Aston Villa 2 Sunderland 1: Trickery from Milner the super hero condemns Sunderland to new low

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The Independent Football

Batman, Uncle Sam, Elvis and Ali G lent a fancy-dress flourish to a lost cause yesterday. They added colour to the conga that snaked through a raucously defiant Sunderland following, but could not prevent Aston Villa from condemning the Wearsiders to an unwanted record.

Sunderland needed to win to avoid finishing with the lowest points total in top-flight football since the change to three points for a victory 25 years ago. Goals by Gareth Barry and Liam Ridgewell rendered that a virtual impossibility, and although Danny Collins headed a late riposte they finished with just 15 points from 38 matches. Stoke City were thus relieved of the stigma of their tally of 17 in 1984-85.

Villa established a negative landmark themselves over the campaign, namely their worst-ever home record. Asked to sum up the season, David O'Leary said: "Here, poor. Away from home, very good."

O'Leary is confident he will be in charge when Villa start life as the Midlands' sole Premiership representatives in August despite the odd banner and chant calling for his departure. He joined the team on their lap of honour at the end, making it hard to ascertain the degree of hostility towards him, but he said afterwards: "The majority want me to stay, without a doubt."

Whether they include the chairman, Doug Ellis, remains to be seen. His end-of-term report in the programme conspicuously failed to mention the manager. Ellis did, however, confirm that he remains prepared to sell his controlling interest, provided the purchasers were "football-minded people who will take the club forward".

Sunderland had last won successive Premiership fixtures in 2001, but their performance suggested they had taken great heart from defeating Fulham on Thursday. They gave as good as they got until Barry finished a flowing Villa move with a low 18-yard drive just before half-time.

As Sunderland tired, Villa took control. A cross by the outstanding James Milner - who O'Leary expects to sign permanently from Newcastle during the summer - was turned against an upright by Collins.

With 12 minutes to remaining Gabriel Agbonlahor's pace drew a foul from Gary Breen on the edge of the penalty area. Kelvin Davis parried Barry's spot-kick on to the bar, and the ball was hacked away for a corner. But from the kick, taken by Milner, Ridgewell was allowed one free header that the goalkeeper parried and then another which the centre-back buried in the net.

Collins finally beat Thomas Sorensen with a header from a corner kick. It could hardly be termed a consolation goal. But Batman and his 2,500-strong cohorts celebrated with touching wildness.

Goals: Barry (43) 1-0; Ridgewell (78) 2-0; D Collins (88) 2-1.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Hughes, Cahill, Ridgewell, Bouma; Milner (Hendrie, 81), S Davis, McCann, Barry; Angel, Phillips (Agbonlahor, 66). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), De La Cruz, Moore.

Sunderland (4-4-2): K Davis; Nosworthy, Breen, Caldwell (D Murphy, 27), McCartney (D Collins, 13); Hoyte, Whitehead, Miller (Leadbitter, 73), Welsh; Brown, Le Tallec. Substitutes not used: Alnwick (gk), Kyle.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).

Booked: Aston Villa Cahill, Ridgewell, McCann; Sunderland Breen.

Man of the match: Milner.

Attendance: 33,820.

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