Sunderland failed to capitalise on their one-man advantage at Villa Park as they drew 0-0 with Aston Villa, with Fabian Delph‘s lunge on Jordi Gomez in the 48th minute
resulting in Paul Lambert’s side finishing the match with 10 men for the third time in four games.
A scoreless draw would have been a safe bet for the punters considering the form of both sides this season; Villa being the lowest scoring team in all four tiers of English football with only 11 goals this term, and Sunderland having gained the majority of their points this season from the 11 draws they have managed to salvage.
In a lacklustre first half, each side barely mustered a significant threat on goal, with Charles N’Zogbia producing the only shot on target between the two teams.
Play was stopped for several minutes after Sunderland midfielder Liam Bridcutt succumbed to an aerial collision with Christian Benteke, with Lee Cattermole replacing him after 18 minutes.
After the break, Delph’s straight dismissal by referee Martin Atkinson slightly galvanized each team into a sense of urgency, with Sunderland looking to benefit from their strength in numbers as Villa strived to compensate for their handicap, a stipulation they have found all too familiar in the last four matches.
Jordi Gomez was in possession from a short throw-in as Delph went for the ball, catching Gomez’s ankle with his studs showing. Atkinson showed no hesitation as he brandished the red card to the midfielder, much to the shock of the Villa Park faithful.
While at that moment it seemed a harsh decision, replays showed that despite Delph’s genuine intention to gain possession, the danger of such a late and careless challenge for the ball meant that his dismissal was in fact justified.
Although Villa’s reduction in numbers was a turning point in the match, neither team was convincing enough in their efforts going forward. Gus Poyet’s side enjoyed the advantage as they controlled open play, but failed to create any real chances.
Colombian midfielder Carlos Sanchez put in an immense performance for the home side, covering the length of the pitch in Villa’s attacking plays whilst assisting the back four with their defensive duties, effectively filling the void left by Delph’s dismissal as the home side fought to stay in the contest.
Connor Wickham’s back-heel attempt at goal was covered Jores Okore during a goal mouth scramble, with Villa’s back four and goal keeper Brad Guzan struggling to avert the danger but somehow coming through unscathed.
Replacing Tom Cleverley in the 67th minute, the introduction of youngster Jack Grealish injected a much needed sense of creative vibrancy in the final third for the Villans. The Bodymoor Heath academy graduate missed a decent effort as he made a run with the ball to the left side of the penalty area, only to see his curved shot go wide of the right post.
Minutes later, a Grealish corner met the head of Ron Vlaar which was directed towards goal thanks to a deflection off Wes Brown, only for Sunderland keeper Costel Pantilimon’s instinct to take hold with a great reaction to keep it out.
A late flurry of chances ignited the game in the 88th minute, as Jordi Gomez fired a low shot towards goal, only for the woodwork to intervene. Villa managed to catch them on the break immediately after with a swift counter-attacking play, as Christian Benteke made a strong run down the middle to put the ball through for Andreas Weimann on the right, only for his effort at goal to be blocked by John O’Shea.
The dying minutes were dominated by Villa, as Leandro Bacuna had a chance to snatch it moments later, latching onto a pass from Carlos Sanchez before seeing his left-footed shot swatted away by Pantilimon.
Deep into stoppage time, Benteke made an effort to meet a left-sided cross from Leandro Bacuna with his head, only for Pantilimon’s strong presence in the penalty area allowing him to close down the Belgian forward, with his effort hitting the side netting.
VILLA’S WOES CONTINUE
The Birmingham side is now winless in four, with their last goal coming in the 1-1 draw against Manchester United on December 20.
Villa manager Paul Lambert’s experimentation with tactics in recent weeks has showcased a more fluent style in open play, as they have managed to at least get shots on target; something they have struggled to do this season. But a lack of clinical finishing from Villa’s forwards continues to hinder them, as these changes have yet to translate into goals.
Playing with only ten players in all but one of their last four league matches, their lack of composure in the fouls department has also been detrimental to their efforts on the pitch. Villa forward Gabby Agbonlahor, who had his red card against Manchester United rescinded, missed the match against Sunderland after accumulating five yellow cards.
Midfielder Keiran Richardson will be back in contention next week as he serves the last of a three match ban, courtesy of his straight dismissal against midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion.
BLACK CATS FAIL TO TAKE ADVANTAGE
Gus Poyet’s men will lament their failure to profit from Villa’s misfortunes, with their run of fixtures into the New Year proving to be a big task; facing Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham in their upcoming league matches.
Speaking to the BBC after the match, Poyet spoke of his side’s missed opportunities in the wake of Delph’s dismissal.
“We draw too many games. We lost a good opportunity to take the three points, especially after the sending off. It was a great opportunity to win it," he said.
"We tried too hard, we went a little crazy, we lost the shape and we didn't do the right things - but we tried."
Also acknowledging his side’s tendency to finish all square in the majority of their games this season, a draw in each of their next three league matches would be an achievement that the Uruguayan manager could be proud of; and would surely be happy to take. The draw at Villa Park was their 11th this season; more than any other side in the Premier League.
LAMBERT: SATISFIED WITH A POINT
Villa boss Paul Lambert was content with coming away with a point, where an uphill battle ensued from the moment they were reduced to 10 men, despite missing their
chances to snatch a late victory.
In his post-match interview with the BBC, the Scotsman said "I'm satisfied with a point under the circumstances. It's hard enough playing with 10 men any time but with two games in two days the lads were running on empty.
"All credit to the lads, we could have won it and had chances at the end."
Both sides remain in the bottom half of the table, with Villa one place above the Black Cats in 13th place; a single point the only difference between them.