Sunderland v Aston Villa, Premier League, December 15, 2009
Sunderland entertain Aston Villa at the Stadium Of Light on Tuesday evening, with the Black Cats looking to bring the visitors back down to earth with a bump after the Villians’ chalked up a historic away-day win at Manchester United on Saturday.
Martin O’Neill’s outfit secured a shock 1-0 success at Old Trafford, with striker Gabriel Agbonlahor (8/1 to score first & Villa win) netting the only goal of the match to spark excited talk of Villa’s up-and-coming Three Lions quartet alongside Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and James Milner.
Of the four, Milner (10/1 to score first, 7/2 to score anytime), who has excelled in a new central midfield role in recent weeks, is arguably the most likely Midlander to go to South Africa next summer. Young (6/1 to score & Villa win), who continues to monitor the left hand channel for Villa, has failed to kick-on in his career as many would have expected after making an initial splash in the Premier League last season, while Downing (11/2 to score), only recently back from a long term injury, has it all to prove to convince the masses that he should be an England regular.
At the back, fourth-placed Villa are set to ring the changes. Defender Stephen Warnock suffered whiplash in a collision with Park Ji-Sung last time out, and the left-back is unlikely to be fit for the trip to the North East. His absence could prompt a recall for returning James Collins (12/1 to score), with Carlos Cuellar moving to right-back and Luke Young switching to the left to patch up the backline. Richard Dunne (8/1 to score) and Brad Friedel will complete the visitors’ rearguard.
Steve Bruce will need to pick his team up after they suffered a demoralising late setback against basement boys Portsmouth. In-form striker Darren Bent (5/1 to score first, 5/4 to score anytime) opened the scoring for the Black Cats before a leveller deep into stoppage-time from Younes Kaboul secured an unlikely point for the South Coasters.
Sunderland have now picked up just one point from their last three games since beating Arsenal 1-0 on November 21 and their mini-slump has seen them slip down to tenth place in the Premier League table. That said, the Stadium of Light continues to be somewhat of a fortress, as Sunderland’s home record remains the strongest outside of the top four having only lost to leaders Chelsea at home all season in the league.
With statistics to both undermine and support Sunderland, it should also be noted that the Black Cats have managed only two clean sheets in the league at home in eight attempts this season. (Villa are 3/1 to score in both halves.) The loss of Craig Gordon has been a huge blow, and while Martin Fulop is a decent enough understudy, the back four including Michael Turner (7/1 to score) and George McCartney and protected by the excellent Lorik Cana (25/1 to score first) still know they have more to do to prove that are not a soft touch at the back.
Steve Bruce will be encouraged by the return of Phil Bardsley and Kieran Richardson; the pair having missed the match with Pompey serving one-match bans. Striker Kenwyne Jones (11/4 to score & Sunderland win) is also tipped to make the starting line-up after recovering from a shoulder injury.
The two teams have already met this term, in the Carling Cup in October on Wearside when Villa won through to the next stage of the competition after a penalty shoot-out. Kenwyne Jones missed a penalty in normal time for the home side before Villa keeper Brad Guzan was the hero of the hour in the shoot-out.
Another victory for Villa on Tuesday, and Martin O’Neill’s charges could soon find themselves leapfrogging the likes of Man Cioty and Spurs as the front-runners to crash the Big Four party.
101predicts: Sunderland 1 – Aston Villa 2 (7/1)
Full match odds here.