Sunderland 0 Aston Villa 3 - Report and pictures
Winning in the Championship is not supposed be as comfortable as this.
After coming through to claim victory in dramatic fashion against Sheffield Wednesday last time out, Villa took a far more routine route in dispensing with a Sunderland outfit who look doomed to League One.
Strikes from Lewis Grabban, James Chester and a Bryan Oviedo own goal saw Steve Bruce’s men record a fourth win in five away games to stay on pace with their promotion rivals - ahead of Saturday’s mouth-watering derby with Wolves.
The result looked inevitable from the moment Grabban, on the return to the club where he started the season, headed the visitors in front just past the half-hour mark.
Chester then grabbed his second of the season to double the advantage on the stroke of half-time, ensuring the second half was largely a procession, especially after Oviedo had deflected Conor Hourihane’s cross into his own net to end any faint hopes of a home team revival.
Villa’s performance was far from vintage but didn’t need to be against the Black Cats, whose showing will have given many among the 1,600 noisy travelling supporters uncomfortable flashbacks memories of their own teams fall out of the Premier League two years ago.
All that mattered was getting the three points and Villa duly did, waiting for the inevitable mistakes from the hosts and duly pouncing on them.
Bruce was further boosted by the return of Albert Adomah and Jack Grealish to action, the latter impressing as a second half substitute, with the only worry of the evening a second half injury to Glenn Whelan.
The return of top scorer Adomah to the starting XI and the presence of Grealish on the bench was the big team news where Villa were concerned.
Adomah, who had missed the previous three games with a hamstring injury, replaced Josh Onomah on the left wing in one of two changes to the team.
The other saw Neil Taylor replace the injured Alan Hutton at left-back. It was the Wales international’s first start since the 2-1 defeat at Brentford on Boxing Day.
Sunderland’s decline has led to increasing supporter apathy on Wearside and it is tempting to wonder whether the swathe of empty seats and subdued atmosphere had an impact on an opening half which struggled to spark before Grabban put Villa ahead.
The visitors had looked more threatening prior to the deadlock being broken on 34 minutes.
Grabban, booed with every chance, had the first effort of the match with a shot which was blocked at close range by Tyias Browning.
As Villa began to find their rhythm, Scott Hogan was guilty of wasting a good chance when he failed to make contact with Hourihane’s smart chip into the box. The striker also headed narrowly over from a vicious, inswinging Robert Snodgrass cross.
At the other end, Ashley Fletcher looked Sunderland’s most dangerous player, the on loan West Ham forward causing regular headaches for the usually unflappable Chester.
And it was Fletcher who would squander the Black Cats best opening with the game still goalless. Breaking clear from Chester’s attentions after collecting a long punt upfield and bearing down on goal, he looked certain to at least give Villa keeper Sam Johnstone with his first meaningful action of the game.
But just as Fletcher prepared to shoot, the ball bounced off his knee and out of control, away and behind for a goal-kick.
Two minutes later, Villa were ahead, thanks to the kind of simple goal which bad teams tend to concede.
Adomah’s cross from the left was missed by Hogan, darting in at the near post. Yet the forward’s run also drew the attentions of two defenders and Mackems keeper Jason Steele, leaving Grabban free at the far post to re-direct a rising ball into the net.
The hosts looked to rally and Aiden McGeady fired a free-kick over the bar, while Oviedo registered their first effort on target with a shot that Johnstone comfortably saved.
Once again, however, Villa merely had to wait for the mistake and it duly arrived, three minutes into stoppage time, the hosts falling asleep at a corner and Chester heading home Snodgrass’s delivery.
Sunderland boss Chris Coleman withdrew skipper John O’Shea and brought on striker Joel Asoro at the break.
Yet it was still 15 minutes before Johnstone was forced into a serious save, tipping over Callum McManaman’s rasping drive.
Villa’s chief concern in the early stages of the second half was an injury to Whelan which saw the Republic of Ireland international replaced by Mile Jedinak on the hour mark.
Then, with what seemed the minimum of fuss, the visitors were three ahead.
Hourihane exchanged passes with Hogan and raced to the byline before whipping in a cross which Oviedo could only deflect into his own net.
That was the cue for Bruce to introduce Grealish and the playmaker was soon into the action, forcing a sharp save out of Steele.
Johnstone then saved from Asoro after a swift Sunderland counter, while Steele denied Adomah in stoppage time. But there was a sense of both teams going through the motions, with the result long a formality.
Sunderland (3-4-3): Steele, Kone, O’Shea © (Asoro HT), Browning (Jones 30), Love, Cattermole, Ejaria, Ovideo, McManaman, Fletcher (Maja 64), McGeady Subs not used: Williams, Lualua, Honeyman, Camp (gk).
Villa (4-4-2): Johnstone, Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Taylor, Snodgrass, Whelan (Jedinak 60), Hourihane, Adomah, Grabban (Bjarnason 76), Hogan (Grealish 67) Subs not used: Lansbury, Onomah, Davis, Bunn (gk).