Afternoon, all! Sunderland
's trip to Villa Park, where they endured a miserable time last season, is one of five 3.00pm Premier League kickoffs that Sports Mole
is bringing to you today.
A lot has changed since then, of course. The Black Cats have a host of new players and a new manager, but visit the venue of their 6-1 humiliation in April bottom of the Premier League.
Team news coming your way shortly...
VILLA: Guzan; Bacuna, Vlaar, Clark, Luna; Delph, Westwood, El Ahmadi; Agbonlahor, Benteke, Weimann
SUBS: Steer, Baker, Lowton, Albrighton, Sylla, Tonev, Kozak
SUNDERLAND: Mannone; Bardsley, Brown, O'Shea, Dossena; Giaccherini, Ki, Gardner, Larsson; Borini, Fletcher
SUBS: Johnson, Celustka, Colback, Altidore, Roberge, Cattermole, Pickford
Changes aplenty then, with Sunderland making three alterations and Villa four, two of which see Gabriel Agbonlahor
and Andreas Weimann
return to the starting lineup following injuries.
The pacey wingers are recalled by Paul Lambert
after coming off the bench to inspire a Villa comeback against West Brom on Monday. Their inclusion means that Lambert goes back to 4-4-3.
The Scot had named Libor Kozak alongside Christian Benteke
in recent weeks, but today reverts back to playing two wide men who will be entrusted with providing support and service to the Belgian.
Fabian Delph and Antonio Luna are also back in Villa's starting XI following spells on the sidelines, with Yacouba Sylla and Nathan Baker making way. Aleksander Tonev is another who is benched.
Sunderland manager Gus Poyet
will be relieved to have defender Wes Brown
available after the red card which infuriated the Uruguayan last week was successfully overturned on appeal.
The Black Cats boss does make one change to his back line, though, restoring Andrea Dossena at left-back after the Italian loanee completed his suspension for his dismissal against Hull City.
Ondrej Celustka is demoted to the Sunderland substitutes, with Phil Bardsley
switched to right-back, while Craig Gardner
is handed his first Premier League start in over a month in central midfield.
He replaces Jack Colback in a straight swap, while Tyne-Wear derby hero Fabio Borini
is given only his second top-flight start since arriving on loan and will play alongside Steven Fletcher
HEAD TO HEAD: Sunderland are without a win in their last four Premier League matches against Villa, having drawn two and lost two, including that 6-1 hammering in the Midlands earlier this year.
That defeat at Villa Park in April is symbolic of Sunderland's away troubles in 2013. They have lost 12 of their 15 matches on the road and have only picked up a single point on their travels this term.
We have an interesting contest on our hands today, though, as Villa have not been convincing at Villa Park under Lambert this season, having suffered the joint-most Premier League home defeats.
However, they were victorious on their own patch last time out, as they kept their first home clean sheet in 17 top-flight home games on their way to recording a 2-0 win over Cardiff City.
Benteke, who netted a club-record 18 times in the Premier League last season, was not on the scoresheet that day and is on his longest barren run in a Villa shirt with no goal in six matches.
Just under 10 minutes until kickoff in the Midlands...
ONE TO WATCH:
Fabio Borini has largely been shelved since his winning goal against Newcastle, but Gus Poyet
has found room for the Italian today in a 4-4-2 system. The Liverpool loanee will be hoping to reward his manager's faith in him by adding to his Black Cats account this afternoon.
PREDICTION: Villa have been fairly leaky at the back at home and with Sunderland having named two up front, I expect them to score this afternoon. That might not be enough, though, as Benteke is due a goal and may prosper against Sunderland as he did last term. I'll plump for 2-1 Villa.
The action is underway at Villa Park...
CHANCE! Delph makes a run across the pitch to collect a throw from an advanced position on the right wing, before turning back on himself and dinking a left-footed cross to the back post. Agbonlahor is there and connects with a glancing header, but credit to Bardsley, who had put enough pressure on the Villa man to prevent him making substantial contact, and the ball drifts a few yards wide.
SAVE! Agbonlahor is involved again as Villa show their counter-attacking capabilities. Weimann robs Ki of the ball on the halfway line and releases his fellow winger, who cuts inside to shoot, but it is a tame attempt at a curling effort which Mannone easily holds gathers.
SHOT! Sunderland have a venture forward of their own, as Fletcher gets the benefit of a fortunate bounce to spread the ball out to Dossena on the left. He's in acres of space, and takes one touch before shooting into the side netting from 20 yards, when perhaps he should have hit across goal.
Sunderland are being denied any time on the ball by a Villa side pressing them intently. They are being forced to go long, with Karim El Ahmadi man marking Ki, who is trying to come short.
This game is being played at quite a tempo, and after a 30-second spell in which both teams attacked twice but lost the ball, Giaccherini puts in a great cross to the near post which Clark clears.
No surprise that Lambert has recalled Luna today, as the full-back gives Villa so much going forward down the left. He squares up Bardsley here, but the Sunderland man blocks his cross behind.
Dossena finds Gardner's intelligent run into the box with a chipped ball over the top, but the midfielder mishits his attempted lob over the outrushing Guzan, and the effort finishes well wide.
It has been a lively start here, particularly from the hosts who look more of a threat with Weimann and Agbonlahor back in the team, but we are still goalless. As is the rest of the Premier League.
Wes Brown has looked as good as ever since returning from an 18-month injury layoff. He will have his hands full with Benteke this afternoon and has kept very close tabs on the Belgian thus far.
For the second time in short succession, Villa fail to properly clear a Sunderland set piece. The ball is shifted to Ki, who squares behind an unmarked Fletcher, and in front of Larsson at the back post.
UPDATE: The first top-flight goal of the afternoon is scored by Arsenal, as Aaron Ramsey nets the opener against the club where he started his career, Cardiff City, in Wales.
CHANCE! El Ahmadi gets to the right byline and then slides to cut a pass back to Weimann. He turns and lays the ball off for Benteke to shoot, but his curling effort from 15 yards was always rising above the crossbar. Credit to Brown, whose closing down of the Belgian forced him into shooting first time.
Sunderland have a free kick in a promising position after Giaccherini cleverly rolled the ball away from Vlaar, who stuck out a leg and brought the Italian down only a foot or so outside of the box.
CLOSE! Larsson is over the set piece, with Sunderland committing plenty of bodies forward for him to cross to. Instead, though, the Swede tries to catch out Guzan with a powerful, curling effort which did not quite have enough bend on it to sneak inside the American's far post.
Delph travels with the ball unchallenged, and Sunderland continue to back off him. The Villa man accepts their invitation to have a shot, which swerves away from goal and a couple of yards wide.
PENALTY APPEAL! After brilliant work from Weimann on the right edge of the box, Agbonlahor lays the ball off for Westwood to have a strike which is blocked by a Sunderland body. Villa believe that it is handball against Bardsley, but referee Neil Swarbrick gets this one right by not awarding a spot kick, as the Black Cats full back was struck high on the back.
DISALLOWED! Ki tries to slip in Gardner through the middle and when Clark stretches out a leg to intercept the pass, it falls kindly to the former Villa player, who turns and tucks the ball into the bottom corner. However, he was correctly adjudged to be offside from Ki's initial pass.
Sunderland have a half-hearted penalty shout of their own, as the ball bounces off a grounded Wes Brown and flicks the hand of Clark on its way behind for another corner. That would have been harsh.
MISS! A corner is taken short to Ki, who picks out Bardsley's smart run to the back stick. He cushions a pass across goal for Giaccherini, who, from six yards out, cannot get over his side-foot volley under pressure from Guzan. Poyet cannot believe that his side aren't in front!
HALF-TIME: VILLA 0-0 SUNDERLAND
That was a fairly even first period at Villa Park, but Sunderland really should be ahead. They had by far the best chance of the opening 45, but Giaccherini somehow scooped the ball over from six yards.
Villa had previously had sights of goal through Agbonlahor and Benteke, but have not really tested Vito Mannone in the Black Cats net as they again failed to score in the first half at Villa Park.
STATS: Possession has been split fairly evenly so far, with Sunderland just edging it with 52%. They have yet to register a shot on target, although Villa have only managed one themselves. Despite their failure to test Guzan, Poyet will be the happier of the two managers at the interval.
BENCH WATCH: Sunderland have Jozy Altidore, desperate to get off the mark for them in the Premier League, and Adam Johnson among their substitutes. Villa boss Lambert may call upon Libor Kozak, who has started their last three games, to play alongside Benteke in attack if things don't improve.
We are back underway in the Midlands, with both sides unchanged for now...
CHANCE! Benteke makes a great diagonal switch to Agbonlahor. Dossena sells himself and when the Villa man beats him to the ball, he has a free run into the area. O'Shea comes across to cut off the shot across goal and forces Agbonlahor to strike at the near post, where Mannone tips it behind.
Larsson's poor free kick is cleared and sets up a Villa break, which is led by Agbonlahor. He runs 50 yards with it before passing it on to Weimann, whose first touch is heavy. O'Shea pokes it to the edge of the box, where it eventually falls to Westwood to tamely shoot into Mannone's gloves.
In another promising counter, Agbonlahor charges through the middle once more and again has Weimann to his left, but this time the pass is too heavy and Villa's momentum is stalled.
Brown is showing all of his experience in keeping Benteke quiet this afternoon. Bacuna's cross is aimed towards the Belgian, but Brown just leans on him and prevents him from challenging for it.
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, is a surprising spectator this afternoon, and there is no secret as to where his allegiances lie, as he is dressed head to toe in Aston Villa
Sunderland have wasted their set-piece opportunities thus far. After Larsson's lack of success, Gardner tries his luck, but smashes a 25-yard drive high into a crowd that is booing his every touch.
A distinct lack of quality in the final third has been evident in the early stages of this second period. Set pieces may be the best chance either side has of scoring, and Villa have a corner here...
Westwood's delivery is certainly more accurate than any in Sunderland colours has been today, but O'Shea climbs highest to head a ball bound for Clark away for a throw-in on the opposite flank.
Bacuna tries to pinch the ball from in front of Giaccherini, who cleverly turns away from the Villa full-back. He gets to the left byline, but can only poke a hopeful cross into Guzan's gloves.
WOODWORK! More good work from Giaccherini, who this time manages to pick out a man with his cross. Borini gets a strong header to the delivery, only to see his effort come back off the crossbar!
SUBSTITUTIONS: Paul Lambert
makes the first move with a double change, swapping Weimann and El Ahmadi for Aleksander Tonev and Mark Albrighton, who has been on loan at Wigan Athletic.
Lambert will be hoping that his substitutions can have the same impact as they did against West Brom on Monday. Albrighton will be keen to impress after being called back from the DW Stadium.
Villa fall asleep and allow Bardsley to collect the ball from a free kick, unmarked on the right wing. His cross from deep is into a superb area, and bounces off Bacuna before falling kindly to Guzan.
SUBSTITUTIONS: Sunderland counter Villa's double change with one of their own, introducing Adam Johnson and Jack Colback for Gardner and Fabio Borini. This should trigger a change of shape.
Albrighton nearly gets in behind Dossena as he plays a one-two with Bacuna, but the Dutchman's return is just slightly overhit and Brown is able to come across and hoof the ball clear.
Things just aren't falling for Villa at the moment. Westwood fizzes a pass into Tonev's feet and the Bulgarian flicks inside to Benteke, only to find that the Belgian had made a run down the outside.
We are into the final 10 minutes in the Midlands. Can either side find a winning goal?
SUBSTITUTION: Poyet makes his final change, bringing on Ondrej Celustka for left-back Dossena, who had nearly been caught out on a couple of occasions in the last few minutes.
Villa appear to be running out of ideas, as Delph ambitiously looks to beat Mannone from 30 yards when both Benteke and Agbonlahor were options for him to cross to in the area.
SUBSTITUTION: Lambert throws on £7m-signing Lubor Kozak for the final few minutes, but sacrifices Benteke, who has had very little service and been marked out of the game this afternoon.
O'Shea has to leave the field after having treatment on what looks like a groin strain. He is moving gingerly, but with Poyet having made three subs already, he limps back on for the final few minutes.
We are now entering second-half stoppage time, of which there will be FOUR minutes...
Both Clark and Vlaar are ushered forward as Lambert instructs Bacuna to pump a free kick into the box. He does so, but somehow the delivery goes through a crowded area and into Mannone's hands.
BOOKING: Both sides have picked up a late caution with Agbonlahor and Bardsley each being shown yellow cards. Villa have another free kick and one final chance to commit bodies forward.
FULL-TIME: VILLA 0-0 SUNDERLAND
A pretty poor-quality game comes to an end at Villa Park, where both sides were lacking ideas and composure in the final third. Sunderland may be thinking what might have been, though.
They certainly had the two best chances of the match, when Emanuele Giaccherini
scooped the ball over from six yards in the first half and Fabio Borini struck the crossbar with a header in the second.
The finishing touch wasn't quite there for Sunderland today, but Gus Poyet will draw positives from the fact that they have climbed above Crystal Palace and off the bottom of the Premier League table.
That's it from me. Thanks for joining Sports Mole today and be sure to stay with us for live coverage of Newcastle and West Bromwich Albion this evening. Until next time...