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                                                    Aston Villa

                                                    Barclays Premier League , Apr 21, 2012
                                                    Ground: Villa Park , Kickoff: 15:00 , Att 32,557

                                                    Team news

                                                    McLeish has "great respect" for O'Neill Aston Villa boss Alex McLeish admits following on from the Martin O'Neill era has "been a big act to follow" ahead of Saturday's Barclays Premier League clash with Sunderland.

                                                    O'Neill will return to Villa Park with the Black Cats for the first time since quitting as Villa boss five days before the start of the 2010-11 campaign.

                                                    The Irishman led Villa to three successive top-six finishes in the Premier League, a Carling Cup final and FA Cup semi-final in his four years at the helm.

                                                    When asked what reception O'Neill can expect from the Villa fans, McLeish said: "We want the crowd reception to be 100 per cent behind Aston Villa and to give players the shot of adrenalin that can help them.

                                                    "That was the case in recent games against Chelsea and Stoke. We need them again in these games coming up.

                                                    "I'm sure the fans respect what Martin did, sixth position, a cup final, a European excursion.

                                                    "That is why it is difficult for them just now and the last couple of seasons, because we have got a big act to follow." McLeish, who managed Rangers when O'Neill was in charge of Celtic, added: "I'm not saying Martin and I are bosom buddies from years gone by but I've got great respect for him.

                                                    "He has had a fantastic career as a manager and I'm still looking to get that kind of status he has got." McLeish preferred not to become involved in why O'Neill opted to leave Villa so close to the start of a campaign.

                                                    He said: "In terms of Martin leaving Villa, nothing surprises me in football. I guess that's what keeps you guys (the media) going every week, when there is a wee bit of controversy.

                                                    "Martin left, it wasn't any of my business, it was between him and Villa, and he chose to do that. That is his prerogative." O'Neill himself is confident he can achieve with Sunderland what he did at Aston Villa and establish them as a top-six club.

                                                    The Ulsterman has all but mathematically confirmed a sixth successive top-flight campaign for the Black Cats since arriving in December, and he is now setting his sights higher.

                                                    Asked if what he achieved at Villa can be replicated on Wearside, he said: "For Sunderland Football Club? Of course it's achievable, absolutely.

                                                    "It's achievable, the club is big enough to be able to have those sort of demands put on it, I am hoping.

                                                    "Whether we are able to do it or not is another thing, but that should be the ambition at the football club." O'Neill will send his ninth-placed team out looking to close the gap on Merseyside duo Liverpool and Everton immediately above them, having seen them fail to score in each of their last three outings.

                                                    However, McLeish's problems are significantly more pressing with Villa sitting in 15th, just six points clear of the bottom three.

                                                    The Scot, of course, was not universally welcomed to the club after being handed the job despite presiding over city rivals Birmingham's relegation last season.

                                                    But O'Neill believes that whatever problems they are currently experiencing, there will be better days ahead.

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                                                    Aston Villa vs Sunderland

                                                    Last modified 17:47 21/04/12

                                                    Safety first for Villa Aston Villa edged closer to Barclays Premier League safety as they denied former manager Martin O'Neill a winning return in a goalless draw with Sunderland.

                                                    O'Neill was greeted with boos from Villa fans, despite three top-six finishes with the midlands club, after walking out on the club on the eve of last season.

                                                    Alex McLeish's side deserved their 15th draw of the campaign and former Villa midfielder Craig Gardner was sent off in stoppage time for his second bookable offence.

                                                    Villa, who included six academy products in their line-up, enjoyed the better of the possession for lengthy spells despite having to reorganise after injuries to James Collins and Gabriel Agbonlahor.

                                                    But they lacked a cutting edge in front of goal despite the efforts of 20-year-old Andreas Weimann to unsettle the Black Cats back four.

                                                    It was Sunderland who created the better opportunities particularly in the second half when Villa appeared to tire and Stephane Sessegnon was a threat.

                                                    But poor finishing and some whole-hearted defending by the Villa back four kept them at bay.

                                                    Villa began promisingly and came close to taking the lead inside the first 60 seconds.

                                                    Agbonlahor charged down a clearance from Simon Mignolet from Phil Bardsley's back pass.

                                                    Weimann was first to react to the rebound and Mignolet turned aside his chip shot.

                                                    Agbonlahor, without a goal in 18 Premier League games, looked lively and his goal-bound shot struck Matthew Kilgallon and flew over his own crossbar.

                                                    Mignolet was the busier of the two keepers in the early stages and he tipped a low drive from Charles N'Zogbia around the post.

                                                    Weimann appealed in vain for a foul after he appeared to be clipped by Michael Turner just outside the box.

                                                    The home side continued to look the more threatening and Agbonlahor had a shot blocked by Turner on the edge of the box.

                                                    Weimann forced his way through two challenges before firing into the side netting.

                                                    Sunderland striker Nicklas Bendtner squandered a good chance to put the Black Cats ahead seven minutes before half-time.

                                                    Collins lost possession and allowed McClean to make a clear run into the Villa area.

                                                    His cross picked out the unmarked Bendtner but the Danish international headed over the bar.

                                                    Collins limped out of the action after 43 minutes to be replaced by right-back Alan Hutton with Carlos Cuellar moving into the centre of defence.

                                                    Weimann should have done better when he shot into the side netting at the start of the second period after seizing Albrighton's first time pass.

                                                    Agbonlahor was troubled by his shoulder injury and after 48 minutes was replaced by Emile Heskey.

                                                    Gardner became the first player to be yellow-carded a minute later for bringing down Herd.

                                                    McClean missed the best chance of the game after 55 minutes.

                                                    Larsson made a run to the by-line and McClean was first to react to his low cross but from six yards out he hooked the ball over the bar.

                                                    Bendtner became the second Sunderland player to be booked for chopping down Albrighton.

                                                    Ireland came to Villa's rescue when he cleared a shot on the turn from Bendtner off the line then Larsson shot over at the far post.

                                                    Bendtner had the ball in the net after 76 minutes but was judged to have strayed fractionally offside before converting Larsson's cross although it was a tight call.

                                                    McClean had an injury-time header saved by Given from another Larsson centre.

                                                    Team Line-ups

                                                    Aston VillaRating
                                                    Player rating out of ten Player name Substitution Did they score? Player's disciplinary record Rating
                                                    1 Shay Given
                                                    24 Carlos Cuellar
                                                    6 James Collins(sub 42)
                                                    32 Nathan Baker
                                                    30 Eric Lichaj
                                                    12 Marc Albrighton
                                                    31 Chris Herd
                                                    7 Stephen Ireland
                                                    10 Charles N'Zogbia(sub 82)
                                                    11 Gabriel Agbonlahor(sub 47)
                                                    26 Andreas Weimann
                                                    22 Bradley Guzan
                                                    2 Alan Hutton(sub 42)
                                                    3 Stephen Warnock
                                                    18 Emile Heskey(sub 47)
                                                    25 Barry Bannan(sub 82)
                                                    38 Gary Gardner
                                                    40 Samir Carruthers
                                                    Player rating out of ten Player name Did they score? Player's disciplinary record Substitution Rating
                                                    22 Simon Mignolet
                                                    16 John O'Shea
                                                    4 Michael Turner
                                                    12 Matthew Kilgallon
                                                    2 Phillip Bardsley
                                                    7 Sebastian Larsson
                                                    8 Craig Gardner
                                                    14 Jack Colback
                                                    23 James McClean
                                                    28 Stephane Sessegnon
                                                    52 Nicklas Bendtner(sub 79)
                                                    20 Keiren Westwood
                                                    3 Wayne Bridge
                                                    9 Fraizer Campbell(sub 79)
                                                    15 David Vaughan
                                                    17 Dong-Won Ji
                                                    18 David Meyler
                                                    25 Sotirios Kyrgiakos

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