Villa’s know-how is key to vital victory

It was a win Villa could put down to experience.

Paul Lambert is chasing experienced recruits this January to ensure there is no repeat of last season’s late escape.

They are needed and it is a change in policy from the manager who previously resisted all calls to add a bit of extra nous to his squad.

But yesterday’s 1-0 victory at Sunderland proved they Villa can grind out results on the know-how they have already gained.

Gabby Agbonlahor – Villa’s most experienced Premier League player – struck the winner, just as he did on this ground last season.

A gritty, determined and deserved victory owed much to a comedy of errors, a clinical finish and concentration.

Sunderland, who remain bottom of the Premier League, shot themselves in the foot by gifting Villa a winner.

Lee Cattermole’s shocking lack of control to hand Agbonlahor Villa’s goal ended the claret and blues’ winless streak at the sixth attempt.

The Black Cats’ attempts to salvage the situation saw bags of effort, but little quality – just one of their 17 shots found the target.

Plenty of possession pinned Villa back at times, Emanuele Giaccherini was denied by the linesman’s flag and Steven Fletcher toiled away, but it wasn’t enough.

Last season Villa would have buckled and while the hosts were never blowing the door down, there was enough pressure to ensure the visitors needed to maintain their resolve.

The experience gained from last term’s struggles gave them the fortitude not to falter and cave as Ashley Westwood and Fabian Delph protected the back four immaculately.

And Villa were a constant threat on the break with Christian Benteke, Marc Albrighton and Delph wasting fine chances to add to gloss to the scoreline.

Victory came at a price, though, with Ron Vlaar limping out of his comeback game after six matches away.

The skipper suffered a reoccurrence of the calf problem which had kept him sidelined over Christmas and faces an anxious wait to discover the severity of the injury.

He was unlikely to face Sheffield United in Saturday’s FA Cup game and Villa have 12 days to get the defender fit to face Arsenal.

Vlaar is integral to the team and it was no coincidence they failed to win any of the five games he sat out.

Ragged

That Villa handled the blow with minimum fuss was credit to them as, without the suspended Ciaran Clark, Matt Lowton slipped into the centre. But defensive reinforcements are needed.

Up front, Benteke returned and almost ended his goal drought – which now stretches to 11 games – only for Phil Bardsley to clear off the line.

But Benteke was overshadowed by Agbonlahor as he ran Sunderland ragged, the Black Cats perpetually petrified by his pace.

It was just the striker’s third goal of the season, but second in two games, and after 12 strikes last term it must prove the catalyst for more.

Agbonlahor, along with Andi Weimann, has yet to hit top form, but at the Stadium of Light he was back to his effervescent best.

The win, though, looked a long way off as the Black Cats began with purpose and made the early running.

Giaccherini was Sunderland’s creator in the opening 10 minutes as he carved out three openings.

First he shot wide from 25-yards before teeing up Fletcher, only for the ex-Wolves striker to drag his effort across goal.

Ji Dong-won then profited from Giaccherini’s efforts when he shot wide from the Italian’s cross.

But, despite Sunderland’s dominance, they got sloppy and Villa opened the scoring out of the blue on 15 minutes.

Cattermole’s slip from Valentine Roberge’s pass let in Agbonlahor and he rounded Vito Mannone for the easiest of winners.

The hosts, as patient as they were with the ball, lacked the killer touch or defensive resolve and it proved costly.

Cattermole was again robbed by Agbonlahor, but Benteke’s shot was eventually blocked before the striker turned defender to deny Ji at the other end.

Cattermole was hauled off at the break and Sunderland almost levelled six minutes into the second half when Giaccherini fired in from close range – only to be flagged offside.

It turned the heat up on Villa but it was something they dealt with exceptionally, especially when Vlaar limped off with 20 minutes to go.

Sunderland lacked the quality to unlock Villa who remained resolute for their sixth league clean sheet of the season.

Apart from token long range efforts Brad Guzan was well shielded by his defence. And it could have been more comfortable had Bardsley not acrobatically cleared Benteke’s strike off the line.

Albrighton blazed over when clean through with eight minutes left. But there was little to worry about as Sunderland, who look doomed even at this stage, couldn’t draw level.

There’s no substitute for experience.