SUNDERLAND failed to take advantage of a man advantage at Aston Villa, as the Black Cats registered their sixth goalless draw of the campaign.
It was a familiar story of frustration for draw-specialists Sunderland after Gus Poyet’s side were unable to find a breakthrough, despite playing with a man advantage for almost 45 minutes.
Following a dire opening half, Villa were reduced to 10 men just after the interval when England international Fabian Delph was shown a straight red card for a poor, studs-up challenge on Jordi Gomez.
Sunderland huffed and puffed, but it wasn’t until Jordi Gomez’s drive hit the post in the final few minutes that they seriously threatened to find the breakthrough.
Villa could even have snatched it themselves after a couple of near-misses at the death.
Connor Wickham returned from suspension as one of three changes to the starting line-up from Gus Poyet.
Wickham replaced Ricky Alvarez, while Liam Bridcutt and Wes Brown came in for Lee Cattermole and Sebastian Coates, who were both among the substitutes.
Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert made two changes to the side which lost at Swansea on Boxing Day, with Charles N’Zogbia and Andreas Weimann taking the places of Jores Okore and the suspended Gabby Agbonlahor.
Christian Benteke produced the game’s first meaningful effort in the fifth minute when he made half-a-yard for himself on the edge of the area and unleashed a right-footed shot which cleared the bar by a foot.
Sunderland were forced into an early change after Bridcutt failed to recover from an accidental knee to the face from Christian Benteke, and Cattermole took the place of the ex-Brighton man.
WIckham was a whisker away in the 22nd minute after receiving Billy Jones’ lay-off on the far left-hand side of the area before curling a right-footed shot which drifted inches wide of the far post.
HALF-TIME Villa 0 Sunderland 0
Villa started the second half brightly and went close after just 90 seconds when Cattermole’s loose pass was intercepted by Carlos Sanchez.
The Colombian played it first-time to Weimann down the left-hand side of the area, but he fired just wide of the far post.
Moments later, Villa were reduced to 10 men when Delph produced a poor, studs-up challenge on Jordi Gomez and was issued with a straight red card from referee Martin Atkinson.
Sunderland became more adventurous after the sending off and had a chance in the 65th minute when Wickham laid it back to Johnson, 15 yards out, but it was on the winger’s weaker right foot and he shot straight at Brad Guzan.
Villa then survived an almighty goalmouth scramble after substitute Emanuele Giaccherini’s shot was deflected and kept in on the left-hand by-line by Johnson.
The winger’s pull-back richocheted off Giaccherini into the path of Wickham, whose back-heel was blocked by Guzan before the follow-up was deflected behind.
Villa still showed some attacking ambition though, with substitute Jack Grealish curling a right-footed shot just wide of the far post in the 74th minute.
Vlaar’s header from Grealish’s corner was then turned behind at the near post by Pantilimon after a deflection off Brown.
Sunderland were denied by the woodwork with two minutes to go when Gomez unleashed an angled left-footed drive from 20 yards which crashed against the far post.
Villa broke and almost snatched it themselves when the impressive Carlos Sanchez fed substitute Leandro Bacuna down the left-hand side of the area, but his shot was turned behind at the near post by Pantilimon.
The hosts went even closer in the last minute of stoppage time when Bacuna’s raking cross from the left bounced off a combination of Benteke and Pantilimon and hit the side netting.
FULL-TIME Aston Villa 0 Sunderland 0
ASTON VILLA: Guzan, Hutton, Vlaar, Clark (Okore 61), Cissokho, Delph, Sanchez, Cleverley (Grealish 68), Weimann, N’Zogbia (Bacuna 57), Benteke. Subs not used: Given, Herd, Lowton, Robinson. Booked: Vlaar (44). Sent off: Delph (49)
SUNDERLAND: Pantilimon, Vergini (Buckley 78), Brown, O’Shea, Jones, Bridcutt (Cattermole 19), Larsson (Giaccherini 57), Gomez, Johnson, Wickham, Fletcher. Subs not used: Mannone, Altidore, Alvarez, Coates. Booked: Cattermole (56), Johnson (73), Giaccherini (90)