rmingham - Aston Villa remain on the fringes of the relegation dog-fight after a dour 0-0 draw against 10-man Sunderland on Saturday.
Alex McLeish's side could have moved to within touching distance of
Premier League survival with a win at Villa Park, but instead they face a
nervous finale to a troubled season.
The Midlands outfit are
five points clear of the bottom three with four games remaining after
failing to break down a stubborn Sunderland team, who had former Villa
midfielder Craig Gardner sent off in second-half stoppage-time.
It was a disappointing afternoon for Sunderland coach Martin O'Neill,
who was greeted with boos from Villa fans after walking out on their
club on the eve of last season.
With survival on the agenda, it
was Villa who set the early tempo and the hosts came close to taking the
lead inside the first 60 seconds.
Gabriel Agbonlahor charged
down a clearance from Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and he fed
Andreas Weimann, who forced a fine save from the visiting shot-stopper.
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.
Sunderland's on-loan Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner squandered a good
chance to put the Black Cats ahead seven minutes before halftime.
James Collins lost possession and allowed James 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.
Gardner became the first player to be booked for bringing down Chris Herd early in the second half.
Moments later, McClean missed the best chance of the game when he hooked over from Seb Larsson's cross.
Stephen Ireland then came to Villa's rescue when he cleared a shot on the turn from Bendtner off the line.
Bendtner did have the ball in the net after 76 minutes but was judged
to have strayed fractionally offside before converting Larsson's cross.
Gardner was dismissed for his second yellow card after a foul on Marc Albrighton in the final moments.