After last week, this match wasn't really a must-win. But given where Aston Villa were in the table and what matches they have remaining, it was certainly a "we might regret this if we don't win." Well, no worries of regret after Aston Villa used a stunning first-half double brace from Gabby Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke to coast to an easy 0-4 victory over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
Yes, you read that right. Four goals. That's 21% of the season's Premier League total for the club in one half. Benteke got things started in the 16th minute after Leandro Bacuna played a perfect pass to him at the penalty spot and he calmly slotted it in. That's two goals in... sixteen minutes of action for Benteke if you go back to the penalty winner against West Bromwich Albion.
But the suddenly good again Gabby didn't want to be left behind, so he added his own goal in the 18th minute. At this point it was obvious that Villa were going to absolutely dominate the match. Scott Sinclair missed a sitter a few minutes later though, and when Sunderland managed to get a little pressure going, we all wondered if we would rue the chance. And it turns out the answer was no! Gabby slammed the door with a 37th minute strike and Benteke just danced on the Sunderland grave in the 44th.
After Gabby's second goal, Sunderland fans began streaming out of the Stadium of Light, and a number of them ran down to the Black Cat's dugout to yell at the players and staff on the bench. It was an odd thing to see a stadium turn so quickly against their club, but you can certainly understand the frustration.
The second half, by the first half's standards, was boring. No goals for anyone. Sunderland had a few chances, but they were largely because Villa began playing very conservatively. It made sense, but it was a touch frustrating to see the team let off when they could have easily kept improving their goal differential.
The big news, though, was the substitutions. Ciaran Clark had another amazing match, but he was taken off for Carlos Sanchez. The thinking SEEMS to be some combination of giving Clark a rest and preventing him from picking up a 10th yellow when the match was in hand. (I'm going to write more on this later)
And then, in the 83rd minute, Aston Villa subbed on Rushian Hepburn-Murphy for Christian Benteke. If you don't know who Hepburn-Murphy is, don't worry, neither do Villa:
But if you want to know, he's a 16-year-old striker who is the leading scorer for Villa's U18 squad this year. We knew that Tim Sherwood loved young players, and he's putting that philosophy to work. We've seen Jack Grealish get important minutes, Hepburn-Murphy make his debut, and the reserves training pitch moved to where Sherwood can always keep an eye on the players.
The big story here, though, is three wins in a row, including two in the league. With QPR losing, Villa now sit six points clear of the cut line and they've leapfrogged Sunderland into 16th. At one point today the annoucners said that Villa looked menacing, and the fact that it was true is all you need to know right now. This is a club transformed, and they look poised to see out the season with a strong run. A couple more wins and safety is all but assured.
Isn't this amazing?