In the context of the season, this was a big win. Not only was it Sunderland’s first away win of 2008, but it was their first goal away in 2008 also. This was the monkey off their back. It was the springboard for the consecutive wins against West Ham and Fulham that followed.
Roy Keane had stressed this was coming. Only a couple of weeks before, Michael Chopra wrongly had a goal chalked off for offside away to Derby County. It was a decision that infuriated Sunderland and their manager alike. It was a decision that VAR would have overturned if it happened today.
Thankfully for Chopra, and Sunderland, no flag was raised this time at Villa Park and the away side left Birmingham with the three points in their back pocket.
Sunderland went into this game on the back of decent performances against Chelsea and Derby in the weeks previous. The results weren’t exactly following but the signs were there that Keane seemed to know what he was talking about when he suggested this result was coming.
A week on from his outstanding performance against Chelsea, Kenwyne Jones was unavailable for the away side due to illness. This was a big blow considering they had not scored away from home in the calendar year.
Keane stayed patriotic and loyal to his fellow countrymen. Roy O’Donovan got his second league start in a row and was partnered with the industrious Daryl Murphy. Michael Chopra would have to bide his time on the bench before making an impact in this game.
This game was not a classic by any means. Aston Villa, managed by future Sunderland manager Martin O’ Neill, were not playing well. He was under pressure and the Villa Park fateful were not shy in expressing their discontent with the manager.
Villa played like a team who were struggling. In hindsight, it was a perfect match for Sunderland. Bolstered by the signings of Phil Bardsley and Johnny Evans in January, Sunderland certainly were tougher to beat and they sat in and soaked up the pressure.
There were few chances throughout. John Carew almost gave Villa the perfect start after four minutes when he produced a surprise overhead kick which flew narrowly wide, with Sunderland keeper Craig Gordon left motionless.
Other than that, Sunderland were quite comfortable. In the Villa goal, Scott Carson looked like a player crippling under the tense atmosphere that was surrounding him. He was fortunate to escape in the 23rd minute when he dropped a long ball and appeared to handle outside the area as he attempted to retrieve the situation, but referee Howard Webb ignored Sunderland’s appeals.
Roy O’Donovan showed lots of heart throughout. He and Murphy lacked quality but not industry and hard work. O’Donovan should have put Sunderland ahead when he directed a poor header well over the bar when unmarked only eight yards out.
The second half followed the same pattern. Marlon Harewood came on and certainly made an impact. He went very close for Aston Villa in their best chance in the game. He muscled defender Nyron Nosworthy out of the way, but steered his first touch of the game inches wide with only Gordon to beat.
They would go on to rue this missed opportunity. As Chopra was introduced with a half hour to go, Sunderland grew in confidence and pushed for a winner. Just after the 80th minute, their chance came.
Kieran Richardson played a long speculative ‘hit and hope’ ball over the top for the aforementioned Chopra. He raced clear past Zat Knight and lobbed the oncoming Scott Carson. It was nothing short of what Sunderland deserved.
This win was massive in their battle for survival. It would only get better a week later at home to West Ham.
Aston Villa 0-1 Sunderland
Aston Villa: Carson, Gardner, Knight, Laursen, Bouma, Maloney (Osbourne 74), Reo-Coker (Harewood 57), Barry, Young, Agbonlahor, Carew.
Subs Not Used: Taylor, Salifou, Petrov.
Sunderland: Gordon, Bardsley, Evans, Nosworthy, Collins, Edwards (Leadbitter 67), Whitehead, Richardson, Reid, O’Donovan (Chopra 59), Murphy (Yorke 87).
Subs Not Used: Fulop, Prica