FOR the second consecutive game Sunderland were denied a penalty when an opposition handball was disregarded in the area.
Last time out it was Stoke City and Steven Fletcher’s goal-bound shot which struck Robert Huth’s arm – a decision which Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill admitted would have been harsh had it gone against the German defender.
On Saturday, he wasn’t so sure.
Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke had both arms up and away from his body when he handled John O’Shea’s glanced header in the 65th minute and the Sunderland manager was left a little perplexed by Cheshire referee Mike Jones’s decision to play on.
“All the players around thought it was a penalty, but the referee has chosen not to give it,” he pondered afterwards. “That is his prerogative.
“But, interestingly, we had a meeting with referees at the start of the season when they came up to us and said that incidents like that would be a automatic penalty this season; that that was something we had to expect.”
It would have been nice for Sunderland to have had the benefit of that spot-kick.
But the reality was that they had plenty of possession in this game to have won it without ever needing a controversial penalty.
That they didn’t was purely down to their own shortcomings; shortcomings which only highlighted stats showing that no Sunderland player has scored in more than five hours of football now and no side has had fewer shots on target in all four of England’s division, or in all five of Europe’s top divisions, than Sunderland.
O’Neill, though, is standing by his players.
“We need to score goals and I’d like that to happen pretty soon,” he sighed..
“We threw everything in against Villa and had plenty of attacking players on the pitch. You would think you would eke out a goal from that, but it’s just not happening at the moment.
“The most encouraging thing for me, though, was the amount of times we got one-on-one with opponents.
“We are playing with wingers and there were plenty of times when Adam Johnson and later James McClean were one-on-one.
“It didn’t happen on the day, but I have faith in my players and I don’t think it’s misplaced faith.”
“The encouragement the crowd gave us in the closing stages in the south west corner was tremendous.
“But, as I said, it’s up to us to do something to keep them enthused.
“I’m sure they will come good.
“We are capable of that.
“We’ve gone nine games into the season and there’s a long, long way to go.
“There were positives and I don’t think we deserved to lose the game for a start.
“Villa scored just as we were playing well and the game could easily have gone the other way.
“On Tuesday against Middlesbrough, I thought we were poor, but we have a big determination to turn this around and I thought we were much better against Villa.”
The manager hailed the performance of his skipper, Lee Cattermole, in particular for demonstrating the sort of resolve he is calling for from his players.
“Our captain was inspirational,” he said. “And the mood in the dressing room after the game was yes, one of disappointment, but also determination.
“We have the capabilities to get this right.
“We had numerous one on ones with opponents in the final third but we just weren’t able to make them count.”