Villa grinds out draw with Sunderland
Aston Villa edged closer to Premier League safety as they denied former manager Martin O’Neill a winning return with a 0-0 home draw with Sunderland.
O’Neill was greeted with boos from Villa fans, despite three top-six finishes with the midlands club, after walking out on the club on the eve of last season.
Alex McLeish’s side deserved their 15th draw of the campaign and former Villa midfielder Craig Gardner was sent off in stoppage time for his second bookable offense.
Villa, who included six academy products in their line-up, enjoyed the better of the possession for lengthy spells despite having to reorganize after injuries to James Collins and Gabriel Agbonlahor.
But they lacked a cutting edge in front of goal despite the efforts of 20-year-old Andreas Weimann to unsettle the Black Cats back four.
It was Sunderland who created the better opportunities particularly in the second half when Villa appeared to tire and Stephane Sessegnon was a threat.
But poor finishing and some whole-hearted defending by the Villa back four kept them at bay.
Villa began promisingly and came close to taking the lead inside the first 60 seconds.
Agbonlahor charged down a clearance from Simon Mignolet from Phil Bardsley’s back pass.
Weimann was first to react to the rebound and Mignolet turned aside his chip shot.
Agbonlahor, without a goal in 18 Premier League games, looked lively and his goal-bound shot struck Matthew Kilgallon and flew over his own crossbar.
Mignolet was the busier of the two keepers in the early stages and he tipped a low drive from Charles N’Zogbia around the post.
Weimann appealed in vain for a foul after he appeared to be clipped by Michael Turner just outside the box.
The home side continued to look the more threatening and Agbonlahor had a shot blocked by Turner on the edge of the box.
Weimann forced his way through two challenges before firing into the side netting.
Sunderland striker Nicklas Bendtner squandered a good chance to put the Black Cats ahead seven minutes before half-time.
Collins lost possession and allowed McClean to make a clear run into the Villa area.
His cross picked out the unmarked Bendtner but the Danish international headed over the bar.
Collins limped out of the action after 43 minutes to be replaced by right-back Alan Hutton with Carlos Cuellar moving into the center of defense.
Weimann should have done better when he shot into the side netting at the start of the second period after seizing Albrighton’s first time pass.
Agbonlahor was troubled by his shoulder injury and after 48 minutes was replaced by Emile Heskey.
Gardner became the first player to be yellow-carded a minute later for bringing down Herd.
McClean missed the best chance of the game after 55 minutes.
Larsson made a run to the by-line and McClean was first to react to his low cross but from six yards out he hooked the ball over the bar.
Bendtner became the second Sunderland player to be booked for chopping down Albrighton.
Ireland came to Villa’s rescue when he cleared a shot on the turn from Bendtner off the line then Larsson shot over at the far post.
Bendtner had the ball in the net after 76 minutes but was judged to have strayed fractionally offside before converting Larsson’s cross although it was a tight call.
McClean had an injury-time header saved by Given from another Larsson center.
Gardner was sent off for his second yellow card after a foul on Albrighton.