Another week, another blank. What more can you say about it? Plenty, as it turns out...
What The Gaffer Said
Those expecting frustration and anger from Martin O'Neill were sorely disappointed. The tone was certainly more one of defiance than anything else. He told safc.com:
We probably should have won the game, but the ball just didn't drop for us today.
We're not scoring goals, we've had people in and around the penalty area, but it just doesn't seem to be happening for us.
I could not fault the players' effort whatsoever. I think it was epitomised by a fantastic performance from Lee Cattermole.
It was as good a performance as I have seen from a player and he didn't deserve to be on the losing side.
Sunderland dominated for long spells in the encounter and despite having more shots than the visitors they were unable to convert any chances.
We drove at Villa and tried everything but we were unable to wear them down.
We need to be resilient. It's been tough going and we've found ourselves in the situation where we're not getting goals.
You wouldn't think we would have that problem with all of the attacking players we have in the team.
We have to stick in at it and we'll come back from this - we're all in this together.
I was as disappointed as anyone else after the game but I think O'Neill got his comments spot on. It isn't time for blame-gaming, scapegoating, or tantrums. That will only serve to fuel division. (MG)
End This Campbell Madness
I have nothing against Fraizer Campbell and think he has been dealt a tough hand in his career. In the right system and regular games, he could be a very good player.
But this business of throwing him on for the last 10 minutes now and again usually stuck out on the right wing simply has to end. The words 'and replacing him is number 9, Fraizer Campbell' are fast becoming the most depressing part of the weekend.
It isn't fair on him and it isn't doing us any favours either. Just stop it. (MG)
Bardsley Back And Annoying As Ever
It is no secret that I am not Phil Bardsley's biggest fan so I wasn't entirely enthused to see his return, although I have to admit I believed it to be a necessary evil to find out if Craig Gardner could add any impetus into the midfield.
This was Phil Bardsley at his very annoying worst, however. Allowances have to be made for his lack of match fitness, of course. I don't think that a sharp Phil Bardsley makes that back pass, for example.
There was no excuses for his defending for the decisive goal, though. He did what he usually does - failed to defend the back post. Benteke was winning most things in the air but Bardsley got himself caught underneath the ball and never got himself in a position to defend it.
It should also be mentioned that Bardsley is only being singled out here due to repetition. No one in a red and white shirt really covered themselves in glory for the Villa winner. Far too easy. (MG)
I tweeted after the game that I didn't think it was a game we deserved to lose and it would be fair to say that the reaction that received was not entirely complimentary to my judgement. I stand by it though.
I am not saying we necessarily deserved to win it either. Our shots, as per usual, were more AT goal than ON goal. But Villa were hardly a dominant force in the game either.
Like Martin O'Neill, I thought Lee Cattermole was superb. It was a midfield performance full of verve and dynamism. That he is coming into such good driving form can only bode well for the rest. He is very much the heartbeat and natural leader of this side.
Adam Johnson looked closer to what was billed too, although admittedly still not quite there. Looks like a matter of time until he, and the rest, click into gear to me. (MG)
After the game, O'Neill insisted that the decision to leave out Danny Rose was 'tactical'. That is something I find very difficult to believe.
The Manager is very well-versed on the strengths and game of Gabriel Agbonlahor so would have surely known that Rose's pace would have been very useful in nullifying him. To replace him with Jack Colback - a good player but in no way fleet of foot - seems a very odd move.
I am not buying O'Neill's assertion for one second. I suspect we'll never know what has gone on there. That said, having taken the decision to go with Colback (for whatever reason) to then deny him the protection that James McClean customarily offers his full back simply compounded the problem. (MG)