Premier League - Sunderland win at Villa

Wed, 05 Jan 21:58:00 2011

A Phil Bardsley thunderbolt was enough to give 10-man Sunderland a hard-fought 1-0 Premier League victory over Aston Villa at Villa Park.

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Bardsley produced his crisp, low finish, which nestled into the bottom corner of Brad Friedel's goal, in the 80th minute, after Boudewijn Zenden had drilled a poor free-kick into the Villa wall.

The full-back's strike, in an ill-tempered match which saw both sides finish with 10 men, ensured that Sunderland recorded their second away victory of the season.

Gerard Houllier and Villa, meanwhile, were left with plenty to think about after producing a wholly uninspired display which failed to build on their impressive 3-3 draw against Chelsea from last weekend.

Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Emile Heskey were the main culprits, with the trio failing to link up on several occasions as Villa's frontline faltered.

The most notable of which saw Heskey somehow re-direct a Stewart Downing pull-back onto the Sunderland crossbar from a couple of yards out in the 42nd minute for one of the misses of the season.

Downing had done well to rob the ball from Sunderland's Zenden - an early substitute for David Meyler who pulled up in the 37th minute with suspected knee ligament damage - but could only look on aghast as his pass from the byline was chipped onto the bar by Heskey.

Then, in injury time at the end of the first-half, Heskey had another chance as he rose unmarked when powering a header from Young's expertly-clipped cross. However, his headed attempt travelled harmlessly wide of Craig Gordon's goal.

Sunderland themselves appeared to be experiencing something of a New Year hangover as well, with Darren Bent and Danny Welbeck failing to click up front.

Jordan Henderson was also guilty of some poor set-piece deliveries on the occasions when The Black Cats were able to put the likes of Richard Dunne and James Collins in the Villa defence under pressure.

Indeed, the visitors' only incident of note from a scrappy first-half saw Henderson deliver a ball from the right-flank in the 33rd minute, which appeared to hit Ciaran Clark's arm inside the Villa penalty box.

However, referee Peter Walton, with view slightly obscured, waved away the penalty claims and the Villa Park faithful breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The second-half commenced in similarly subdued settings to the first 45 minutes, with the only chance worthy of note in the restart's opening exchanges coming through Bent in the 54th minute.

The forward who collected a Titus Bramble long-ball, before holding off the advances of Collins to strike low and past Brad Friedel.

However, Collins was able to frantically recover in time to slide in and clear Bent's strike from the Villa goalline.

While Steed Malbranque and Danny Welbeck had half-chances to give Sunderland the lead before the hour-mark, Steve Bruce brought on Asamoah Gyan in the 56th minute to give The Black Cats more attacking thrust.

Gyan failed to have the desired impact, although he did hit the ground in the 69th minute. As Villa played on rather than kicking the ball to touch, Henderson remonstrated with Heskey leading to a fracas between the two teams.

In the scuffle which ensued, Heskey was shown his marching orders for pushing Henderson in the face.

The extra man revitalised the visitors and Bardsley's strike 10 minutes from time proved decisive, but not before Zenden was shown a second yellow card for going in late on Stiliyan Petrov, while and Gyan missed a golden opportunity to secure the points for Sunderland.

The Ghanian collected the ball in the 88th minute but, having been sent clear, drove his shot wide of goal when one-on-one with Friedel.

It was not to matter in the end, though, as Sunderland secured a crucial three points to continue their push for Europe while piling more gloom onto a dejected Villa side.

Liam Graf / Eurosport

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