Belfast Telegraph

Villa claim precious point

Aston Villa edged closer to Barclays Premier League safety as they denied former manager Martin O'Neill a winning return in a goalless draw against Sunderland.

O'Neill was greeted with boos from Villa fans despite four years of success, including three top six finishes, with the midlands club.

Alex McLeish's side deserved their 15th draw of the campaign and former Villa midfielder Craig Gardner was sent off in injury time for his second bookable offence.

Villa began promisingly and came close to taking the lead inside the first 60 seconds. Gabriel Agbonlahor charged down a clearance from Simon Mignolet from Phil Bardsley's back pass. Andreas Weimann was first to react to the rebound but Mignolet turned aside his chip shot.

Sunderland striker Nicklas Bendtner squandered a good chance to put Sunderland ahead on 38 minutes. James Collins lost possession, allowing James McClean to run into the Villa area. His cross picked out the unmarked Bendtner but the Dane headed over.

Collins limped off after 43 minutes to be replaced by right-back Alan Hutton with Carlos Cuellar moving into the centre of defence while Agbonlahor was troubled by his shoulder injury and after 48 minutes was replaced by Emile Heskey.

McClean missed the best chance of the game after 55 minutes. He was first to react to Sebastian Larsson's low cross but from six yards out he hooked the ball over the bar.

Stephen Ireland came to Villa's rescue when he cleared a shot on the turn from Bendtner off the line.

Bendtner had the ball in the net after 76 minutes but was offside before converting Larsson's cross.

Gardner was sent off for his second yellow card after a foul on Marc Albrighton.

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