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SUNDERLAND welcomed back Lee Cattermole from injury last night but promptly lost skipper Lorik Cana for Saturday's tough trip to Manchester City.

The Black Cats' miserable night was compounded when Cana was sent off for a second bookable offence for a foul on James Milner as Aston Villa earned a 2-0 victory at the Stadium of Light.

Manager Steve Bruce said: "If he was ever going to be sent off, it would be tonight. I thought the referee's performance -I have never criticised referees but his first-half performance was shocking.

"He (Cana) can't go to ground when he is on a yellow card but I am not going to take that competitive edge away from him.

"He has got to learn from it, that's for sure, but, certainly, he is not a problem.

"But it happened and he is suspended and he will be missing at the weekend, which will be a big blow to us."

Bruce's side have now won only one of their last eight league games and have seen the optimism garnered from a promising start to the campaign dissipate.

He said: "It's the Premier League, it is what is it. It is now when you earn your money, now when you earn your corn, as they say.

"We have had a poor run, there's no disguising that. We have to get out of it, it's as simple as that."

Villa boss Martin O'Neill saluted England midfielder Milner after watching him fire the club into the top three.

The former Newcastle man smashed home a stunning 30-yard strike 16 minutes after half-time to cement a third successive win at Sunderland as the Black Cats were made to pay for some sloppy defending.

Milner had earlier set up Emile Heskey to fire the visitors into a 24th-minute lead from his new central midfield position to leave his manager purring.

O'Neill said: "Milner has just been fantastic since he arrived at the football club. Last season, he interchanged with Ashley (Young) left and right.

"He has come into the middle now and he has just been colossal for us, colossal. From midfield, it is his third goal in five games.

"He is certainly enjoying it. It doesn't mean that he hasn't put in a lot of hard work -he covered an awful lot of ground at Old Trafford and he has done so tonight.

"He was obviously feeling the effects in the last 20 minutes of the game but he has just been wonderful.

"He deserves it as well because he is an exceptional fella."

After Stewart Downing had rattled the crossbar with a 16th-minute free-kick, Heskey broke the deadlock with 24 minutes gone after running on to Milner's pass.

Ashley Young was denied by the upright 13 minutes after the break but Milner's 61st-minute piledriver wrapped up the points and a 2-0 win.

Sunderland will find out today if they are one of 12 chosen host cities for England 2018. Fifteen communities are bidding to become World Cup 'candidate cities'.


OFF: Lorik Cana (left) battles with Aston Villa's Emile Heskey last night
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Dec 16, 2009
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