Villa need new blood to maintain pressure
Sunderland 1 Aston Villa 2
Monday 19 January 2009
Consider Aston Villa's back four on Saturday: Nigel Reo-Coker, Curtis Davies, Carlos Cuellar and Luke Young. Then ask if one of them would make it into the defence at Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal. These are the teams Villa are challenging this season.
The box-to-box midfielder at right back? The very right-footed right-back at left-back? Davies from West Bromwich, Cuellar from Rangers?
One answer is that the missing Martin Laursen would make the grade – occasionally in United's case – but at a time when personality players are in such demand, Villa are demonstrating an older truth that a team is more than the sum of its parts. Under Martin O'Neill, they have something. They possess two excellent players in Laursen and Ashley Young and some fine ones in James Milner, Gareth Barry and Gabriel Agbonlahor. When John Carew is fit, he is effective.
But above all that, what Villa showed again on Wearside – where they fought back from one down and won the game with 10 men – is that they have spirit and cohesion. Even in the unlikely event that they peter out over the next four months, that gives the club a platform for the future. Compared to last season Villa are just five points better off, but they won only five of their last 16 games then. If they won 10 this season, a Champions League place could be theirs.
O'Neill's reputation as an alchemist is well-earned but Bobby Robson has always had a brutal assessment about management's key ingredient: investment. Villa, judging by Saturday's defence and reliance on Ashley Young, Milner and Agbonlahor, need to go to market. If they do, their improvement under O'Neill can be sustained and the top-four cartel fractured; if not, then Everton provide an example of the corrosive nature of punching above your weight match after match, season after season.
"I don't think we can keep going in the fashion we have," O'Neill said when the topic of personnel arose. "We've been going competitively since July 19 and it's been really hard work."
An extra defender and a new attacker are priorities. Kenwyne Jones has caught Villa's eye, though surely not here. Danny Collins scored an early opener but while the home midfield was durable, Villa broke away on the hour through Ashley Young and scored via the falling Milner's hand and torso.
Ashley Young was then sent off for a headstrong lunge at Dean Whitehead – "No complaints," said O'Neill – but the 10 men won when Mike Dean awarded a questionable 80th minute penalty which Gareth Barry drove home. It was a fifth consecutive away win in the league and Villa are now unbeaten in their last 10.
Their agitation is more comforting than Sunderland's who were fluent in patches but have no league win since Ricky Sbragia's position as manager was made permanent. Nyron Nosworthy has been lost for a month, Jones' future is uncertain and Djibril Cissé needs to apply himself.
Goals: Collins (11) 1-0; Milner (60) 1-1; Barry pen (80) 1-2.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Fulop; Chimbonda, Nosworthy (McShane, 61) Ferdinand, Collins (Bardsley, 61); Edwards, Whitehead, Tainio, Diouf (Reid, 81); Cissé, Jones. Substitutes not used: Colgan (gk), Leadbitter, Chopra, Healy
Aston Villa (4-1-4-1): Friedel; Reo-Coker, Davies, Cuellar, L Young; Petrov; Milner, Sidwell (Gardner, 74) Barry, A Young; Agbonlahor. Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), Shorey, Knight, Salifou, Harewood, Delfounso
Referee: M Dean (Wirral)
Booked: Sunderland Nosworthy, Cisse, Fulop;
Villa L Young
Sent off: A Young
Man of match: Milner
For Premier League highlights, click here .
Latest in Sport
Phil Neville and his fellow Match of the Day pundits given warning by the BBC after 'smash them' comment
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
Gabriel Paulista: Talented Brazilian could grow into world-class defender at Arsenal
Liverpool transfer news and rumours: Mario Balotelli's agent speaks as Brendan Rodgers swoops for German duo
- 3 Russian girl takes her own life after parents find pornography on her computer
- 4 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 5 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
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