Stadium Of Light
Attendance: 41 515
After last weeks dismal outing against Norwich and with the two Manchester clubs waiting around the corner, Aston Villa needed something here. With Sunderland having all but forgotten that goals win games, Paul Lambert’s lions could not have been given a better opportunity to get a second league win. Though the game might be billed as master versus apprentice, with Lambert matching up against his former gaffer, Martin O’ Neil would be forgiven for throwing friendships to the fire as he looked to get his Black Cat outfit going. Game on then.
It was Aston Villa who played like the home team, leaving Sunderland to play on the counter. For not the first time this season, Villa were sharp and sprightly, moving the ball around well with possession though without the killer touch or pass needed to unlock a defence. Lambert is obviously acutely aware of the problem, so shuffled his pack accordingly, bringing Bannan and Westwood into the middle to support Ireland’s creative vision. As a result Villa looked sharper and more balanced.
For the majority of the game Sunderland posed little threat. Sessegnon, Larsson and Johnson are all struggling for form and it showed in the lack of creative play. As a result, the home crowd was offered scant amount to cheer. Louis Saha came on to head over, with Campbell having their best chance toward the end of the game, though his bullet header went wide of the post and with it the chance of a point. All in all, in 90 minutes of football, Villa keeper Guzan had to deal with just one solitary strike on goal when Cattermole struck well from outside of the box forcing the Villa keeper into a palm out dive. The rebound fell for Fletcher though he was flagged off-side for the second time in the game. A nicely dinked effort had been previously cancelled out by the linesman in the first few minutes, signalling perhaps that it would be a dry day for the former Wolves front man.
Sunderland had a first half claim for a penalty when O’Shea’s flick came off Benteke’s arm though referee Mike Jones did not see intent and waved all appeals away. Undoubtedly, on a different day this might have been given.
On last weeks showing, if you had just arrived from the planet Zurg you would be forgiven for thinking that Aston Villa played in red and white stripes and not bright lime such was their hold on the game. Still, it was one goal that sealed it, midway through the second half. Lowton’s cross was headed back across goal for Gabriel Agbonlahor to poke home from four yards out, the Villa striker taking a knock to the ankle for his trouble. This was Agbonlahor’s first goal in 26 league matches and it proved to be the winner. In reality, if Villa had been sharper it should and could have been more. Weimann had a good chance to extend the lead when Stephen Ireland found him with a tidy ball on the edge of the box. The Austrian, who ran himself ragged all game, shot a low drive at Mignolet. Either side of the keeper and he would have scored.
This was a needed three points for Villa, putting five points between them and the drop zone. The high work rate and team ethic continues to be there, with confidence and belief starting to seed. However, do not get too excited. Aston Villa have beaten a very poor Sunderland side, who are struggling for confidence and form. Manchester United will offer a much more stringent test of the Character of the squad. There can be no mistakes next Saturday evening and chances will need to be taken. Lambert will take positives from Benteke’s form and that all the players are responding to his philosophy and will show no fear. Bring on the Red Devils, will be his message.
Man of the match: Ireland
Room for Improvement: Bannan