“The future king of England won’t be watching this game on Match of the Day”. That was the verdict of Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert after his team’s 0-0 bore draw against bottom club Sunderland at Villa Park.
Villa fan Prince William was in the crowd to watch his favourite team but even his Royal support could not influence a match which was pretty poor entertainment for the 32,000 who escaped the Christmas shopping frenzy.
The best chance of the match fell to Sunderland midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini just before the stroke of half time after some good play on the wing by former Liverpool man Fabio Borini. The ball was headed across the box to the Italian on the six yard line but with Villa keeper Brad Guzan closing in on him Giaccherini put the ball over the bar when it looked easier to score.
Sunderland could have a had a penalty in the first half when Black Cats’ defender Wes Brown scooped a shot into the box from the left which hit the arm of Villa defender Ciaran Clark but referee Neil Swarbrick waved away the Sunderland players’ frantic claims for a spot-kick.
In the second half The Mackems had another chance to clinch the three points from a barren match when former Birmingham man Sebastian Larsson put in a good delivery from the left hand side but Fabio Borini’s header hit the woodwork with Guzan well beaten.
Arguably the best chance for the home team was a header from Gabriel Agbonlahor. After slipping his man right back Leandro Bacuna played the ball down the line into the path of Andreas Weimman who put a cross in from the right corner flag but Agbonlahor headed wide after pressure from the Sunderland defence.
Villa's treasured front man Christian Benteke ran riot in last season's fixture scoring a clinical hat trick in a 6 – 1 thrashing but since returning from an early season injury the Belgian striker has struggled to hit anywhere near his best form. In the first half, full back Leandro Bacuna whipped in a cross from the right and as it fell to Benteke on the left of the area the Holte End faithful waited for the net to burst. Unfortunately, the dream finish did not materialise as the big Villa striker blasted over. Benteke was later replaced by Libor Kozak and showed his frustration by proceeding to chuck his gloves on the floor and slouch into the dugout.
Sunderland were much improved from the team’s turbulent start to the season. Despite creating only two clear chances they looked impenetrable with the former Manchester United defender's Wes Brown and Jon O'Shea providing a stable platform at the back aided by an understated performance from defensive midfielder Ki Sung Yeung.
Sunderland’s flamboyant manager Gus Poyet described this game as his team’s best away performance this season and reiterated his intentions to keep his solid centre back pairing as fit as possible throughout the upcoming busy Christmas period. When told that the Duke of Cambridge was in attendance at the dreary game he replied jokingly: “Did I upset him?”