CHRIS YOUNG: Golden opportunity missed at Aston Villa... but signs of improvement for Sunderland

Sunderland's Emanuele Giaccherini misses an easy chance.
Sunderland's Emanuele Giaccherini misses an easy chance.
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PRINCE William must have thought this rare visit to see his beloved Aston Villa was a home banker as he took his place in the Villa Park corporate boxes.

Villa had romped to six in last season’s corresponding fixture and faced a Sunderland side without an away point, or even goal, since August.

That search for a precious goal on the road continues, yet at least Sunderland have stopped the rot.

A clean sheet, no own goals and no sending-off’s made a pleasant surprise after the three “freak” away games Gus Poyet had presided over.

But Sunderland were rightfully left ruing one that got away after a glorious opportunity to take all three points.

Chances don’t come any better than the one which fell to Emanuele Giaccherini on the stroke of half-time.

It was harder to miss than score, yet the ball sat up on the 5ft 6in midfielder, who somehow scooped it over the top.

Giaccherini had his head in his hands for the majority of the final skirmishes in the first half. Given Poyet had built the Italian international up as “Sunderland’s Gianfranco Zola” before kick-off, it was an infamous contribution.

If that was a criminal miss, then Fabio Borini’s header which crashed against the bar in the second half simply lacked fortune.

Yet a point at least provides a foundation to solving Sunderland’s away form.

Speaking of foundations, Wes Brown again displayed what a difference he makes to Sunderland back-line and how crucial it was that the club were successful in the appeal against the centre-half’s ludicrous red card.

Brown and John O’Shea, a major doubt to face Chelsea on Wednesday after limping through the closing minutes, were superb in dealing with the subdued Christian Benteke, with Gabby Agbonlahor providing the only real threat to Sunderland’s back-line.

Sunderland took the sting out of Villa during the opening stages of each half and gradually, the Black Cats began to show more adventure.

Andrea Dossena offered a better balance down the left flank and the back-from-suspension full-back showed no lack of ambition - bombing forward as a supplementary winger to his fellow Italians Borini and Giaccherini.

Craig Gardner, also restored to the starting line-up, injected an attacking element too and made several intelligent runs in behind the Villa back-line.

But the Brummie was either let down though by poor execution or playmaker Ki Sung-Yeung delaying his pass over the top.

Predictably, there was a response from Villa in the early stages of the second half, but Sunderland weathered the storm.

Other than Agbonlahor shot towards the near post, after catching out Dossena, which Vito Mannone routinely pushed behind, Sunderland kept things solid.

Again, Sunderland began to sense there was an opening for victory and it would have arrived had Borini’s header crashed in off the bar, rather than bouncing back flush off it.

Given Sunderland’s torrid away form, there was an ominous worry that Sod’s Law would then strike and Villa would emerge victorious.

But a point provides an acceptable springboard for two dauntingly difficult fixtures later this week.