Wise Men Say: Why were we ever worried about Villa game!

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Relief. Sweet, sweet relief. We all knew how big the game against Aston Villa was and, while we’re still far from out of the woods, we’ve at least kept ourselves in with a chance of finding a way out.

At the risk of writing cliché, it was a game in which big characters and experience was probably going to be enough to get either side over the line.

With Lee Cattermole dominating midfield, Jermain Defoe’s class up front and John O’Shea and Wes Brown barely letting anything past them, you wonder why we were ever worried about this game at all.

Especially when you look at an Aston Villa side totally bereft of confidence, style and leaders.

Despite a well-taken goal from Carles Gil, Villa looked lost, even when in possession.

Before we took the lead, the visitors enjoyed the majority of possession, but the football philosophy of “the team with the ball, carries the fear” could not have been more appropriate.

Villa looked terrified to attempt anything creative.

Sunderland fans should take some perverse confidence from that though. Our players didn’t look scared and our off-the-ball work was very good, often pressurising Villa into mistakes.

Patrick van Aanholt’s goal may have contained a huge, Micah Richards-shaped slice of luck, but the way Cattermole and Duncan Watmore pressed and challenged to win the ball back in the build-up was exactly what we needed to see during the game.

The will to try and impact the game positively was typified by van Aanholt’s effort too, a player who, under Sam Allardyce, looks to be regaining his confidence.

It was a game that also emphasised how important Cattermole is to our side.

On the 10th anniversary of his Premier League debut, he was committed and, along with Yann M’Vila, ran the midfield.

His decision not to shoot, whild in the box, in stoppage time and hold the ball in the corner was a great showing of his ability to keep calm during such a frantic game.

The fact that it ended up leading to the third goal anyway was absolute justice.

That third goal, of course, was Jermain Defoe’s second after a lovely piece of interplay by Ola Toivonen and Danny Graham. It was Defoe’s first that was a real thigh-rubber though.

Adam Johnson’s ball was perfect for the striker, who took an exquisite first touch before firing past Brad Guzan at his near post.

With goals like that, it’s exactly why he should be starting when fit.

Even if he left Sunderland tomorrow, he’d leave with probably the best “really, really important goal” ratio of any player in recent memory.

What a deal we got swapping Jozy for him.

So now the bleak, barren run of December is behind us and we can look ahead to trying to get ourselves back on track in 2016.

Hopefully we’ve had all of our bad luck with injuries this campaign and, with potential new signings this month, we can allow ourselves a bit of positivity for a few days.

It’s the cup this weekend as well, anything can happen!

It’ll soon dawn on me that the next few games are massive, though, and I’ll go back to chewing my fingernails back down to the bone every weekend.

Not just yet though.

* The Wise Men Say podcast is available from every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests and post-match reaction. You can stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes