Sunderland fail to break Aston Villa after Fabian Delph red
Aston Villa 0 - Sunderland 0
Christmas is a time of excess, unless it involves Aston Villa and Sunderland who maintained their season-long abstinence in front of goal at Villa Park yesterday.
Villa have now scored 11 goals in 20 matches, Sunderland have scored 16 in 19 league games. All of which meant this goalless scoreline was not a surprise. Nevertheless, 35,000-plus turned up, including 3,000 from Sunderland, which is frankly astonishing given the price of travel and modern football tickets.
They were treated to a ponderous first half and a better second period, largely because Sunderland came out to play after Villa were reduced to ten men with the dismissal of Fabian Delph.
His was Villa's third red card in four matches, which have yielded two points and one goal. Yet manager Paul Lambert insisted: "I have no fear the goals will come."
Both he and Gus Poyet blamed the lacklustre match on fatigue after playing on oxing Day.
"It is hard enough playing with ten when playing Saturday-Saturday, playing with ten when you have played twice in three games is hard so all credit to the lads," said Lambert. "We kept knocking at the door and could have won it."
Poyet made three changes from the XI that lost at home to Hull on Boxing Day while Lambert, limited by injuries and suspensions, made just the one alteration to the team beaten at Swansea.
Villa began with greater intent and it needed a sure-footed tackle from John O'Shea to halt Andreas Weimann after 10 minutes. Once Sunderland settled Villa found it hard to break them down and the half meandered to the break amid a plethora of misplaced places and the occasional well-judged tackle.
Then Delph, hitherto anonymous, lunged late into a tackle with Jordi Gomez. The Spaniard screamed in agony but there was no outrage from adjacent team-mates and it was a surprise when Atkinson showed Delph red.
Harsh or not, it was what the game needed. Sunderland felt compelled to seek a winner while Villa also continued to venture forward. Brad Guzan dealt well with shots from Adam Johnson and Emanuele Giaccherini.
Villa responded with the lively Jack Grealish curling a shot wide then Ron Vlaar having a near-post header tipped around the post by Costel Pantimilion.
In a frantic finish Gomez hit the post with a fierce drive, Leandro Bacuna brought a flying save from Pantimilion, Wickham tested Guzan again, then Benteke put a Bacuna cross into the side netting.
"I am disappointed not to take three points, especially after the sending off," said Poyet.