Aston Villa, who have been short of goals all season, suddenly burst into attacking life with a thumping 4-0 victory at Sunderland in a Premier League relegation clash on Saturday.
A season ticket was hurled at the Sunderland dugout. A mass evacuation more or less took half the support from the stadium before the first 45 minutes had even finished. It was bleak and Gus Poyet saw his odds of being the next manager to lose his position in the Premier League tumble to four to one on.
It was the backdrop of a club in trouble, mired by the negativity that has seen Poyet’s relationship with a set of supporters tumble so sharply from the high of last season’s League Cup final. Then he could do no wrong. Yesterday, as he sat staring into the abyss, struggling to comprehend quite what had happened in the opening 45 minutes, it looked like one that can hardly survive.
Poyet’s style is to control even the minutia. He likes every detail of a game to be programmed, it is why the chasm has appeared in the relationship. When first he criticised the support for their desire for his team to have a go, any go, when they were trailing two-nil to QPR, he became marginalised.
That his team had nothing yesterday, not even the shape and structure he has placed so much faith in, was without question.
Tim Sherwood had challenged his team to play on the front foot. His achievement was lost yesterday amid the negativity of a truly humbling defeat, but the manner in which Gabby Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke scared the life out of the Sunderland defence was a perfect contrast to the stifling nature of his successor Paul Lambert, and indeed of Poyet.
Sherwood is on the ascendancy.Villa’s first goal came down their right-hand side, where Leandro Bacuna and Charles N’Zgobia were excellent throughout. They were faced for the most part by Steven Fletcher, a central striker forced to play wide. N’Zogbia played in Bacuna with a delightful touch after 15 minutes. The makeshift right-back picked out Benteke and from the penalty spot, the finish was low and confident.
The second came within three minutes and there were howls around the stadium when the captain John O’Shea missed a simple challenge with Agbonlahor. By the time he had recovered his composure, the Aston Villa forward had stroked the ball past Costel Pantilimon.
In the 37th minute Agbonlahor added a third with another neat finish and on the stroke of half-time Benteke looked liked the player he was two years ago, powering past Anthony Reveiller to head past Pantilimon.
“I’m delighted with it,” said Sherwood. “It was great. It’s a fantastic step towards safety. We’ve managed to drag Sunderland into it now and push them underneath us. There is sympathy for Gus. It’s not great when you get beatheavily at home. Gus will bounce back.” It was not a view widely shared.
Sunderland: (4-1-4-1) Pantilimon; Reveillere, O’Shea, Brown, Van Aanholt; Bridcutt; Alvaraz (Wickham, 46), Larsson, Rodwell, Fletcher (Graham, 83); Defoe.
Aston Villa: (4-4-2) Guzan; Bacuna, Okore, Clark (Sanchez, 64), Lowton; N’Zogbia (Weimann, 79), Cleverley, Delph, Sinclair; Benteke (Hepburn-Murphy, 83), Agbonlahor.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick.
Man of the match: N’Zogbia (Aston Villa)
Match rating: 5/10