Aston Villa 0 Sunderland 0: Relegation fears for McLeish as injuries add insult to injury
16:22 GMT, 21 April 2012
Aston Villa denied former manager Martin O'Neill a winning return in the home clash with Sunderland.
O'Neill was greeted with boos from Villa fans, despite three top-six finishes with the midlands club, after walking out on the club on the eve of last season.
Alex McLeish's side deserved their 15th draw of the campaign and former Villa midfielder Craig Gardner was sent off in stoppage time for his second bookable offence.
Welcome back: Martin O'Neill was returning to Villa Park, and was up against his old adversary from his time with Celtic in Scotland
ASTON VILLA: Given, Cuellar, Collins (Hutton 43), Baker, Lichaj, Albrighton, Herd, Ireland, N'Zogbia (Bannan 83), Agbonlahor (Heskey 48), Weimann. Subs not used: Guzan, Warnock, Gardner, Carruthers.
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet, O'Shea, Turner, Kilgallon, Bardsley, Larsson, Gardner, Colback, McClean, Sessegnon, Bendtner (Campbell 80). Subs not used: Westwood, Bridge, Vaughan, Ji, Meyler, Kyrgiakos.
Booked: Bendtner, Gardner
Sent off: Gardner
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire)
Villa, who included six academy
products in their line-up, enjoyed the better of the possession for
lengthy spells despite having to reorganise after injuries to James
Collins and Gabriel Agbonlahor.
But they lacked a cutting edge in
front of goal despite the efforts of 20-year-old Andreas Weimann to
unsettle the Black Cats back four.
It was Sunderland who created the
better opportunities particularly in the second half when Villa appeared
to tire and Stephane Sessegnon was a threat.
But poor finishing and some whole-hearted defending by the Villa back four kept them at bay.
Villa began promisingly and came
close to taking the lead inside the first 60 seconds. Agbonlahor charged
down a clearance from Simon Mignolet from Phil Bardsley's back pass.
Weimann was first to react to the rebound and Mignolet turned aside his chip shot.
Agbonlahor, without a goal in 18
Premier League games, looked lively and his goal-bound shot struck
Matthew Kilgallon and flew over his own crossbar.
Old face: Craig Gardner spent the early part of his career at Villa… and was sent off here
Mignolet was the busier of the two
keepers in the early stages and he tipped a low drive from Charles
N'Zogbia around the post. Weimann appealed in vain for a foul after he
appeared to be clipped by Michael Turner just outside the box.
The home side continued to look the more threatening and Agbonlahor had a shot blocked by Turner on the edge of the box.
Weimann forced his way through two challenges before firing into the side netting.
Rough and tumble: The game was a hard-fought affair, rather than one lavished with real quality
Sunderland striker Nicklas Bendtner squandered a good chance to put the Black Cats ahead seven minutes before half-time.
Collins lost possession and allowed
McClean to make a clear run into the Villa area. His cross picked out
the unmarked Bendtner but the Danish international headed over the bar.
Collins limped out of the action
after 43 minutes to be replaced by right-back Alan Hutton with Carlos
Cuellar moving into the centre of defence.
Weimann should have done better when
he shot into the side netting at the start of the second period after
seizing Albrighton's first time pass.
Still struggling: Villa's big summer signing, Charles N'Zogbia, once again failed to make an impact
Agbonlahor was troubled by his
shoulder injury and after 48 minutes was replaced by Emile Heskey.
Gardner became the first player to be yellow-carded a minute later for
bringing down Herd.
McClean missed the best chance of the
game after 55 minutes. Larsson made a run to the by-line and McClean
was first to react to his low cross but from six yards out he hooked the
ball over the bar.
Bendtner became the second Sunderland player to be booked for chopping down Albrighton.
Marching orders: Gardner was sent off after earning a second yellow card from referee Anthony Taylor
Ireland came to Villa's rescue when
he cleared a shot on the turn from Bendtner off the line then Larsson
shot over at the far post.
Bendtner had the ball in the net
after 76 minutes but was judged to have strayed fractionally offside
before converting Larsson's cross although it was a tight call.
McClean had an injury-time header
saved by Given from another Larsson centre. Gardner was sent off for his
second yellow card after a foul on Albrighton.