It is fair to say that Villa have not exactly set the world alight under Alex McLeish so far and they will be aiming to prevent a third successive defeat in Darren Bent’s first return to Sunderland. Aston Villa
After a 7-game unbeaten run at the start of the season, albeit with 5 draws thrown into the mix, Villa have lost their last two including a 2-1 defeat to rivals West Brom last time out, leaving many far from impressed with McLeish’s start at the club.
With the side 1-0 up against Albion, youngster, and surprise starter, Chris Herd was sent off in the first half having been adjudged to have stamped on Jonas Olsson. Replays showed that that was not the case and the FA have since rescinded the Australian’s ban, meaning he is in line for another chance to impress having started brightly last weekend.
Stephen Ireland will be hoping that he gets the nod alongside Petrov in midfield, while another abject display from Charles N’Zogbia will surely see Marc Albrighton get a start sooner rather than later.
One Villa academy product who will not be playing is Barry Bannan, who has been suspended by the club subject to an internal inquiry having been arrested on suspicion of drink driving in the week with former youth team colleague James Collins.
Fabian Delph missed the Albion clash with a virus but should be in contention, while Alan Hutton is less certain to be involved after picking up a facial injury, so there could be a first start for fit again Carlos Cuellar at right-back.
After a fairly miserable first half at the Reebok, Sunderland came out after the break a changed side and deservedly picked up the 3 points courtesy of late strikes from Sessegnon and Bendtner.
The former was moved to the right side of midfield as Steve Bruce adopted a more attacking approach with the latter partnered by summer signing Connor Wickham up front.
The Black Cats boss is likely to stick with the same side having avoided any fresh injury concerns, meaning Elmohamady, Cattermole and Gardner should remain on the bench, with the latter hoping to get some playing time against his former club.
Sunderland managed to do the double against Villa last term, with 1-0 wins at home and away, having failed to get a victory in their previous 4 encounters.
Saturday’s clash will be the first time that record signing Darren Bent returns to the Stadium of Light having made the switch to Villa in January, meaning he is likely to get a somewhat frosty reception. Villa will be hoping that he can return to haunt his former club having already stated that he would not be celebrating were he to score come Saturday.
Traditionally a game of few goals, Sunderland have scored just 4 in their last 6 outings against Villa, while the visitors have edged it with 5. There have been 4 red cards in the tight affairs (2 to each side), with 2 coming in the last meeting between the sides at Villa Park in January.
Both sides have scored once in a game on 4 occasions this season, which would lead one to believe that this isn’t likely to break the trend of being a close encounter.
Of the 10 goals Villa have conceded this season, 6 have come in the 15 minutes directly after half time, while Sunderland have been slow starters in the first half, conceding 5 goals in the opening 20 minutes, having also let in 10 goals this season.
Possible Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Given; Cuellar, Collins, Dunne, Warnock; Herd, Petrov; Albrighton, Ireland, Agbonlahor; Bent
Key Man: Darren Bent
Goalscorer(s): Darren Bent
Final Score: 1-1
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