BURNLEY supersub David Nugent shattered any aspirations Sunderland may have had of breaking into the top six when inspiring his side to a 3-1 victory on Saturday.
The former Portsmouth striker left the bench on the hour to net two fine finishes to leave the visitors reflecting on what could have been had they taken the series of chances which went begging.
Darren Bent netted his fifth goal in six Premier League outings but it still wasn't enough to prevent Sunderland from extending their best top flight start to a season since 1980. The defeat also continued the club's recent won one, lost one league run so far this term.
The Black Cats went behind when Anton Ferdinand brought down Wade Elliott for a blatant penalty and Graham Alexander netted from the resulting spot kick. Sunderland got back on level pegging when a sublime Andy Reid pass picked out Bent, who coolly finished from close range. But the Clarets took all three points when Nugent, a former Black Cats target under Roy Keane's tenure, headed home midway through the second half.
The former England international then capped an impressive 30 minute cameo when he picked up Tyrone Mears' clever pass and curled past Craig Gordon with only four minutes remaining.
The visitors were without Lee Cattermole for the visit to the north west. He failed to recover from a heel injury in time for the trip. George McCartney did recover from his injury and replaced Kieran Richardson at left back, with the England international moving into the centre of midfield to replace Cattermole.
The Black Cats started brightly and were on top in the early exchanges and should have taken the lead through Fraizer Campbell after only three minutes. The former Manchester United man got in behind the defence only to see goalkeeper Brian Jenson beat his effort away from an acute angle. Moments later the striker had an effort hacked away by the home defence with the forward ready to pounce from close range.
Burnley striker Stephen Fletcher responded when he rolled McCartney 25 yards out and rifled a shot just over after 11 minutes. The effort should have acted as a warning because a minute the Clarets were 1-0 when a rash challenge by Ferdinand felled Wade Elliott for a penalty. The kick was converted straight down the middle by captain Alexander. Martin Paterson nearly increased his side's lead in the 20th minute but he sliced wide after a quickly taken free-kick caught the visitor's defence out.
Bent missed a glorious opportunity to level two minutes later when he miss-cued his volley on the penalty spot . The resulting shot was saved comfortably by Jensen. But there was no denying the England man six minutes before the break however, when he beat the offside trap and got on the end of Reid's delicious defence splitting pass to net from eight yards. It was the first time the Burnley rearguard had been breached since a 4-2 victory over Crystal Palace on March 11.
Campbell should have put Sunderland ahead eight minutes after the break following fine work by Reid and Steed Malbranque, but the striker shot straight at the goalkeeper from 12 yards.
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce replaced Malbranque with Kenwyne Jones on the hour in a bid to take all three points. But it was the hosts who looked more likely to do so when Nugent rose above Michael Turner to power home Elliott's cross from the right past Gordon in the 67ththminute.
The home side then dug in and made life difficult for the away team and Bruce's side could not find any inspiration or conjure up any real openings after Owen Coyle's side edged in front. The closest Sunderland came was when captain Lorik Cana looped a header over the bar from a Reid cross from the right seven minutes from time.
A delightful Nugent finish four minutes from the end capped a miserable trip to the north west for the Black Cats, when he curled a left foot shot around Gordon from just inside the 18-yard box.
Burnley: 4-4-2: Jensen, Mears, Carlisle, Bikey, Jordan, Elliott, Alexander, McCann 5 (Gudjonsson 30), Blake, S Fletcher (Eagles 65), Paterson (Nugent 58). Subs not used: Penny, McDonald, Thompson, Guerrero.
Sunderland 4-4-2: Gordon, Bardsley, Turner, Ferdinand, McCartney, Malbranque (Jones 63), Cana, Richardson, Reid, Bent, Campbell (Henderson 76) Subs not used: Carson, Da Silva, Mensah, Nosworthy, Healy