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Sunderland 0 Aston Villa 2: match report
Published : 15 Dec 2009 21:45:53
Aston Villa for the Premier League title anyone? Martin O'Neill's team might not have what it takes to be crowned champions but they certainly look like Champions League material. Emile Heskey, clinically, and James Milner, sensationally, gave Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez cause to rethink his assertion that he can guarantee his club Champions League football next season. Sport on TV - live coverage for bank holiday weekendThe England internationals not only boosted their own hopes of a World Cup place but moved Villa into third place in the Premier League above Arsenal and a whopping eight points ahead of Benítez's club. Benitez's observations would have offered O'Neill's charges all the extra motivation they needed ahead of a game as they secured a comfortable victory against Steve Bruce's sliding side whose troubles deepened when skipper Lorik Cana was dismissed late on. Sunderland, who had Lee Cattermole on the bench following knee trouble, seized the early initiative and Jordan Henderson volleyed inches wide from 25 yards following Darren Bent's chest down. The trouble is, though, Bruce's players rely too much on long passes from deep into the so-called channels for Bent and Kenwyne Jones and that predictable form of attack usually yielded possession to Villa. Sunderland resorted to illegal means when attacks broke down with Lorik Cana booked for halting Gabriel Agbonlahor's counter-attack. George McCartney was cautioned after scything down Heskey on the edge of the penalty after he broke clear following James Milner's incisive pass. Stewart Downing saw the resultant free kick cannon off Marton Fulop's bar before Stephen Warnock wildly volleyed the rebound wide. Villa took a grip of the contest thanks to relatively intricate passing and Heskey ensured early dominance yielded tangible reward as he capitalised on woeful Sunderland defending in the 24th minute. McCartney carelessly passed to Milner and the ball was transferred to Stiliyan Petrov who found the unmarked Heskey played onside by Nyron Nosworthy and he belted a low shot past Marton Fulop from 15 yards out for his third goal in six games. When Sunderland raised their game Andy Reid and McCartney combined well before the latter's deft cross was miskicked by Kenwyne Jones but it showed what composure could achieve. Brad Friedel came to Villa's rescue by repelling Reid's volley from Henderson's cross as the teenager outmanoeuvred Warnock as Sunderland gained the upper hand. Reid should have equalised shortly after half-time when Jones won McCartney's punt forward but the Irishman sliced wide with just Friedel to beat. The excellent Richard Dunne stood firm against Sunderland's onslaught and Heskey unpicked the home defence when he played Ashley Young through but his rising shot struck a post. Milner showed his England colleague how it should be done when he held off Richardson's challenge before thumping the ball past Fulop from 35 yards. Back came Sunderland, now one win in nine games, but there was no way past Dunne who brilliantly denied Jones on the six-yard box following McCartney's cross. Bruce sent on Cattermole to invigorate proceedings but Cana was sent off after being booked for a reckless foul on the outstanding Milner in the 79th minute. It was game over for Sunderland while O'Neill's team, who have now lost just once in 13 outings, suggested they are capable of mounting a Premier League title challenge.