Sunderland fire blanks in costly home Aston Villa defeat

FLYING HEADER: Phil Bardsley makes a spectacular goal line clearance
FLYING HEADER: Phil Bardsley makes a spectacular goal line clearance

PHIL Bardsley admits Sunderland’s toothlessness in front of goal is costing them dearly.

And he blamed a failure to be strong in attack, rather than a weakness in defence, for costing the Black Cats against Aston Villa yesterday.

“We dominated possession, kept the ball and moved the ball, trying to bring them out and create chances,” he said following his side’s 1-0 defeat

“We created chances but again we didn’t convert them and that has been a banana skin for us this season.

“We chased the game and tried to create opportunities in the second half, and I think Emanuele Giaccherini’s goal might have been onside – so that decision went against us.

“But at the end of the day, in front of goal, we are just simply not good enough at the minute.”

Yesterday was the ninth time in 20 Premier League games that Sunderland have failed to get on the scoresheet

And Sunderland’s paucity in attack was underlined by the fact that apart from Giaccherini’s ‘goal’, Sunderland managed only one other strike on target in the whole game when Ki Sung-Yueng forced a save out of the under-worked Brad Guzan.

It meant that the home side at the Stadium of Light were unable to overturn a 15th-minute goal caused by a combination of Lee Cattermole’s slip and Gaby Agbonlahor’s coolness in front of goal.

And that was hard to take for Bardsley, who feels Villa are not a good Premier League side.

“I don’t think Aston Villa have been as good as they have been in previous years and I thought that when they came to the Stadium of Light we had every chance of winning,” he said. “But you have to take your chances.

“If we had gone ahead, it would have been a totally different game.

“Unfortunately though, we gifted them a goal instead.”

Now that Sunderland’s five- game unbeaten run is over, Bardsley knows that he and his team-mates have to look to go on another run.

But the Villa defeat leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

“It’s another defeat at home, which is disappointing,” he said.

“The way that we have been playing going into this game, we thought we should have got something out of it but it wasn’t to be and we are very disappointed.”

The initial signs had been positive. Giaccherini dragged a sixth-minute shot from distance just wide and Fletcher, who started the fightback at the Cardiff with his third goal of the season, could have broken the deadlock two minutes later, but steered his effort past the far post.

Ji, who famously scored a New Year’s Day winner against Manchester City at the Stadium of Light two years ago, passed up an opportunity to repeat the feat when he blazed high and wide.

But all the good work was undone on the quarter-hour when Cattermole miscontrolled Valentin Roberge’s pass and allowed Agbonlahor to round keeper Vito Mannone and walk the ball into the empty net.

Jack Colback, whose deflected attempt secured a point at Cardiff, was not so fortune with 17 minutes gone when his effort cannoned off defender Ron Vlaar and flew wide, but Leandro Bacuna came close to extending the visitors’ lead seconds later as Villa’s pace on the counter hurt Sunderland, and not for the last time.

Bacuna only just failed to get a touch to Ashley Westwood’s 29th-minute cross in front of goal, but the home side gradually worked their way back into the game and Ki Sung-yueng forced a save from Guzan and a block from Vlaar in quick succession.

But it was Ji who could have restored parity three minutes before the break, only for striker Christian Benteke to throw himself into the ball’s path and rescue Villa.

Mannone came to Sunderland’s rescue within three minutes of the restart when he dived to his left to turn away Bacuna’s well-struck drive, but the home side responded and Ji had appeals for a penalty for handball against Lowton correctly waved away by referee Mike Jones.

The Black Cats looked to get the rough end of a tight offside call with 52 minutes gone when Giaccherini stabbed home from Fletcher’s knock-down with replays suggesting he had been harshly done to.

With Sunderland pushing men forward in the search for an equaliser, the game opened up even more and they continued to look vulnerable to the counter-attack, but Fabio Borini, who had replaced Cattermole at the break, saw a shot blocked by Nathan Baker and Bardsley fired wide from the resulting corner.

Ji made way for Jozy Altidore with 23 minutes remaining, but it was compatriot Ki who went close two minutes later with a strike from 20 yards.

But the game would have been over with 72 minutes gone had Bardsley not headed Benteke’s shot off the line after the striker had turned Roberge inside-out.

Sunderland will now take a break from the league with a home FA Cup third-round game this Sunday against Carlisle, followed by the visit of Manchester United on Tuesday in the League Cup.