Villa slipped up again at the Stadium of Light Saturday afternoon, giving up a critical goal in the last couple of minutes to squander 2 more valuable points.
McLeish stuck with Chris Herd in central midfield, with Heskey playing a slightly dropped off role from Bent. Gabby was out on the left with Zogs on the right.
Villa started brightly and passed the ball well, but Sunderland started to show signs they were the home team in an open game, that seemed to contain loads of room in the midfield and 2 shaky defences.
Turner had a free header sizzle up and over the bar as Sunderland threatened to grab the opener, but it was Villa that took the lead. Agbonlahor kept the ball in play and beat the defender in one movement and started his tear down the wing. The two defenders checked of his run and the new and improved Gabby didn’t just blindly keep running, but stopped, turned leaving the defenders a few yards up field. Looking up he saw Petrov running through that open midfield in acres of space. Gabby hit the perfect cross field pass. PETROV took a couple of steps to position himself before unleashing an unstoppable shot.
Villa immediately took the foot off the pedal and allowed Sunderland to dominate until they got the equalizer. Heskey tried to play a one two with N’Zogbia out of defence, the Villa winger was held on the return pass, although the ref couldn’t be blamed for not calling it. Sunderland took possession passed to Sassegnon. He couldn’t believe his luck as Hutton dived into the challenge allowing the midfielder to turn and pass to the left in one pretty movement. He found WICKHAM who made no mistake from 10 yards out. Very poor by Hutton this is looking every bit a poor piece of business by McLeish.
Villa went back to dominating the play as they had for good parts of the half before the 1st goal. Gabby almost headed in before half time as N’Zogbia sent in a nice cross. The Frenchman seemed to want to get at Sunderland.
It was nearly all Villa for the first 10 minutes of the second half. Sunderland’s keeper got hurt and had to be subbed and the tempo of the game suddenly changed. Whether Villa sensed the blood of the ex Coventry keeper, or the fact that N’Zogbia was starting to terrorize the defenders a little, I am not sure, but Zogs and Warnock began to play at a whirlwind speed. But, this just played into the Cats hands as they were better at it and began to control the game. Villa needed to slow things down, but now they were just hoofing clearances without thinking.
Eventually, the pace slowed and Villa got a handle on thing. Westwood made a superb save from Bent. Petrov was sent sprawling on the edge of the box, but his cross was poor. Two other moves finished with Warnock sending bad crosses. Things heated up with 6 minutes to go. Gabby was knocked down by former Nose Larrsen. He was upset at how easily the striker went down and the two argued.
Petrov got his cross perfect this time and found DUNNE, who made it 2-1 with his head.
Villa, again, immediately moved into self destruct mode. McLeish took off the lively N’Zogbia for the sleepy looking Albrighton, the team moved into its shell and panicked every time the home side got the ball, kicking the ball everywhere and fouling players. Larrsen messed up his first chance, but had another free kick when Dunne needlessly fouled on the right wing.
Larrsens cross found SASSEGNON alone for him to head them level.
Villa played some nice stuff again at times. I felt secure when they played the ball back to Dunne as he fakes out forwards and keeps the ball moving, with Warnock driving forward. But, as soon as we score, those two move into headless chicken mode. Collins is steady although he isn’t the best passer. Hutton is useless so far.
Herd did well, without being great. Petrov was quiet except for the goal. Heskey was a handful. N’Zogbia’s best game was probably on par with Ashley Young’s worst one.
Gabby was okay, especially when he drifted in to his rightful place and Bent looked like a carthorse.