AT the end of a week when Jermain Defoe was finally recalled to the England squad there was a further reminder of how vital his goals are to Sunderland – and he didn’t even have to find the net.
If Defoe doesn’t score, Sunderland don’t. That’s basically the theme, even if there have been occasional exceptions to the rule.
Incredibly, Fabio Borini, who scored on Boxing Day, was the only other player in Saturday’s starting line-up to have scored for the Black Cats this season.
Little wonder then that Sunderland are where they are, seven points adrift of safety with ten matches remaining, after another afternoon when they failed to beat the opposition’s keeper.
The goalless draw with Burnley was the eighth time in ten matches the men from Wearside had failed to score. What do you expect from a squad, minus the departed Patrick van Aanholt, who has just one other player (the injured Victor Anichebe with three) who has scored more than once.
And when the final whistle had blown at the Stadium of Light, with jeers and boos ringing out from the home fans, you couldn’t help but wonder what the scoreline might have been had Defoe been on the end of the chances created.
Borini missed a couple, Adnan Januzaj failed to hit the target and Seb Larsson was wayward. The worst of them all was Billy Jones’ unmarked header from less than six yards at the back post from Larsson’s brilliant delivery which ended woefully wide.
Midfielder Jack Rodwell said: “If one of those chances had fallen to Jermain you’d have put your life on him to score. Unfortunately they didn’t, so we have to dig deep.
“Jermain is our main man. Normally if he doesn’t score we don’t win. And we don’t even draw. That is normally the norm, but it shouldn’t be.
“Like Adnan’s at the back post, the quality he has got, normally he would put that away. We did create chances where anyone should be able to finish them. We would have liked one of them to fall to Jermain, but like I say we have to stay positive.”
There can’t be any player in the squad right now who could disagree with that. The likes of Borini and Januzaj, who might have aired their grievances about the defensive duties they are having to do, should have scored against Burnley.
The pair had fantastic opportunities and were denied by Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton, who at least was forced into action in the second half because he was largely a bystander in the opening 45 minutes.
Sunderland at least showed greater adventure after the restart. They played with heart and spirit throughout to earn a point, but there was a real lack of urgency during the opening period and there were rightly a few boos at the end of an insipid first half.
The reality, once again, was the home side lacked the quality in the final third. This year, more than ever before in recent campaigns, they don’t look like having the ability within the ranks to pull off the latest act of escapology.
Sunderland’s failure to win – they have won just one of their last 11 – means they head into the final ten matches staring at the seven-point gap.
In each of the last five years the 38-point total Moyes is targeting has been good enough to survive. Based on that figure, Sunderland must come up with 18 more points from the last 30 available – probably meaning five wins and three draws or six wins.
Either way it is a tall order for a team which has won just five games all season. Rodwell said: “Do we need a miracle? Wins, definitely. But, yeah, whatever you want to call it. We need to win games.
“Last season wasn’t necessarily a worse position, but you look at the teams around us now and the difference is they are all picking up points this season.
“The likes of Crystal Palace and Hull could quite easily get a win any other week, there are too many points being collected here, there and everywhere and we need to collect them as well to stand a chance. The next time we play is a good opportunity for us.”
After the international break Sunderland face trips to Watford and Leicester, who suddenly look like they could attack the top half, in matches Moyes must think maximum points is essential in the fight for survival.
Rodwell, knowing Burnley could easily have won it themselves with a couple of good chances, said: “We are running out of games. It doesn’t really come much easier fixture wise than Burnley at home so we know it’s a missed opportunity.
“Last season we beat Chelsea, we did it last season and we can do it this time, too. This wasn’t the performance of a beaten team. There are ten games left, we have got to stay positive and it’s doable.
“It’s definitely achievable with ten games left and I believe, we all believe, the manager believes that we can get the five wins. We know we’re running out of games but we will stay positive.”