Black Cats start 2014 with home defeat

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Final Score: Sunderland 0 Aston Villa 1

GUS POYET pinpointed January as a key month for his side to make up ground at the bottom of the Premier League, but Sunderland couldn’t make it a happy start to 2014 after taking another step back in their fight for survival.

If the Wearsiders are going to avoid relegation at the end of the season, games like yesterdays against Aston Villa are ones they simply have to win. Or at least get something from.

Boxing Day’s win over Everton followed by a crucial draw at Cardiff City last weekend had given the Black Cats’ chances of surviving a huge boost, but once again they have been pegged back with Gabby Agbonlahor’s first-half goal enough to give Paul Lambert’s men three points at the Stadium of Light.

A New Year’s Day win on Wearside could have seen Sunderland move out of the bottom three depending on other results, but their defeat to Villa coupled with a win for Fulham and a point for Crystal Palace mean the gap to safety has gone from two points to four.

And like has been the case on many occasions this season, the Black Cats were the architects of their own downfall when Lee Cattermole’s error led to Agbonlahor’s winner 15 minutes in.

Lady luck hasn’t always been smiling on Wearside this season either and when Fabio Borini’s second half strike was ruled our for offside even though replays showed the striker was level, you could sense it just wasn’t Sunderland’s day again.

It was a frustrating afternoon at the Stadium of Light for more ways than one with too many players not at the races being compounded by their miserable luck this season.

Poyet handed Ji Dong-Won his first start since October, while Ondrej Celustka, Jack Colback and Steven Fletcher all returned to the side after missing out at Cardiff.

With the chance to move out the bottom three – other results permitting – the Black Cats got off to a good start with Emanuele Giaccherini looking lively on the left.

The Italian saw a 25-yard effort land just wide of Brad Guzan’s near post in the sixth minute and 60 seconds later he teed up Fletcher in the box but the striker sent his shot well wide.

A deep Giaccherini cross evaded Antonio Luna moments later allowing Ji to control and shoot but he could only hit the side-netting.

It was a positive start from the Black Cats as they looked to continue their good form of late, but like on so many occasions this season, they were the architects of their own downfall.

Fifteen minutes in Roberge sent a routine pass to Cattermole, but he miscontrolled it, allowing Agbonlahor to steal the ball, round Vito Mannone and give the visitors a lead very much against the run of play.

The Black Cats could have equalised two minutes later when Ji found Colback on the edge of the area but Ron Vlaar got a crucial block in to divert his effort away from goal.

Villa responded almost immediately and with the Black Cats not getting tight enough to their front men, Agbonlahor found himself through on goal again but luckily his shot whistled inches past the post.

Mannone made a strong save to deny Villa’s number 11 in the 25th minute and then six minutes later Cattermole almost gifted Lambert’s men another clear chance.

The out-of-sorts midfielder was dispossessed by Agbonlahor for the second time, but he did well to get back to make the all-important tackle to deny the visitors another goalscoring opportunity.

A succession of corners before half time gave Sunderland a chance to go in at the break level, but Christian Benteke was on hand to block Ji’s goal-bound shot.

Poyet brought Fabio Borini on to replace Cattermole at half time, but the Black Cats started the second half on the back foot with Mannone making an excellent save to deny Leandro Bacuna’s deflected shot.

The hosts had desperate appeals for a penalty waved away by referee Mike Jones after Ji’s shot had hit Matthew Lowton, but replays confirmed the ball had hit the defender’s chest and not his arm.

Calls for a spot-kick showed Sunderland’s desperation, but minutes later they had cause to feel aggrieved when Borini had a goal disallowed.

Fletcher’s knockdown found the Italian striker to dispatch the ball past Brad Guzan, but the linesman flagged for offside even though replays showed the Black Cats man was level.

It turned into a scrappy affair in the second period but Villa’s front line continued to threaten on the break with Benteke forcing an excellent goal line clearance from Phil Bardsley.

Knowing his side needed to get something out of the game to keep their survival hopes on track, Poyet replaced Roberge with Johnson and went with three at the back, but it was Villa who continued to dominate the chances with substitute Marc Albrighton forcing a good save from Mannone.

The Villa midfielder had a great chance to put the game to bed with five minutes left when he went through one on one with Mannone, but he sent his shot well over the bar.

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