2017/18 English League Championship, Regular Season
  • Lewis Grabban (34')
  • James Chester (45'+3')
  • Bryan Oviedo (66' OG)

Aston Villa keep the pace as limp Sunderland lose again

Aston Villa kept up the pressure on Wolves and Cardiff City in the Championship's automatic promotion places as they cruised to a comfortable 3-0 win over sorry Sunderland.
Steve Bruce enjoyed a successful return to the Stadium of Light as goals from Lewis Grabban and James Chester and a Bryan Oviedo own goal kept Villa in third position.
Sunderland's defeat keeps them rooted to the foot of the table, four points adrift of safety, and means they now have just 10 matches to save their Championship status. On this evidence, there is precious little chance of that happening.
Villa went into the game having won six of their previous eight matches, and while they were nOt quite at their best for long periods of the game, they always had too much for the side at the foot of the table.
Scott Hogan threatened in the opening 15 minutes, narrowly failing to make a connection as he swivelled to try to convert Conor Hourihane's chipped through ball on the turn, and went close again on the half-hour mark as he glanced Robert Snodgrass' floated cross onto the roof of the net.
Sunderland's defence was beginning to creak at that stage, with Chris Coleman having been forced into a reshuffle after Tyias Browning was forced off with a first-half injury, and Villa broke the deadlock 11 minutes before the break.
Grabban scored 12 goals in a Sunderland shirt in the first half of the season, before informing the club that he wanted to trigger a clause in his loan deal and return to his permanent employers, Bournemouth.
He moved on again to join Villa on transfer-deadline day, so there was a sense of inevitability about him breaking the deadlock on his return to Wearside.
It was a horrendous goal for Sunderland to concede from a defensive point of view, with Lamine Kone conceding possession cheaply to allow Albert Adomah to cross from the left. John O'Shea and Billy Jones both missed attempted headers, and with Jason Steele rooted to his goalline, Grabban was left with the simple task of nodding home at the back post.
Sunderland's first-half attacking was completely sterile, and on the one occasion they managed to get behind the Villa defence, Ashley Fletcher's poor control meant the ball ran out harmlessly for a goal-kick.
Jones finally forced Villa goalkeeper Sam Johnstone into his first save of the game on the stroke of half-time, but there was still time for Sunderland's defensive frailties to reappear again to ensure the visitors enjoyed a two-goal advantage at the break.
Snodgrass swung over a corner from the right-hand side, and Kone was beaten far too easily as Chester headed home his second goal of the season.
Johnstone tipped Callum McManaman's rising drive over the bar at the start of the second half, but Villa continued to dominate and added a third goal six minutes after the hour mark.
Hogan played Hourihane towards the byline, and the midfielder's shot crept between Steele and his near post via Oviedo.

English League Championship Standings

1 Norwich City 33 +23 63
2 Sheffield United 33 +24 61
3 Leeds United 32 +17 61
4 West Bromwich Albion 33 +25 60
5 Middlesbrough 32 +12 54
6 Bristol City 31 +10 53
7 Derby County 32 +6 51
8 Nottingham Forest 33 +8 47
9 Birmingham City 32 +9 46
10 Aston Villa 33 +4 44
11 Preston North End 33 +3 44
12 Hull City 32 +3 44
13 Swansea City 32 +3 44
14 Blackburn Rovers 33 -7 43
15 Sheffield Wednesday 32 -11 41
16 Brentford 31 +7 40
17 Stoke City 33 -7 40
18 Queens Park Rangers 32 -9 39
19 Millwall 32 -10 34
20 Wigan Athletic 32 -14 34
21 Reading 33 -15 29
22 Rotherham United 33 -20 29
23 Bolton Wanderers 33 -30 26
24 Ipswich Town 33 -31 20