Paul Lambert will be so happy for December (from now on to be called Refember) to end. Three games in the past four Villa have seen a player get a straight red. Agbonlahor at home to Manchester Utd was a ludicrous decision, Richardson at the Hawthornes was probably the right call and today, Delph’s at home to Sunderland was somewhere in between. Yes it was a foul. Yes it was mistimed and yes it was a little high. However it was nowhere near worse than Cattermole’s tackle from behind on Cleverley in the first half that went unpunished and put Villa under unnecessary pressure. A yellow card on both would have been warranted.
Villa have had the worst of refereeing decisions all through the month, maybe the season. When Benteke was sent off earlier in the season the following week Spurs left back Rose was let go with a warning after a similar incident.
After Gabby’s sending off debacle, the ref who sent him off gave Stoke the softest of penalties at Goodison, while a little south in Wales, Agbonlahor got mugged by Ashley Williams denying a clear goal scoring opportunity.
This game against Sunderland was mostly boring so I might as well focus a little on the one interesting aspect, referee Martin Atkinson’s apparent dislike of Villa.
Villa ended with 1 one yellow card and one red. Vlaar was given a yellow card when he never even touched Fletcher; and even if it had been because the two were physical it wasn’t any worse than previous tussles going on earlier and later between them or Shea on Benteke.
Villa only committed 4 fouls and maybe 3 advantages were played, while Sunderland committed 11 fouls and maybe 2 advantages. Fletcher also escaped a yellow card for a textbook deliberate handball. Finally, Villa was again denied a last gasp penalty when Pantillon inexplicably jumped feet first into Benteke’s chest just as the striker was lining up to steer the ball home. Had that happened anywhere else on the field it would have been a free kick and a card and if it had been a Villa player a red card!
On the field the first half was so boring, it was a good job it isn’t the entertainment business. It was like watching a William Hurt movie or a Genesis concert. Sunderland was very sloppy in possession and the more long range shots Connor Wickham tried the more you felt he might actually learn to pass.
Villa was no better. It amassed tons of possession without ever looking like it knew what to do.
The second half was 3 minutes old when the red card arrived. It was like Villa knew the routine and suddenly it transformed itself into the classic counter attack pose. Lambert switched out Bacuna to replace N’Zogbia who had actually caused difficulties for Sunderland. Clark came off with Okore coming on maybe an injury? Because Clark was playing very well.
Okore’s arrival sparked a chance for Sunderland when Vlaar mis-played a pass to him and Fletcher grabbed control, but Vlaar made amends. Finally on the hour, Grealish replaced Cleverley and he soon lifted the crowd. His little jinking runs to the bye-line caused Sunderland problems. One cross deserved a player making a run to the six yard area for an easy tap in.
Villa avoided a couple of scares with scrambles in the box and a cross that missed everyone. Vlaar headed a corner against Brown and Pantillon had to be smart to react.
Guzan made a fingertip save from Gomez that thumped the woodwork and Villa countered ending with a Bacuna shot that was saved by the giant goalie.
In the end Villa get a decent point because of the preceding decisions and with lose Delph on New Year’s day, but will gain Richardson and Gabby back. Oh Boy!!!
I can’t leave this article without a mention for Sanchez who is growing with each and every game and has given Lambert the catalyst to play his passing game that did not bear fruit with El Ahmedi. Sanchez was easily the best player on the field, we need a couple more like him in various positions please Mr. Lambert.