Black Cats suffer New Year's Day defeat.
Sunderland suffered a New Year’s Day defeat as an early goal proved enough for Aston Villa to claim the three points.
Gabriel Agbonlahor capitalised on an error on the quarter-hour to secure victory for the visitors on Wearside.
Sunderland created chances and had a goal ruled out for offside in the second half but couldn’t find a way through the visiting defence as Gus Poyet’s side suffered their first defeat in six games.
Poyet opted for four changes to the side which drew at Cardiff, bringing in Ji Dong-won for his first start since August in place of Fabio Borini.
Jack Colback – making his 100th league appearance for the club – and Steven Fletcher replaced Seb Larsson and Jozy Altidore, while Ondrej Celustka stepped in for Andrea Dossena.
Emanuele Giaccherini was busy early on, firing just wide from the edge of the box before seizing on a loose ball to advance and tee up Fletcher, whose angled drive flashed wide of the far post.
The little Italian also carved out his side’s third chance of the first 10 minutes, dinking a delightful cross over the head of Antonio Luna at the back post for Ji, who controlled the ball well on his chest but could only fire wide from an acute angle.
But, despite their bright start, the visitors found themselves behind on the quarter-hour as Villa took the lead with their first effort on goal.
Lee Cattermole miscontrolled a pass on the edge of his own area, allowing Agbonlahor to seize possession and swerve around Vito Mannone before slotting the ball into the empty net.
The goal was cruel on Sunderland, who came close to a leveller just moments later only for Colback to see his shot from 12 yards blocked by Ron Vlaar after Ji had found him with a low cross.
But Villa had plenty of pace on the break and could have extended their lead on 25 minutes but for a fine save by Mannone, who parried out Agbonlahor’s powerful effort from the edge of the box.
Then Villa keeper Guzan was busy at the other end, getting down well at his near post to gather Ki’s shot after the South Korean profited from a neat square ball by Phil Bardsley.
Sunderland continued to chip away at the visitors but Ki’s countryman, Ji, had the only other chance of the first period – meeting a half-cleared corner with a powerful snapshot which was deflected behind off a Villa defender.
Poyet made a change at the break, introducing Borini in place of Cattermole.
After Mannone made a good save to tip away an early deflected shot from Leandro Bacuna, Sunderland thought they were back in the game seven minutes into the second half.
A cross into the box eventually found its way to Giaccherini, who turned to blast the ball home only for the goal to be ruled out by an offside flag.
Sunderland pressed, with Borini and Bardsley both just missing the target before Jozy Altidore came off the bench in place of Ji.
Ki then fired wide from the edge of the box, but at the other end Sunderland were grateful to Bardsley for a fine headed clearance off the line to deny Christian Benteke on the break.
Poyet introduced Adam Johnson in an attacking change – the winger replacing Valentin Roberge 13 minutes from time – and although the hosts toiled, they couldn’t find a way through with the visitors keen to counter-attack.
Sub Marc Albrighton was denied by a good save by Mannone, while the same player should have scored four minutes from the end but blazed high and wide when clean through on goal.
Fabien Delph also fired over in the closing stages as Villa weathered a late Sunderland push to secure victory.
- Roberge (Johnson)
- Yellow Ki
- Yellow Colback
- Cattermole (Borini)
- Yellow Giaccherini
- Ji (Altidore)
- Vlaar (Albrighton)
- Bacuna Yellow
- Delph Yellow
- Agbonlahor Yellow
- Yellow Altidore
- El Ahmadi