The Duke of Cambridge may have been among the spectators at Villa Park on Saturday, but the finishing on display was anything but majestic as Aston Villa were involved in a goalless draw with Sunderland, who had come into the game propping up the Premier League.
From the home side, it was a performance which completely lacked the relentless energy and the quality of attacking football that was seen on Sunderland’s previous visit, where an inspired Villa trounced the Black Cats 6-1, on a night where everything came together absolutely perfectly for Paul Lambert’s men.
By comparison, this showing was lacklustre, and it was the strugglers who in reality should have come away with all three points. Villa’s best efforts came early on, but neither Gabriel Agbonlahor on his return to the starting line-up nor the out-of-form Christian Benteke could severely test Vito Mannone in the Sunderland goal.
Only a shocking miss by Emanuele Giaccherini, who stabbed the ball over an open goal with the goal at his mercy, prevented Villa from losing their fifth home game out of seven so far this season. Indeed, they also had to be thankful to referee Neil Swarbrick, who turned down strong appeals from Sunderland for a penalty against Ciaran Clark in the first half.
The only major positive that Paul Lambert could take from the game was that his side kept yet another clean sheet, one which takes the tally for this season beyond that for 2012-13, which is a fine achievement, and testament to the work that has been done over the last two and-a-half months to achieve greater defensive solidarity.
Clearly though, an opportunity to strengthen the club’s position in the Premier League table went begging. It was a game that Villa would have fancied themselves to win, against a team who had only picked up one point on their travels this season, scoring a meagre two goals in the process. Victory would have seen the hosts move on to 18 points and into the top half, a full eight points above the relegation zone.
As it is, the cushion is currently a respectable six points, and Villa are unquestionably looking up rather than down this time around. Performances like these, however, must be eradicated if they are to realise their ambition and return to fighting for a position in the top 10, as on another day, they would have been punished.
Looking ahead, Villa now have two away games coming up in the next week, and their results suggest that they may be helped by this. On Wednesday, they go to Southampton, who despite losing their last two league games will still prove to be tricky opponents, and are a side that know how to beat Villa, having done the double over them last season.
A trip to Fulham follows next Sunday, and Villa will be wary of any side under new management, but as Agbonlahor, Fabian Delph and Andreas Weimann regain match fitness, they enter this double header at almost full strength.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Southampton