Maloney pegs back Black Cats
Substitute sublime free-kick snatches point at Stadium of Light
By James Pearson. Last Updated: 15/12/07 6:22pm
Villa celebrate Maloney's equaliser
Aston Villa claimed a deserved 1-1 draw at Sunderland thanks to a sublime second half free-kick from Shaun Maloney.
Roy Keane's side went ahead early on when Danny Higginbotham guided home Ross Wallace's inswinging corner.
The visitors dominated the remainder of the half, although Sunderland's resolute defending kept them out.
However, they were powerless to prevent substitute Maloney's pin-point free-kick in the 73th minute that levelled the scoreline at one apiece.
Sunderland thought they won the game in injury-time when Danny Collins headed home, but the effort was disallowed for a foul on Scott Carson.
Having had late goals to thank for the majority of their points so far this season, Keane sent out his men imploring them to strike early, and they could hardly have responded in better style.
There were just 10 minutes gone when Wilfred Bouma headed Wallace's free-kick behind for a corner to give the Scot the chance to pick out a team-mate from the resulting set-piece.
He did his job to perfection, floating the ball on to the head of the unmarked Higginbotham, who dispatched it with glee to get his side off to the perfect start.
By the time the whistle sounded at the end of the opening 45 minutes, they might have been 3-0 ahead and out of sight, but that fact was hardly a reflection of the way the game had progressed.
In Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor, John Carew, Gareth Barry and Nigel Reo-Coker, Villa had plenty of ammunition to throw at the Wearsiders, and although they failed to create as many clear-cut chances as they would have liked, the threat was there for all to see.
Young made life intensely difficult for makeshift right-back Dean Whitehead, whose booking for a wild 18th-minute challenge left him walking a tightrope.
That said, the visitors created only two chances of note, midfielder Craig Gardner blasting in a long-range shot which Ward saved comfortably, although the goalkeeper was extended much further by Carew's near-post flick from a 39th-minute Young cross.
Sunderland did have the ball in the back of the net after 42 minutes when, after Jones had seen his shot blocked by Carson and Bouma had blocked Wallace's follow-up, Anthony Stokes headed home. However, the offside flag had gone up long before he made contact.
Jones turned Zat Knight expertly three minutes into stoppage time to fire towards the far post, but the defender got in a vital touch to turn it wide.
The Sunderland striker unwittingly helped Wallace's 47th-minute shot over the bar, but it was Villa who started the second half in more determined mood.
They were almost handed an equaliser on a plate after 50 minutes when Ward dropped Olof Mellberg's cross under little pressure and Higginbotham had to hack Carew's shot off the line.
Young had penalty appeals waved away seconds later after Dwight Yorke had blocked Young's snapshot from Agbonlahor's cross, and the traffic was decidedly one way.
Maloney arrived in place of Gardner as O'Neill made his move, and he made his mark in devastating fashion within six minutes.
The midfielder was felled by Paul McShane as he attempted to round him on the edge of the penalty area and then stepped up to curl a superb free-kick past the leaden-footed Ward and into the net.
Sunderland responded impressively as they looked to restore their lead, and they might have done so with just three minutes remaining.
Substitute Andy Cole turned up on the left to pick out the unmarked Leadbitter in the middle, but he directed his header straight at Carson.But the drama once again came right at the death when Steve Bennett ruled out Danny Collins' injury-time winner for an apparent foul on Carson that left Keane fuming.
|Sunderland||Team Statistics||Aston Villa|
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|3||Shots on Target||5|
|4||Shots off Target||5|
Barclays Premier League
|4||West Ham United||17||31|
|15||West Bromwich Albion||17||17|
|16||Queens Park Rangers||17||17|