A two match dip after rolling off seven straight victories has left a little chill for the club even with pulling all three points in an exciting match against Sheffield Wednesday toward the end of last month. The opportunity to state intentions today looked great visiting a sorry Sunderland club that is falling like a rock.
For the season for Villa it seems as if this club with Albert Adomah and Jack Grealish are a top side, with one of the two are a playoff contender, and without either play as a mid-table club, at best.
Luckily for Villa’s fortunes, today marked the return of Adomah to the pitch and Grealish to the bench and even moreso, that they were matched up against Sunderland. Steve Bruce made no abnormal lineup switches and set a matchday lineup that could allow him to sub in our top performers and re-establish the 4-1-4-1 we’d seen so much success with earlier this year later in the day to make sure everyone is healthy, alert and continuing their cohesion.
The First Half
We started off sad to see the Stadium of Light so empty and quiet. If fan ambition made any matter, the 1500 traveling Villa faithful put the club up early and Villa began the game with the same energy earning two early corners.
Even so, Sunderland had some chances to spring attacks, most notably around the 24th minute when Scott Hogan lost possession and sent Sunderland on the break. Ovie Ejaria pushed the ball, but a few sprinting defenders spooked him to cut in and across and Villa were able to set enough of a defense that it came to nothing.
The viewing angle of the away fans must have contributed to the first roar of the crowd as Robert Snodgrass lofted a cross onto goal where Hogan had a strong header that caught the top of the net. Villa fans atop the stadium cheered and then seemed to give themselves a round of applause in self-deprecation when they realized the goal line wasn’t breeched.
Around the thirtieth minute pace picked up and Villa had a real chance in front of net. Adomah cutting across the goalmouth tried to set a back heel for Snodgrass, but it was deflected and then cleared all the way down the pitch where it found streaking striker Ashley Fletcher who, after beating the Villa defense to goal, tried to corral the bouncing ball set it painlessly out for a goal kick and a squandered opportunity.
Villa pushed the attack and quickly found Adomah in the left corner with the defender giving him what seemed like far too much space to assess the attack. He put in a cross in front of Sunderland keeper Jason Steele who looked completely lost on the pitch while Hogan, Snodgrass and Lewis Grabban all attacked the net. Clearing the in-flight yet diminutive Hogan, with Snodgrass screened off the bounce, Grabban nudged the ball in for his third score in three matches and the away fans were right to roar.
Toward the end of the half, Sunderland seemed to want to hit the dressing room while Villa stayed engaged and pushed forward. Sunderland were content to cede pitch and throw-ins for time, but Grabban held the ball and a defender at the end line and edge of the 18 yard box and, on a deflected cross in, earned the Claret and Blue their fourth corner of the match. Snoddy shook off a nick he’d picked up a few moments earlier, put a ball right on defender James Chester’s cranium and our former captain popped the net.
As the ball was recentered after the goal and the halftime whistle came, the Black Cats received boos from the few in attendance. Neither club had played particularly well, but with Fletcher absolutely botching his free run on goal and a few shortcomings in attack, as well as Steele’s misplay on the first Villa goal, and Sunderland playing to the clock and giving up a second, it’s easy to see why the few fans in attendance would be disappointed—Sunderland bungled their chances to stay competitive in this first half.
A-Twitter I made the joke that Neil Taylor playing at left back was passing backwards at the mention of a stiff breeze after he sent two balls back one to John Terry and the other further to Sam Johnstone after having a Black Cat run on him, but in retrospect this was absolutely the right decision. Sunderland look snake-bitten and discouraging their engagement and activity like harmlessly passing back, keeping possession, and resetting the attack instead of pushing forward and potentially creating opportunities for counterattacks to build momentum was the correct decision. With this in mind, the selections of Taylor and Glenn Whelan look like they were a great choice by Steve Bruce.
The Second Half
The un-sexy, we’ll play it straight up and let them make mistakes theory was put to the test early as Sunderland controlled the first ten minutes of possession and built some attack. In short order, though, Grabban had a lane to goal but pushed out right for Snoddy in space. Our new favorite announcer looked to square up and put in a cross, but took a hard tackle from left back Bryan Oviedo before the ball squeezed out to an onrushing Ahmed Elmohamady. Elmo was free on goal but was stopped by the referee and the advantage given away in a terrible decision. Oviedo was awarded a yellow for his hard work and the free kick came to nothing before springing a counterattack, so...good foul for Oviedo I suppose.
In the 59th minute Whelan picked up a knock and had to be helped walking off the pitch. There was some fan frustration with Sunderland continuing to play the ball while Whelan was down, but the gentlemanliness of the Black Cats temporarily won out in reciprocity after Villa had put the ball out of play due to a Sunderland injury in the first half. Whelan was replaced by Mile Jedinak who looked good the rest of the way.
On a Villa breakaway Sunderland struck again, not in the sense that they succeeded in accomplishing something, but Sunderland struck in the sense that they again bungled unfortunately something that looked like it should have been rather simple. With Hogan, Conor Hourihane, Grabban and Snodgrass all forcing pressure on the goal facing only two active defenders and Steele in net, Hourihane put a hard low shot straight at Steele who deflected the ball straight into net for the third Villa goal of the day, sadly, not Hourihane hitting double digits.
In a promotion push where goal differential could come into play Villa did not hold off, smelling blood and subbing in Birkir Bjarnason and Jack Grealish for Grabban and Hogan and kept looking for more goals and playing an attacking formation they’d had before. Ultimately though Villa’s selfessness kept them off the scoreboard as they passed for the perfect shot rather than taking less than perfect ones for the remainder and could only pull a plus-3 on the day.
It’s not an attempt to be mean—even though late in the match Sunderland refused to give Villa back possession after Conor Hourihane was down injured and Villa sidelined the ball—but today’s match was about how bad Sunderland is rather than about how well Villa played. Villa did well to just be on the pitch and play a normal match for themselves while Sunderland screwed their own chances and lost themselves at the back line.
Jack Grealish played commanding ball in his time coming on as a replacement, Albert Adomah played all ninety and looked his normal self. We’ll hope for a speedy recovery for Glenn Whelan off his injury, but Villa are likely to have all principal participants ready for the weekend’s huge match hosting Wolves that could go miles in determining the end of the season place of two of the Championships best clubs.