Kevin Kyle scored five goals for the Black Cats as the home side won 7-5 but the result does not really detract from the positive news that McCann completed 65 minutes of the match against his former club - his first competitive football since undergoing knee surgery three months ago.
Now the midfielder is willing to make himself available for Sunday's Premiership match against West Midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion, although it seems likely that David O’Leary will risk him. “It is great to be out there playing again,” McCann said following his first start since the January FA Cup loss to Sheffield United. “If the gaffer wants me to be involved on Sunday, then I'll be ready but that's not my decision. It is up to him.
“I've missed nine or ten games so I'm short of match fitness. The frustrating thing is I'll be back to full sharpness when the season is coming to an end.” O'Leary believes his side have missed the influence of the battling midfield player and saw it an opportune moment to revisit his bizarre pirate fetish “We have always been a better team when Gavin McCann is in the side. He is the sort of character that will play on one leg if possible and if we can get him back it will be a big boost.”
And so it proved last night as the reserve side were drawing, albeit 4-4 before McCann’s withdrawal saw a deluge of unanswered goals that sees Villa remain third as the title seems destined for Old Trafford.