Draw specialists Villa crawl unconvincingly towards safety
Aston Villa 0 Sunderland 0
Sunday 22 April 2012
What Aston Villa would give now for the top-six finishes Martin O'Neill routinely delivered to their door. Premier League survival is the more modest aim now.
The club the manager also led to two Wembley appearances are inching towards safety in "singles", draw number 15 of an underwhelming campaign stretching their depressing sequence to 13 games with only one victory.
O'Neill was much more booed than applauded as he navigated the touchline before kick-off – evidence that his resignation on the eve of last season is the most powerful memory of him in these parts. "The reaction to me was natural and understandable," he said. "I was expecting it."
With two former Villa players and three ex-Birmingham City men in the Sunderland line-up, there was no shortage of alternative targets for hecklers who had their moment when a midfielder who played for both second city clubs, Craig Gardner, was sent off in stoppage-time.
Villa, so bright in the opening half-hour, had by then walked a tightrope as Sunderland increasingly threatened, the biggest talking point coming 15 minutes from time when the assistant in front of the travelling fans ruled Nicklas Bendtner offside as he stretched to guide in Seb Larsson's searching low right-wing centre. "Incorrect," was O'Neill's judgement of the call. "He told one ofmy players to watch it on TV. I hope he watches it before settling down forhis fish supper."
Bendtner had previously been denied by Stephen Ireland's goalline clearanceand James McClean's 23rd birthday today would have been jollier had he not stabbed Stéphane Sessègnon's pass over from five yards and then had a header saved. That's more than four games without a goal and five without a win for Sunderland.
Earlier, the traffic had been largely the other way, especially in a first half in which Bendtner headed Sunderland's only chance over from four yards. But Villa were all promise and no end product.
Simon Mignolet had a clearance charged down by Gabby Agbonlahor but recovered well to save Andreas Weimann's follow-up, and Agbonlahor – on his 250th appearance – was denied when Matt Kilgallon diverted his shot over the bar.
Charles N'Zogbia saw a low drive touched wide superbly by the keeper and Weimann twice rippled the side netting before infuriating Alex McLeish by passing rather than shooting at the end. "We had enough chances to win and still have four huge battles," said McLeish, who will be without James Collins through a groin injury at home to Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday.
Gardner was given his marching orders for a second yellow card, body-checking Marc Albrighton after earlier bringing down Chris Herd.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Given; Cuellar, Collins (Hutton, 43), Baker, Lichaj; N'Zogbia (Bannan, 84), Ireland, Herd, Albrighton; Weimann, Agbonlahor (Heskey, 49).
Sunderland (4-4-2): Mignolet; O'Shea, Turner, Kilgallon, Bardsley; Larsson, Craig Gardner, Colback, McClean; Sessègnon, Bendtner (Campbell, 80).
Referee Anthony Taylor.
Man of the match McClean (Sunderland).
Match rating 6/10.
First full-length look is finally here
World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'
Latest in Sport
Brooklyn Beckham poses in Arsenal training kit following rumours of signing for the Gunners
Manchester United transfer news and rumours: David De Gea could leave for FREE; £38m for Marquinhos; £37m bid for Mats Hummels;
Transfer news LIVE: Manchester United to make £37m Mats Hummels bid; Inter plan Yaya Toure move; Shola Ameobi joins Crystal Palace
Australian Open 2015: Novak Djokovic vs Stan Wawrinka match preview
Danny Ings to Liverpool: The Reds attempt to steal a march on rivals in race to sign Burnley striker
- 2 The awkward moment Sarah Palin raised $25,000 for Hillary Clinton's election campaign
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Baldness could soon be treated using stem cells, scientists hope
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures