Sunderland will be looking to build on their first point of the new season by collecting victory when they travel to Aston Villa for a fixture which has hardly been full of goals in recent times.
Claiming a win at Bournemouth on opening day was the ideal start for Villa, but they have been edged out twice since then in two displays which suggested that the team is very much a work in progress. They lacked creativity and had few chances in the home loss to Manchester United, while it was a defensive error that cost them last time out at Crystal Palace, conceding the decisive goal in the closing stages after holding firm under pressure.
Things may have panned out differently in South London had Gabriel Agbonlahor managed to convert a very presentable first half chance, but there were positives to take for manager Tim Sherwood as he continues to search for his best starting line-up. Signed recently from Barcelona, Adama Traore made an excellent impact on debut, showing a degree of pace which will surely cause problems for a Sunderland defence which is not renowned for its nimble footwork.
There is still work to be done for Sunderland to reach the levels to which they aspire, but the draw at home to Swansea City did at least offer some reasons for renewed optimism. The application and the intensity that was so obviously – and inexplicably – missing in the abject failure against Norwich City returned to an extent and they had chances to win it late on as well as a very reasonable shout for a penalty, but the point earned by Jermain Defoe’s goal was pleasing enough in the circumstances.
That is especially as they were fortunate to be just the one goal behind by the hour mark, only for Swansea to be profligate in front of goal in their pursuit of a second goal which would surely have clinched the game. As he prepares for the first away game since opening day, Dick Advocaat will be keen to ensure his team keeps thing tight early on, but the start to the season both sides have made implies that any win will have to be ground out.
Some members of the Villa squad have been struck down by illness in recent days, but Sherwood has refused to reveal their identities. Scott Sinclair will hope to feature from the start after scoring a hat-trick in midweek against Notts County in the Capital One Cup.
Sunderland could give a debut to new loan signing Ola Toivonen, who is likely to be named among the substitutes. Billy Jones and Jeremain Lens should be fit after missing Tuesday’s 6-3 win over Exeter City.
Played for both – Gavin McCann: The defensive midfielder received his only England cap in 2001 while he was a Sunderland player. He helped them to promotion to the Premier League in 1999 and was a key player in their side until they were relegated in 2003. Villa secured his signature that summer, and he went on to score three goals in 110 league appearances, achieving a sixth-placed finish in 2004.