Sunderland hold firm after Dunne blunder

Sunderland 1 Aston Villa 0: Bruce's backline is more than compensating for lack of attacking options

It remains a damning statistic, but for the time being, at least, Steve Bruce might just let it slide. With the campaign into its third month, only two Sunderland players have scored. Such a paucity of options hasn't prevented Bruce's side climbing to – for them – the heady heights of seventh in the table courtesy of a seven-game unbeaten run, a welcome consistency the likes of which has not been witnessed on Wearside at this level for a decade, when they last finished in the top 10.

Richard Dunne, a player Bruce has attempted unsuccessfully to sign in the last 12 months, was the source of Sunderland's winning goal, with a lamentable attempt to clear a Steed Malbranque centre from the right after 25 minutes. The Irishman's untidy shank, admittedly impeded by team-mate James Collins, flew past Brad Friedel from five yards and was reward for the industry of Malbranque, who dispossessed Stiliyan Petrov before firing in another of his testing centres.

For the hapless Dunne, an eighth career Premier League own goal to put him clear of nearest "rivals" Frank Sinclair and Jamie Carragher, who have each put past their own keeper on six occasions. "I've told him not to worry," Gérard Houllier, the Villa manager, said. "These things happen and he'll win us games with the goals he scores."

Bruce all but concurred with his counterpart that victory for the hosts had been rather fortuitous. "We've played better and lost," he said. "We reverted to type if you like and got dragged too deep in the final 20 minutes but we managed to see it out against a very good Villa side. Seven games unbeaten at this level shows you we've got some resilience. We've invested in the defence and goalkeeper and it's paying dividends."

Darren Bent, with seven of his club's 11 goals this season, and Asamoah Gyan with two – Birmingham's Stephen Carr put through his own goal at the Stadium of Light on the season's opening day – remain the only Black Cats on the Sunderland scoresheet, but that modest goal-per-game output has proved sufficient to prosper so far thanks to a new-found defensive resilience in which the back four again all stood out individually, and, more importantly, as a unit.

This was their third consecutive clean sheet, the first time that's happened in the top flight in almost 11 years, and Simon Mignolet, a blossoming young goalkeeper who until recently was plying his trade in the relative obscurity of the second tier of Belgian football, has gone almost five hours without shipping a goal.

The 22-year-old was forced into fine late saves at his near post from Ashley Young and substitute Marc Albrighton as Villa staged a second-half onslaught which merited at least a point, but which came up short as the visitors tasted defeat at this venue for the first time in eight years.

"The difference between the first half and second was like night and day," said Houllier, who is likely to be without captain Petrov, who suffered minor knee ligament damage before the break, for up to three weeks. The Frenchman added: "We weren't up to standard before half-time, but for our display afterwards we felt we deserved at least a draw."

Mignolet saw to it that they did not, although Sunderland were not without a modicum of luck, the woodwork coming to their rescue when Stewart Downing latched on to Young's astute pass inside full-back Phil Bardsley before the interval, while after the break Downing's low cross eluded the Sunderland keeper only for Emile Heskey to produce what's becoming a trademark air shot in front of goal, with Young firing the rebound narrowly wide.

TV replays suggested the visitors had a decent early penalty claim after Nigel Reo-Coker went down under a combined challenge from Lee Cattermole and Titus Bramble. "Replays say it might have been a penalty, but let's not try to hide behind that," Houllier said, with refreshing candour.

Attendance: 41,506

Referee: Mark Halsey

Man of the match: Malbranque

Match rating: 6/10

News
Courtney Love has admitted using heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean Cobain, her daughter with Kurt Cobain
people
Sport
Murray celebrates reaching the final
tennis
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness