Sunderland 0-1 Aston Villa
PAUL LAMBERT got one over his former boss as Gabriel Agbonlahor extended Sunderland`s miserable Premier League to just one win in their last 17 games.
Agbonlahor bagged from close-range in the 57th minute to earn the Villans three points which move them level with the Black Cats on nine points.
Martin O`Neill made three changes from the side beaten by Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup in midweek; Simon Mignolet, Craig Gardner & Seb Larsson coming in for Keiren Westwood, David Vaughan & Louis Saha. Danny Rose was only fit enough for a place amongst the substitutes.
Lambert made four changes from the Villa side who beat League One Swindon Town on Tuesday night. Shay Given, Chris Herd, Eric Lichaj and the suspended Karim Elhamdi replaced by Brad Guzan, Ciaran Clark, Joe Bennett and Ashley Westwood.
Sunderland started brightly enough, with Steven Fletcher taking just four minutes to chip one over Guzan - the linesman`s flag coming to the rescue of the Villa backline after a brief delay.
Two minutes later Villa full-back Matthew Lowton teed himself up & saw his volley deflected wide from a clever corner routine.
Lee Cattermole responded for the hosts, driving narrowly wide of the 'keeper`s top left-hand corner from 18 yards.
Austrian forward Andi Weimann turned Carlos Cuellar inside and out shortly after, before Simon Mignolet held onto his low left-footed strike.
Larsson came close shortly after the break, heading back over the bar after Guzan had fumbled a routine delivery from the right.
In the 57th minute though, the damage was done when Agbonlahor turned Lowton`s centre high in the roof of the Black Cats` net from six yards.
Having gone behind, Sunderland finally began to increase the pressure and move the ball with more urgency, however Stephen Ireland could and should have capitalized on Mignolet`s poor bicycle kick clearance.
As increased tempo turned to sheer desperation, substitute Frazier Campbell and Fletcher both came close, the former nodding wide after the latter had failed to follow up from Cattermole`s spilled drive.
Like the half-time whistle, the full-time whistle was greeted by a chorus of boos. Supporters are rightly growing tired of the string of dour performances on offer each week.
There is always one team which is perceived to have too much quality on paper but for one reason or another never quite clicks into gear & ends up succumbing to relegation. Sunderland might not be that team & it`s certainly too early to condemn them with that tag, but if this calibre of performance becomes the norm, this season bears the hallmarks of an extremely poor campaign.
Sunderland: Mignolet 6; Bardsley 5 (Campbell 5), Cuellar 6, O'Shea 6, Colback 6; Cattermole (c) 7, Gardner 5 (McClean 6); Larsson 6, Sessegnon 6 (Saha 5), Johnson 5; Fletcher 5.
Subs not used: Rose, Kilgallon, Vaughan & Westwood (GK).
Aston Villa: Guzan 6; Lowton 7, Vlaar (c) 7, Clark 6, , Bennett 5 (Lichaj 6 ( Stevens 6)); Bannan 6, Ireland 7, Westwood 6, Agbonlahor 7; Weimann 7 (Holman 5) & Benteke 7.
Subs not used: Albrighton, Delph, Bowery & Given (GK).
Attendance: 41 515
Referee: Mr M Jones.