Aston Villa hit Sunderland for six in emphatic victory
Paolo di Canio’s revival curtailed by Christian Benteke’s hat-trick
Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke heads his second goal against Sunderland during their Premier League game at Villa Park. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters
Aston Villa 6 Sunderland 1
A glorious night for Aston Villa delivered an emphatic victory that gave their survival hopes a huge boost and brought Paolo Di Canio and Sunderland crashing back down to earth. Villa were inspired by Christian Benteke, who took his tally for the season to 22 with a second-half hat-trick against a Sunderland side whose miserable evening was complete when Stephane Sessegnon received a straight red card for a stamp on Yacouba Sylla.
Sessegnon will pick up an automatic three-match ban that rules him out for the remainder of the season, adding to the woes of a Sunderland team who have been dragged right back into the relegation battle following this humiliating defeat. Villa are now level on points with Sunderland and Newcastle and, more significantly, five points clear of Wigan Athletic in 18th place. Their goal difference also looks a whole lot better than it did before.
Ahead through Ron Vlaar’s goal, Villa’s momentum was briefly checked when Danny Rose hauled Sunderland level but thereafter it was all about the home team, who played with a confidence that belied their league position. Andreas Weimann restored Villa’s lead, and from that moment on Benteke, who must be one of the buys of the season, took over with three predatory goals. Gabriel Agbonlahor, rounding Simon Mignolet in the 88th minute, added the coup de grace.
If the match was something of a slow-burner initially, the touchpaper was lit during a pulsating seven-minute spell late in the first half that produced three goals in seven minutes. Villa were the first to draw blood, when Vlaar marked his 28th appearance with his first goal for the club. Sunderland only half cleared Ashley Westwood’s effort, inviting Vlaar to step forward and thump a 30-yard shot that fizzed off the greasy surface and, via a slight deflection off Carlos Cuellar, skipped past Simon Mignolet.
Lambert was close to doing cartwheels on the touchline but the Villa manager’s celebrations were quickly cut short. Sunderland struck back through Rose, who started and finished a sublime move on the left flank. The left-back, who has enjoyed an excellent season at the Stadium of Light, played a one-two with Adam Johnson and swept a left-footed shot beyond Brad Guzan and into the far corner. It was a beautifully constructed goal.
Villa, to their credit, summoned an immediate response with a goal that reinforced their reputation as counter-attack specialists and also underlined the ability of Matthew Lowton. The right-back read Craig Gardner’s intentions to strike a diagonal pass to Johnson and, showing superb technique, took the ball on his chest before sprinting clear. Lowton then executed a glorious floated pass into the path of Andreas Weimann, who took a touch before beating Mignolet. To say that Lambert was excited on the touchline would be the understatement of the century.
The Villa manager’s body language had been very different just prior to Vlaar’s opening goal, when Gabriel Agbonlahor squandered a gilt-edged chance to put Villa in front. The Villa forward linked adroitly with Benteke, twice bouncing passes off the Belgian to carve open the Sunderland defence and leave him bearing down on goal. With Mignolet racing from his line, Agbonlahor got to the ball first but made a poor connection and the ball trickled agonisingly past the post. Lambert threw his head back in despair. Seconds later Sunderland were threatening at the other end, Graham just failing to get a touch to Johnson’s dangerous cross.
Applauded off at half-time, Villa carried on where they left off and struck twice in the first 15 minutes of the second half. Agbonlahor played a significant part in Villa’s third, linking with Benteke before skipping around a couple of half-hearted challenges and drilling a left-footed deflected shot that Mignolet saved with one hand. With Sunderland’s defenders on their heels, Benteke nodded into the empty net.
Sunderland were still reeling from that setback when Benteke pounced again, towering above Cuellar to head Ashley Westwood’s corner beyond Mignolet. With Sunderland in a state of disarray, Benteke punished a Cuellar mistake and beat Mignolet at his near post. Sessegnon saw red moments later.