Burnley have best chance to grab first away win of season at Sunderland

If Burnley fail to beat Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, it will begin to feel inevitable that they are going to go the whole Premier League season without winning away from home.

While the Clarets have one of the best home records in the league, helping them to a seven-point cushion from the relegation zone, their away form remains appalling despite a notable upturn in performance levels in recent weeks and months.

Sean Dyche's side were genuinely unlucky not to get a point from their trip to Anfield on Sunday, but it was a case of deja vu yet again as fine margins proved to be the difference. Liverpool scored with their only two shots on target in the first 89 minutes of the match and that extra clinical edge in front of goal was key.

Burnley have won just two points away from Turf Moor this season: a miraculous 0-0 tie against Manchester United at Old Trafford in October, when goalkeeper Tom Heaton produced one of the best individual performances in the Premier League this season, and last month's tight 1-1 draw at struggling Hull City.

On paper, a visit to the league's bottom side ought to provide the best possible opportunity for Dyche's men to break an unwanted record that the manager has referred to as an "anomaly" in the build-up to Saturday's match.

While it is reasonable for Dyche to want to take focus away from his side's problems away from home, his argument simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Under his leadership, the Clarets have played 33 away games in the Premier League. They have won three, drawn seven and lost the rest.

To make matters worse, two of those three away victories came so late in the 2014-15 season that they were essentially meaningless, with the team already on their way to being relegated to the Championship. They have, however, at least led in their last two away games, so progress is being made.

Burnley have a strong record against Sunderland this season to give them confidence, having won two of the three league and cup meetings between the sides and earning a 0-0 draw in the other. Andre Gray -- who must have been close to an England call-up this week given all the attackers unavailable to Gareth Southgate -- has scored four goals against the Black Cats.

Burnley have never won at the Stadium of Light, however, with the Clarets' last top-flight victory away to Sunderland coming way back in 1969. Heaton will have happy memories of the stadium at least, as it is where he made his debut for England against Australia last May, although Dyche's men were well beaten on their previous visit in the 2014-15 Premier League season.

Jermain Defoe was the difference between the sides on that day and he will be the man to watch again for Sunderland, with his 14 Premier League goals at least giving David Moyes' team hope of survival, even if they have become cut adrift at the bottom. Defoe will be buoyed by his return to international action after Southgate called him up after three-and-a-half years in exile, and the 34-year-old will want to justify his return with goals this weekend.

Other teams have shown this season that if you cut off the supply line to Defoe then Sunderland struggle to score, as there are so few other notable goal threats in their squad. But the Clarets appear to have a concentration issue with a high number of goals conceded at the end of either half and they cannot afford to switch off for a moment with Defoe lurking in the box.

The trip to Sunderland brings to an end an unhappy run of four consecutive away games in the Premier League for Dyche's side. They will be glad to return to Turf Moor following the international break, after what will have been a seven-week spell without a home league game.

Steven Defour is rated as "touch-and-go" by Dyche to be available for Saturday's match and the Clarets have desperately missed his creativity in the final third, especially as Johann Gudmundsson remains out with a knee injury and Robbie Brady has struggled to make an impact since his club-record January move from Norwich City.

While Dyche has understandably been keen to keep Burnley in away games for as long as possible by playing a tight, defensive system, a trip to Sunderland is not the right time to be cautious. The Clarets have to play with belief and an attacking focus. If they cannot win at Sunderland, they cannot win anywhere.