A good night for Phil Bardsley, a bad night for Danny Welbeck and a dreadful night for poor David Meyler. Fir the second successive year, Bob Chapman steps into Pete Sixsmith’s shoes to report from Villa Park …
How times change. Last March I reported on this same fixture.
We were just about safe, though I was still chewing nails. On the other hand Villa were challenging for a European place. We drew 1-1 and I reported what an influence John Mensah had been in securing a point.
This season we have reversed those roles, but once again it was a centre half, Titus Bramble who impressed me most and helped secures the points, all three this time.
My younger brother Tim once again accompanied me to the game. With FTM clearly tattooed on his body he loathes Newcastle with a vengeance. I can still picture his face when I told him we were going to sign Titus Bramble.
Being family, I knew I could go one step further and describe it as a great signing. He was not in the least bit impressed. I had seen Titus when he first came on the scene with Ipswich. As a youngster, in his debut season, he gave such an impressive performance down at Portman Road, that I thought I had just seen the future England centre half. Needless to say we got beaten and unlike Pete I can’t remember the score or season, though a domineering performance by Titus is etched on my memory.
I suppose this match will be remembered not by the three points gained, but by the serious injury to David Meyler. I must admit I was surprised how quickly he re-established himself in the side after recovering from his first injury.
Then to be involved in only four games before picking up the same injury must be devastating for the lad. Bolo Zenden replaced him and effectively almost opened the scoring for Villa. Losing the ball on the touchline enabled Heskey to hit the bar from point blank range.
Heskey then proceeded to miss a second chance, heading wide from Young’s cross. Up to that point the game itself had been pretty mundane with a draw written all over it. As the teams went in at half time it would have been Villa who would have been the more optimistic about getting that first goal and grinding out a victory.
The half time team talk must have had some effect as we started much more brightly. With Henderson dominating the midfield we managed to exert some early pressure on Villa.
However it was a Bramble “hoof it” clearance that set up Bent for a chance that was cleared off the line. He did well to create the chance for himself but will be disappointed that he didn’t put it away.
Thank goodness he notched one against Blackburn, otherwise his confidence would have taken a big hit. Soon after this chance, Malbranque went close with a volley and I was beginning to think that a win was within us as we were playing the better more penetrating football. Villa seemed to lack a cutting edge. Heskey was having a decent game, but Agbonlahor seems to be a shadow of the player that caused such damage with his pace and power. Similarly Downing and Young looked pretty in their January Sales outfits. I wonder?
The turning point was clearly the Heskey sending off. With memory of Blackburn away, when Samba went, my thoughts were “here we go again” – another draw, unable to press home our advantage. However, proved wrong yet again, Phil Bardsley scored with a screamer, his first and Sunderland’s first from outside the box this season.
But, being Sunderland we seem always to make hard work of it. Zenden went for an innocuous challenge that Peter Walton used to balance things out. Ten years ago neither would have gone.
Even worse Asamoah Gyan missed a sitter when clean through, although he should have squared it to Darren Bent. So once again the nails were being bitten as I thought Villa are bound to score. However we held out largely as a result of a towering performance by the back four, especially the ex Ipswich player Titus Bramble. We all make mistakes my brother Tim should forgive and forget.