Aston Villa 0 Sunderland 0
Aston Villa and Sunderland played out a largely forgettable 0-0 draw in front of the watching Duke of Cambridge at Villa Park.
The hosts were looking for their first home back-to-back Barclays Premier League victories since August 2010 but not even Villa supporter Prince William, donning a club scarf and coat as he looked on from owner Randy Lerner’s executive box, could inspire them to victory.
Indeed it was Sunderland who came closest to all three points as they chased their first away win of the season, although they do return to the north east with a first point on their travels since the end of August.
In stark contrast to the Black Cats’ recent home form, Gus Poyet had overseen three away defeats which contained three red cards and three own goals since taking charge.
But recalled striker Fabio Borini came closest to a winner as his glancing second-half header rebounded off the crossbar, while Emanuele Giaccherini contributed a worthy contender for miss of the season from a mere four yards just before half-time.
As poor as Sunderland have been away from home this year 12 defeats from 15 league games in 2013 before kick-off Villa have struggled almost as much in front of their own fans.
A 2-0 win over Cardiff last time out was only the club’s 11th league victory in 44 attempts at Villa Park.
And there was very little for the 33,036 present to get excited about, with star striker Christian
Benteke, now without a goal in seven appearances, largely anonymous in attack and even substituted before full-time.
The dour encounter proved a far cry from Villa’s 6-1 success in last season’s corresponding fixture in April.
Wes Brown took his place in Sunderland’s starting XI having seen last week’s controversial red card at Stoke rescinded upon appeal, manager Poyet making three changes from the 2-0 defeat at the Britannia Stadium.
Paul Lambert, meanwhile, handed starts to Gabriel Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann and Fabian Delph after the fit-again trio came off the bench to inspire a second-half comeback in Monday’s 2-2 draw at West Brom. Antonio Luna also returned from injury.
Both sides enjoyed half-chances inside the opening five minutes, Agbonlahor heading wide at the back post while Andrea Dossena one of those recalled for the Black Cats alongside Borini and ex-Villa midfielder Craig Gardner fired into the side-netting at the other end.
However, the opening quarter of a cagey clash was dominated by a lack of quality in the final third with neither goalkeeper forced into a real save of note.
The hosts lived dangerously during a couple of Sunderland corners but the away side lacked the cutting edge to take advantage.
The first clear chance went the way of Villa in the 29th minute but an unmarked Benteke could only fire high and wide from 12 yards.
Sebastian Larsson curled a free-kick narrowly off target for the visitors while Delph let go of an effort from long-range.
Gardner had the ball in the net just prior to half-time but was rightly flagged for offside, before Giaccherini in plenty of space somehow put over the crossbar from four yards having been found by Phil Bardsley’s header.
Villa started the second half the brighter of the two sides but Vito Mannone was merely forced into a couple of routine stops.
The game’s closest opening came in the 66th minute as Borini header Giaccherini’s left-wing cross against the woodwork.
Poyet and Lambert made changes as they went of search of a late winner, Benteke being replaced by Libor Kozak, but neither side could find anything in the final third as both sides were forced to settle for a share of the spoils.