Aston Villa haulted in O’Neill return to Villa Park


Aston Villa took another step closer to premier league safety gaining another point against Sunderland at Villa Park in a 0-0 draw. Even though there were no goals in the game there was plenty of action during the game with a sending-off, disallowed goal, injuries and end-to-end football.

Aston Villa’s draw against Sunderland is their 15th draw of the 2011/2012 campaign giving them a percentage of 44%. Yesterdays result was Aston Villa 8th clean sheet of this season. Yet again Aston Villa came away with another injury from the fixture this time it was defender James Collins who was unable to continue and was seen to be clutching his groin area and went straight down the tunnel.

Captain Gabby Agbonlahor was substituted midway into the second half of the game. Gabby worked tirelessly during the game giving the Sunderland defence a good work out. Not only did Gabby attack he was coming back into midfield to win possession and start the next wave of attacks.

Yesterday was also a day of mixed emotions for the two clubs as Craig Gardner returned to Villa Park since leaving near city rivals Birmingham City. Craig could have faced his younger brother Gary who found himself on the Aston Villa bench. Craig Gardner returned with a familiar face to Villa Park in the form of ex-Villa manager Martin O’Neill.

Martin O’Neill spent 4 years at Villa and admitted in his press conference this week that he enjoyed his time at the club but the last year of his 4-year stint became sour. It was always going to be an interesting reception that O’Neill would get and the fans were divided but I feel that there may have been more boo’s than cheers.

Getting back to the match Aston Villa started the brightest of the two teams and in the opening 15 minutes found themselves in good position to maybe have been ahead. During that passage of play Aston Villa had 3 shots on target.

Aston Villa’s best chance of the first half fell to Austrian striker Andreas Weimann who linked up well with his teammates and played some intricate one touch passing. Weimann found himself in the penalty area and poked the ball with his left boot which went just wide of the post.

Aston Villa managed just 44.6% possession throughout the game compared to Sunderland’s 55.4%. Sunderland were more successful making 74% of their passes complete compared to Aston Villa’s 67%. In the first-half Aston Villa keep pushing Sunderland back into their own half limiting them to just a quick counter attack but Villa couldn’t break the defensive barriers down.

Both teams went in at the half-time interval with a clean sheet but Aston Villa would have found themselves more frustrated with majority of possession. Sunderland were first to appear ahead of the second half obviously they had a good old-fashioned Martin O’Neill team talk in the Sunderland dressing room. This was clear to see as Sunderland looked a more competitive and eager side out the blocks.

It wasn’t long into the second half Craig Gardner received his first yellow card much to the delight of the Aston Villa fans. Throughout the second half challenges became more aggressive and broke play up a lot more. James Collins was unable to continue and was substituted for Alan Hutton who adopted the right-back duty which was covered in by Carlos Cuellar.

Carlos Cuellar then shuffled across into the central defence position which he is more suited to. Villa’s stand-in captain was also unable to continue following earlier challenges which Villa fans will argue that Gabby Agbonlahor caused the Sunderland defence problems. This withdrawal seemed much like a precautionary measure as Gabby sat on the bench for the remainder of the game. Emile Heskey was the man to replace Gabby upfront; Aston Villa had opted for a 442 formation against Sunderland which was a tactic that would have surely pleased the Villa fans.

Sunderland’s best chance of the game came when Bendtner had the ball in Aston Villa’s net but his strike was disallowed for offside, with replays suggesting a very close call from the linesman.

Sunderland striker Bendtner also thought he had scored again but it was some impressive defensive work from Stephen Ireland who cleared off the line to deny MON’s team the three points. As the game went on Aston Villa invited more pressure onto themselves as Sunderland became able to control the game to their advantage.

The game looked to be fizzing out into another draw for the Midlands side but the home side fans were mildly amused as Craig Gardner was booked for the second time in the game resulting in a red card. Craig Gardner pleaded his innocence to the referee Anthony Taylor but this appeal fell on deaf ears and Gardner was forced to leave the field of play. Aston Villa fans were waving to Craig and as he was walking from the field of play he removed his Sunderland shirt to display a “Support 4 Stan” T-shirt and the jeers turned to cheers from the Villa fans.

Aston Villa found themselves with rejuvenated confidence with Sunderland now down to 10-men and they thought they could get more than a point from the game. Aston Villa’s Charles N’Zogbia found himself in acres of space for a large pro-portion of the game and seemed really interested in this game. I don’t know if this was down to the fact he was playing against a former rival team from his days at Newcastle United. This may of also have been due to Alex McLeish coming out in media as saying Charles N’Zogbia was on the verge of finding his Wigan Athletic form. Charles N’Zogbia was able to hug the touch-line and travel down the wing and cutting inside to find teammates.

Aston Vila go into the remaining fixtures against Bolton,West Brom, Tottenham and Norwich knowing they need just 4 points to surely cement them Premier League status for another season.


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