Sunderland lose out on penalties

28 October 2009 12:36
Sunderland 0 Aston Villa 0 (Aston Villa win 3-1 on penalties) IF Steve Bruce ever wanted proof of why he normally refuses to watch penalties, this was it.

After Sunderland had earned and wasted a dubious one six minutes from time, the nervous manager opted to endure the personal torture from the touchline for the dramatic shoot-out.

It is safe to assume that he will be ordering his players to practise penalties the next time they are in training.

Having hid in the tunnel frustrated after Kenwyne Jones 84th minute spot-kick miss, he then chose to witness Andy Reid, Lorik Cana and Jordan Henderson fail to find the net after extra-time at first hand.

And while Steed Malbranques successful spot-kick looked to have given a lifeline when Gabriel Agbonlahor missed his, it was Aston Villa that booked their place in the Carling Cup quarter-finals at the expense of Bruce and Sunderland when Ashley Young scored his.

It is 36 years since Sunderland without their normal penalty taker Darren Bent through injury - last won a major piece of silverware and Villas stunning second-choice goalkeeper Brad Guzan ensured the wait goes on.

Neither team had really looked like scoring up until Jones late penalty miss, with teenage midfielder Jordan Henderson the only player showing an ability to shoot on goal for the most part of the match in the absence of Bent.

And when someone else did have a go, Guzan was equal to Kieran Richardson's effort when he ran clean through on goal in extra-time.

While there is just a point separating the two teams in the Premier League, Bruce had spoken of trying to follow the Villa blueprint to establishing themselves as a formidable force in the English game beforehand.

Saturdays defeat at Villas city rivals Birmingham, however, offered something of a reality check for the Sunderland players thinking that a push for Europe could be on this season.

The manner of such a defeat left Bruce assessing his options, particularly in the absence of Lee Cattermole, and he used last nights fourth round tie to try out a new approach.

With Jones playing up front on his own, Daryl Murphy making his first start under Bruce and Fraizer Campbell provided the width. It is a formation Bruce tried out in pre-season and one that could become the norm away from home.

And after Emile Heskey had flicked Agbonlahors delivery inches wide from inside six yards, the system worked, even if there was a lack of attempts on Guzans goal.

The nearest Sunderland came to scoring in the opening half was after a clever move down the left. Jones played inside towards Kieran Richardson, who allowed the ball to roll towards Henderson. The teenage midfielder struck a sweet right foot drive just the wrong side of Guzans upright.

It was Hendersons willingness to charge through the middle that caused the biggest threat to Villa and there were huge claims from the fans for a penalty when he appeared to have been tripped by Richard Dunne.

While the home supporters were furious with referee Phil Dowds call for play-on, there were no serious claims from the Sunderland players for a spot-kick, which perhaps told its own story.

Occasionally Henderson gave the ball away. In truth, though, he was the only player on the pitch in the opening half that looked like opening the scoring.

And on the stroke of half-time, the 19-year-old witnessed Guzan leap in the air to parry away a stinging 20 yard volley from the locally-produced talent after James Collins had jumped to clear a Lorik Cana centre.

Villa had flattered to deceive up to that point, but it was the visitors who almost found the way through after the restart. George McCartney was caught out of position after winning a tackle on half way, James Milner broke down his side before whipping in a centre that evaded Villas front two.

There was a similar incident moments later. This time, after Murphy had shown a dreadful first touch, Villa exploited space down McCartneys side, but Agbonlahor wasted. An animated Bruce was clearly annoyed.

Sunderlands attacking impetus had been knocked out of them, but that did not stop Henderson from trying his luck again. This time, after a lay-off from Jones, he curled just over from 22 yards.

It would be harsh to single one player out who disappointed last night, but the fans did. After numerous poor touches and his confidence already shot to pieces, Murphy was replaced by Reid. Judging by the cheers that greeted his departure, it is safe to assume Sunderland fans dont particularly want to see him play again.

Ironically, seconds later, Villa should have grabbed the goal that would have spared everyone extra-time. Instead Craig Gordon rushed from his line to make a vital save to deny Agbonlahor when he looked certain to score.

There was, though, time for an even greater chance in the 90 minutes. Jones, however, wasted it, when his low penalty to Guzans left was held by the American after the referee had deemed that Carlos Cuellar had deliberately stopped Reids centre with his arm. Extra-time followed.

Source: Northern_Echo


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