a long-standing alliance with Anton Ferdinand at the back. The first, keen test of their partnership will come at Turf Moor, with constant delivery from wide areas anticipated and midfield runners breaking into the area.

STATZONE:

•  Steve Bruce joined Burnley on schoolboy terms aged 11. He was offloaded at the age of 15 by then Clarets manager Joe Brown, who later signed him for Manchester United in his capacity as chief scout.
•  Burnley haven't beaten Sunderland at Turf Moor since 1973. In their eight visits since, the Black Cats have won three and drawn five.
•  Burnley beat Sunderland three times at Turf Moor in 1953. The two league meetings ended 5-1 to the Clarets, and they also won 2-0 in the FA Cup.
•  Darren Bent in the Premier League 2009-10: Played: 5, Won: 3, Lost: 2, Goals: 4, Shots: 16.
•  Wade Elliott's goal to seal Burnley's promotion to the Premier League was worth an estimated £60 million to the club.
•  The sides last met at Turf Moor in the 2006-07 Championship season: Burnley 2-2 Sunderland.

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