Make no mistake, this was a hard-fought win decided by the unlucky Richard Dunne who forced the ball past his own keeper at the near post after 25 minutes. That is now 8 Premier League own goals for the unfortunate Irishman, who did manage to get his act together to produce a sound second-half performance, with a superb intervention to dispossess Darren Bent in the box late on. Villa are an excellent side, but they have been stuttering away from home. The Midlanders were looking to score on the break, and had a period of dominance in the middle of the second half, but this just was not their day in front of goal. The possession ratio of 66% to the home side, although favourable, does not tell the full story; again it was the Black Cats’ defence that performed outstandingly to record their third consecutive clean sheet. The Lads had a great first half, and managed to avoid the 6 consecutive draws record, but I would personally be extremely happy to see this defence challenge the run of 6 games without conceding a goal which Sunderland set in the top division around Christmas 1982 (see http://www.thestatcat.co.uk/Mseasons/MSG104.asp - by the way an excellent source of Sunderland Stats).
Once the Black Cats had scored, I felt really confident that the back four would hold firm, and so it proved. A couple of times Heskey failed to attack the ball when in a good position, but overall the Villa strikers were well marshalled by Sunderland, despite their good approach work, and to be honest, Mignolet was rarely troubled.
I would also like to focus on our midlfield performances, with Cattermole tackling well and protecting the back four, and Henderson hardly putting a foot wrong in a full-on, high energy display. Malbranque was outstanding again, working tirelessly, and Al Muhammadi showed more of the control and drive which have endeared him to the home fans in his first Premiership season. Strangely, Bent looked a bit off colour upfront, but having scored in 65% of his games for Sunderland, he is entitled to the odd quieter game. The fans can now be confident for the rest of the season; Sunderland have shown that they will not be outplayed.
So now we are looking forward what is in my opinion the best and the most atmospheric local derby game in the world – Newcastle vs. Sunderland, next weekend. With Sunderland in 7th place, and with the scum, those unwashed barcodes, blowing hot and cold, signs are looking good for an absorbing contest...but we know that current form often goes out of the window in derby games.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen