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Black Cats in the pink with victory.

Byline: Stuart Rayner

Sunderland 1 Aston Villa 0 WITH a quarter of an hour left at a chilly Stadium of Light, a man ran on to the pitch wearing a revealing pink all-over body suit.

In a stunt apparently in aid of a cancer charity, he swerved the steward's attempted rugby tackle to run onto the pitch.

When referee Mark Halsey refused to shake his hand, he quickly headed off again to be arrested.

The pitch invader caught the eye and stirred the crowd's excitement, but was ultimately let down by too little up front.

Much the same could be said of Sunderland except that unlike him, they got away with it.

A first victory since August was undeserved over the 90 minutes, but only made up for a run of five drawn Premier League matches since which had merited far more.

While congratulating themselves on a victory which extended their unbeaten run to seven matches, Sunderland must address the toothlessness that had nothing to do with fortune.

The hosts had 14 attempts on goal against Aston Villa, yet forced only one save of note from Brad Friedel, sticking his left hand out as he moved the wrong way to Danny Welbeck's strike.

Only two players looked capable of scoring for the Wearsiders, and both were Aston Villa centre-backs.

When Steed Malbranque won the ball near the corner flag and whipped in a 25th-minute cross, the players who converged on it were Villa team-mates.

James Collins stooped to head the ball and might now be wishing Richard Dunne had kicked him rather than tapping into his own net for the eighth time in his Premier League career.

At that stage it was little more than Sunderland deserved, but for Villa not to cancel it out gave a distorted picture of the whole game.

Perhaps inevitably Dunne had a chance to right his error in its closing stages, but Michael Turner jumped in front of him to deflect it wide.

Although they occasionally wasted possession with an unusual number of aimless long balls, the Black Cats were easily the first half's top dogs. Having beaten Stephen Warnock a couple of times early on, the pacy Elmohamady got a taste for it.

Seeing Villa's weakness, Jordan Henderson and Malbranque drifted out there from time to time. It ensured a steady flow of crosses but with Darren Bent alone up front, too many landed in empty space.

When they found a red-and-white shirt, they were wasted.

In the third minute Henderson picked out Malbranque but his poor header was off target.

Villa went straight down the other end and although Stewart Downing nutmegged Simon Mignolet, his shot hit the post.

The lack of goals from Malbranque, Henderson, Elmohamady and Welbeck is becoming serious.

Individually, all are justifying their inclusion but if all four are misfiring, something needs to change. Bent's offcolour performance highlighted the problem.

He dived to head an excellent low Henderson cross when he might have been better served using his feet, and the chance was wasted.

Asamoah Gyan left the bench to help, but a wild left-footed finish in the third added minute pointed to his rawness. Malbranque was the worst culprit in an otherwise excellent performance. He created the goal and tackled with uncharacteristic relish, but his header was the first of four wasted chances to work Friedel.

A weak shot hit Welbeck, another was volleyed into a crowd of players, a third dragged wide. Only Nigel Reo-Coker's excellent tackle stopped him having another try.

His cleverness to find good positions only makes Malbranque's failure to cash in more frustrating.

Elmohamady got up well to Phil Bardsley's left-wing cross, but headed against Warnock's back.

The newly-capped Scotland star had Sunderland's best shot, cutting on to his favoured right foot in the 78th minute and narrowly missing the post. By then, though, the tide had turned.

The flood of centres were still coming from the south west corner of the ground. The trouble for Sunderland was, they had switched ends.

Steve Bruce described the last quarter of the game as his side's worst in their unbeaten run. Fortunately for him, Villa were just as ineffective in front of goal. Henderson cleared Steve Sidwell's header from a corner off the line and a couple of tenuous penalty appeals were waved away. But it was the 71st minute before Mignolet made a save, denying substitute Marc Albrighton after Henderson's poor free-kick allowed a counter-attack.

He and Emile Heskey headed three dangerous right-wing crosses wide - two from Downing, one from Habib Beye - off target.

Downing's most effective moment came on the left, Mignolet coming for and missing his driven delivery.

Heskey kicked fresh air as the ball embarrassingly passed through his legs to safety.

By the time the final whistle blew to cheers of relief, Sunderland had gone 305 minutes without conceding.

At least when their unbeaten streak is tested at St James' Park on Sunday, the Black Cats can take to the field knowing their shortcomings at the business end are being well covered up.

GAME AT A GLANCE a booking the proper old-fashioned way, by clattering Nigel Reo-Coker.

OOPS, I DID IT AGAIN Richard Dunne's eighth Premier League own goal - a record - makes OGs Sunderland's second-highest league scorer this season.

A LITTLE PROBLEM Memo to the pitch invader: If you are going to run out in front of 41,000 people dressed in an all-over pink spandex "MorphSuit" that leaves little to the imagination, probably best to pick a warmer afternoon. "It was the worst streaker I've ever seen," chuckled Steve Bruce. "He had the worst gear I've ever seen and no lunchbox to go with it."

DIVE OF THE MATCH A few contenders, but had to be Phil Bardsley's pathetic tumble in his own penalty area to win a STAR IN STRIPES Steed Malbranque made a goal but wasted four decent chances for one of his own, Michael Turner won the ball brilliantly but used it poorly. Lee Cattermole's was a captain's performance of contro lle d aggress ion, Jordan Henderson was all energy and creativity, and Ahmed Elmohamady ran past Stephen Warnock at will. Only Darren Bent had an off-day in reda free-kick minutes after earning nd-white.

CAPTION(S):

GET IN THERE Sunderland's players celebrate their winning goal NO WAY THROUGH Sunderland striker Darren Bent is thwarted by Aston Villa's Richard Dunne's tackle STROKE OF LUCK Richard Dunne, second right, diverts the ball past Villa keeper Brad Friedel and into his own net for Sunderland's winner
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 25, 2010
Words:1087
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