If the sign of a successful team is to play badly and win, then Aston Villa look like becoming Premier League champions. Pete Sixsmith reports on a frustrating afternoon and gives his view on those refereeing decisions
If there were a competition to find the most exasperating afternoon you have ever had at the Stadium of Light, Aston Villa would almost certainly figure in it.
Last season, Danny Collins saw a perfectly good winner chalked off by Steve Bennett. This year, Villa came, did an excellent impersonation of smash and grab raiders, and, with the help of Mike Dean, left with three undeserved points.
Let’s deal with Dean first. Generally, he had a rotten game and allowed Villa to foul at will in the first 20 minutes. Martin O’Neill is no angel (he signed Robbie Savage and turned him into a world class a***hole) and he knows that if fouls are passed on, referees are less likely to clamp down. So, in that first 20 minutes, no player committed more than one foul. And guess what? No Villa player was booked.
I will accept that Dean may not have had a clear view of the equaliser. He seemed to look for guidance to his assistant, who made no decision, so he had to give the goal. You win some, you lose some – or if you are Sunderland, you win none and lose lots.
What I cannot accept is the penalty decision. He was well placed and the foul (if there was one) was outside the area. The fact that Agbonlahor ended up in the penalty area is irrelevant and is a view that can be entertained only by people whose knowledge of football is equal to that of a gnat – like Mike Dean and Alan Shearer.
This awful decision cost us at least a point in a game in which we played well. Sbragia picked a well balanced team which took advantage of Villa’s weaknesses at full back and was able (for the first hour at least) to nullify the pace of Young and Agbonlahor.
But one goal was never enough and once again we were left to rue the cost of missed chances. Whitehead was foiled by a decent save from Friedel, Jones did all the hard work and then scuffed his shot, while for the second week running, Cissé looked a certain scorer, but did not provide.
Failure to extend the lead leaves you susceptible to breakaways and we fell for it. We were a tad unfortunate in that Nyron appeared to pull a muscle as he went to cut off Young, but it is debatable whether he would have got there. Milner was too sharp for Chimbonda and the ball ended up in the net. Frustrating.
The second one was a route one special. Big kick, bouncing ball, no cover. While McShane should have attacked it, Ferdinand should have been there first, allowing McShane and Agbonlahor to crash harmlessly into each other.
It was clearly outside the box. That was where the offence took place and it should have been a direct free kick. Not for Mad Mike, who had walked around shaking his head at Sunderland appeals all afternoon.
We are in trouble. This was a good performance but we came away without any points. Villa, on the other hand, were second best for much of the game and came away with all three.
The New York Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez once said “I would rather be lucky than good” – a quote that sums up Villa’s day in the Light. Let’s hope we can gain revenge on them next season – and we’ll bring our own referee if you don’t mind.