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Match Report: Aston Villa 0-0 Sunderland - Honours Even In O'Neill's Return

James McClean was a constant source of danger this afternoon.
James McClean was a constant source of danger this afternoon.

The second 0-0 draw in a row for Martin O'Neill's men are still searching for a goal in the month of April, with only one game left of the month.

Today's game wasn't quite as "nil-nilly" as the outcome may have made it look, but overall, given the chances created and of course the goal disallowed, we'll have to look at it as probably two points dropped. About even at half time, but finished the game quite strongly.

Don't just take that as the gospel though, read our full match report below, complete with player ratings and thoughts on what this result means for us moving forward...

A few changes were made for Sunderland as Martin O'Neill welcomed back John O'Shea form injury to take a right-back spot, and the captaincy, moving Phil Bardsley to left-back. In midfield Jack Colback partnered Craig Gardner, who's brother Gary would only make the bench for the hosts.

The opening to the game was as bright as the Midlands sunshine which lit up the Villa Park pitch, with the game very open, and full of attacking endeavor from both sides.

After only 20 seconds Villa could have had the lead. A poor back pass from Bardsley was charged down by Gabby Agbonlahor as Simon Mignolet tried to clear. The ball broke to Andreas Weimann, but the Austrian's hopeful hit back into the danger zone wasn't met by anyone.

Agbonlahor himself shot from outside the area which Michael Turner deflected over, while later Charles N'Zogbiadrove one low from near enough the same spot, tipped wide by Mignolet.

At the other end, James McClean seemed back in the mood, sending in a trio of dangerous crosses which although not met by a red and white body, provided the home side with a few nervy moments. Stephane Sessegnonalso saw a shot charged down, while Phil Bardsley shot comfortably wide from distance, as he's known to do

After the initial excitement, things subdued from the half hour onward. Weimann wriggled through our stubborn looking defence to shoot into the side netting, but that was about it until Nicklas Bendtner wasted a glorious chance.

Sessegnon's pass seemed over hit, but McClean had the legs to get to it just before it crossed the byline. Dinking the ball into the area where Bendtner waited, unmarked, two yards out and inexplicably headed the ball over. An unbelievable miss, and certainly the most clear cut chance of the half.

The home side dominated the opening throws of the second half, with extensive pressure being put on Mignolet's goal. Weimann blasted a free-kick into the wall, and also drilled the side netting after escaping from Matt Kilgallon'sattention before we turned into complete calamity mode.

A series of indecisive moments in defence could well have lead to a Villa opener, and at one point we seemed to be lucky to still have eleven men on the pitch when Simon Mignolet was adjudged to have handled outside the area.

A long ball dropped and as Kilgallon and O'Shea waited and waited for it to roll into the area, Mignolet came rushing out. It seems unclear whether or not the Belgian let go of the ball or not once he was out the area, but either way it was a situation which should never have been.

Our best effort of this period came when Sessegnon turned Eric Lichaj well on the edge of the area, and once inside his low and hard cross was poked over the bat by McClean. Aside from that though, up until just after the hour mark, we were being firmly penned in by the hosts.

With Villa doing most the attacking, our best chance looked to be on the counter attack, and that's just what we did as we came right back into the game.

Sessegnon meandered into the area, picked out a bad ball which some how ricocheted to Bendtner lurking around the six yard box unmarked. His shot beat Shay Given, but not Stephen Ireland who'd got back to help out his keeper and clear off the line.

Just a minute later, another incisive breakaway saw McClean ping in a lovely ball to the back post where Sebastian Larsson lurked, only to have it nipped off his toes with the goal begging.

With fifteen minutes to play, the ball was eventually in the net through Nicklas Bendtner, only to have it chalked off in a very, very tight offside call by the assistant referee on the far side. Larsson sent in a wonderful delivery, and after eluding his marker, the Dane's sliding effort went beyond a helpless Given. The decision was incredibly tight, maybe only his arm or enlarged ego being the offside part of him.

The final ten minutes of the game were full of hustle, but little bustle from both sides. McClean did well to meet a Larsson cross but the effort was straight down the neck of Given, and as things heated up, Craig Gardner picked up a second yellow for effectively a nothing foul.

Team (Ratings in brackets)

Starting XI: Mignolet (6), O'Shea (6), Turner (6), Kilgallon (7), Bardsley (5), McClean (8), Colback (7), Gardner (6), Larsson (7), Bendtner (6), Sessegnon (5)

Subs Used: Campbell (5)

Man Of The Match: James McClean - Difficult to pick one out really given that there wasn't a whole host of standout names from today, but James McClean looked like getting back to his best down the left hand side, and if we were to score, it was either going to be from him, or provided by him as he sent a string of lovely crosses this afternoon.

And so it's another game without a goal, further highlighting the fact we need a goalscorer, or at least someone who can turn games like this through a bit of genius or creation, especially when the likes of Sessegnon appear to have off days.

On the positive side of things, away points are always welcomed, as are clean sheets and that's another one for the season. Another positive is Craig Gardner's red card. I know we shouldn't look at things like that as a positive, but he's been poor for a number of weeks now, and perhaps this will give David Vaughan a chance in midfield.

Last week against Wolves we lacked invention. Today against Villa it seemed to return, but we couldn't finish our chances. Hopefully all this leads to us bringing it all together next week at home to Bolton Wanderers, and we start to take a more comfortable seat in the top ten as opposed to the precarious on we sit on at the moment.

Onwards and Upwards.

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