Club Focus – Sunderland - Fortuitous but significant victory gives Sunderland a boost.
A Richard Dunne own goal gave Sunderland a first half lead they were able to just cling on to against Aston Villa at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. After five straight draws, it was a much needed victory that projected the Black Cats up into the top half of the table.
For nervous supporters, the second half must have seemed to last for hours as Villa piled on the pressure in search of an equalizer. If it was not for a spurned chance from Emile Heskey, who somehow allowed the ball to roll through his legs three yards in front of goal when scoring seemed the simpler task, it could have been a very different result. The Black Cats clung onto the lead thanks to some resolute and dogged defending. It was further evidence that a new steely mindset has been instilled into the current side, something that manager Steve Bruce deserves a lot of credit for. It is indicative of the current congestion in the Premier League table that the Black Cats began the day hovering just above the relegation zone, but ended it in 7th place, just three points from a Champions League place.
After the game Bruce was predictably delighted with the result: “We got the three points and that’s the main thing” he said: “The lads at the back and the whole team have dug in. To be fair Aston Villa are a good team. There was an expectation in having Villa at home but they have good players and are regularly in the top six.” It was a significant day for goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. His clean sheet was his third in his many games, equaling a Premier League record for Sunderland. He chose to thank his defensive colleagues after the game: “I have to thank all the defenders in front of me who are doing very well. When we don’t give away too many chances it is easier for the goalkeeper. I am very happy with three in a row (clean sheets) - I couldn’t ask for anything more.” Fans will undoubtedly be asking for a fourth.
Ahmed Elmohamady was taken off in a lot of pain towards the end of the game, but Bruce revealed after the game he thought he would be ok, describing it as: “just a knock.” There are still a few unanswered questions, such as who is going to take the weight of goalscoring responsibility off Darren Bent’s shoulders as own goals - that incidentally moved into second place in the Black Cat’s scoring charts for this year - can not be relied on every week. Asamoah Gyan was again kept on the bench, coming on late only to spurn a good chance and the pressure will probably be on Bruce to start the Ghanaian international sooner or later. However, it has been an excellent weekend for Sunderland, and a massive boost with the North East derby looming large.