Black Cats claim share of the spoils in the Midlands.
Gus Poyet’s Sunderland came close to marking a solid performance with a victory as they banked a valuable away point in the Midlands.
The visitors created much the better of the opportunities, having a goal correctly ruled out for offside before Emanuele Giaccherini touched the ball over the bar from close range just before the break.
Fabio Borini saw a header strike the crossbar in the second half, while at the other end the visitors’ defence comfortably nullified the threat of Villa talisman Christian Benteke, who hardly had a sniff.
And Poyet will have been delighted with a first away clean sheet of the season and his side’s second shut-out in three league games overall.
The visitors were solid throughout and the Uruguayan’s team selection was vindicated after he opted to shake things up for the trip to Villa Park, making three changes.
The busy Fabio Borini was handed a start along with the returning Andrea Dossena and Craig Gardner, with the latter taking on the club with whom he began his career.
Meanwhile Adam Johnson, Ondrej Celustka and Jack Colback dropped to the bench – though all three saw action as substitutes late on.
Villa, fresh from a derby comeback against West Brom, started well with Gabriel Agbonlahor glancing wide and then firing a low shot at Vito Mannone within the first five minutes.
Sunderland responded through Dossena, who blasted into the side-netting after lone striker Steven Fletcher rolled the ball across to him on a quick break.
And the duo teamed up again just after the quarter-hour, with the Italian nudging a through pass beyond the full-back for Fletcher, who managed to touch the ball beyond the advancing Brad Guzan but past the post.
Sunderland were moving the ball comfortably and frustrating the home crowd, who saw Benteke fire high and wide after being fed by Ciaran Clark just before the half-hour.
The closing stages of the half largely belonged to the visitors, who almost took the lead when Seb Larsson curled a free-kick just wide after Giaccherini was tripped by Ron Vlaar.
Phil Bardsley then had to be alert to clear a dangerous Andreas Weimann flick from inside his own six-yard box, but Sunderland ended the first period the stronger and had a goal correctly chalked off four minutes before the break when an offside Gardner fired in from the edge of the box.
The visitors also had a penalty shout waved away when they felt John O’Shea’s header struck Clark’s hand.
And they saw a gilt-edged chance to take the lead slip by just a minute before half-time.
Bardsley’s intelligent header found Giaccherini in front of goal, but the Italian scooped the ball over the crossbar from inside the six-yard box, much to his own frustration.
Having gone into the break with the initiative, Sunderland looked to continue in the same vein in the second period but were grateful to Mannone for a smart near-post save on Agbonlahor four minutes after the restart.
Ashley Westwood and Ahmed El Ahmadi fired off-target as Villa pressed, but Sunderland responded in kind as Guzan was forced to gather Giaccherini’s dangerous low ball across the face of goal.
Borini thought he’d scored with 23 minutes remaining when Giaccherini curled in a lovely cross from the left which the striker met with a looping header. Guzan was well beaten as the ball arced over his head, but the effort struck the face of the crossbar and bounced away.
Borini - Sunderland's derby hero - couldn't believe his luck.
The away side continued to threaten as a 71st-minute Borini cross from the right struck Brown at the back post and rolled goalwards only for Guzan to make a good save.
But they just couldn't break through.
Johnson, Colback and Celustka all appeared off the bench late on with Villa looking to get forward, but Sunderland comfortably kept the hosts at bay to secure a useful point.
It’s now back to the Stadium of Light to kick off the countdown to Christmas, with big guns Chelsea and Spurs next up on Wearside.
- Yellow Vlaar
- El Ahmadi (Tonev)
- Weimann (Albrighton)
- Benteke (Kozák)
- Yellow Agbonlahor
- Bardsley Yellow
- Dossena (Celustka)
- Gardner (Colback)
- Borini (Johnson)