Sympathy for Dunne but cold comfort after Villa are undone

Sunderland 1 Aston Villa 0
Click to follow
The Independent Football

He may once have been described as "not rolling off the tongue in Beijing" but, for Richard Dunne, there were only kind words after he claimed an unwanted record.

Rather than making him the object of ridicule, the Irishman's ungainly slice in his attempt to clear a Steed Malbranque cross prompted team-mates and opponents alike to queue up to offer consolation. Dunne's eighth top-flight own goal settled a tense encounter and extended the unwanted gap to his nearest rival in the defender's equivalent of room 101. Jamie Carragher, next in line, has six.

Approaching his 400th Premier League appearance, the 31-year-old finds a way past his own goalkeeper, on average, once every 50 games. "I wasn't going to mention it to him," said Dunne's Aston Villa team-mate Stewart Downing. "I told the other lads they could if they wanted but I don't know anyone daft enough to say anything. He's a big guy.

"Dunney's been absolutely brilliant for us this season and no one blames him for the defeat; it was just one of those things and afterwards he put in a great display. A lot of players would let an own goal affect them but not him. You know what you're going to get from him."

Villa carved out enough opportunities to have cancelled out Dunne's error – Downing struck a post, Nigel Reo-Coker had penalty claims ignored, Emile Heskey produced an air shot with the goal gaping and Jordan Henderson cleared off the line from Steve Sidwell – but were unable to capitalise. As a result, Sunderland kept their third consecutive Premier League clean sheet for the first time in a decade and now pose a growing threat to Villa's efforts to secure a fourth straight top-six finish.

"They have a bit more steel about them this year," Downing said. "They've always been a tough side to play against but they've added something this season."

An unhealthy reliance on the goals of Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan, their only scorers this season, could yet scupper attempts to overhaul Gérard Houllier's side, who did enough to suggest they will not succumb to the chasing pack meekly. "We need to show a bit more faith and belief," the Frenchman conceded. "We're changing a few things but we know where we're going."

Sunderland (4-5-1): Mignolet; Onuoha, Turner, Bramble, Bardsley; Elmohamady (Zenden, 90), Henderson, Cattermole, Malbranque (Mensah, 81), Welbeck (Gyan, 66); Bent. Substitutes not used Gordon (gk), Da Silva, Riveros, Ferdinand.

Booked Bardsley.

Aston Villa (4-5-1): Friedel; Beye, Collins, Dunne, Warnock; Reo-Coker, Petrov (Sidwell, 40), Ireland (Albrighton, 55), Downing, A Young; Heskey. Substitutes not used Carew, Clark, Guzan (gk), Cuellar, Bannan.

Booked Heskey, Warnock.

Referee M Halsey (Lancashire).

Possession Sunderland 66% Aston Villa 34%.

Shots on target Sunderland 6 Aston Villa 7. Attendance 41,506.Man of the match Malbranque.

Match rating 6/10.