A Benteke hat trick as Villa hit six past Sunderland

Posted by Kevin Hughes

A marvellous, uplifting night at Villa Park as a tense relegation clash was transformed into a showboating six-goal victory. It was the kind of win, and performance, that Villa fans have craved for so long during this most turbulent of seasons that the second half of Monday night's 6-1 success over Sunderland unfolded in giddy excitement -- a display of breathless attacking football, unrelenting pressure and, above all else, goal after goal.

- Match report: Aston Villa 6-1 Sunderland
- Brassell: Villa find their inner Di Canio

Christian Benteke was the headline-writing hero with a second half hat trick, but he was far from alone in rising to the occasion. This was a team effort from a Villa side which, not for the first time this season, and particularly in recent crucial matches -- games against Reading, QPR and Stoke spring to mind -- responded with spirit to what could have been a morale-sapping setback.

Sunderland had the best of the opening exchanges. The movement of Stephane Sessegnon and Adam Johnson was lively, and a feature of the visitors' play was pressing, en masse: Villa's midfield, bolstered by the recall of Yacouba Sylla, were denied space. But after Gabby Agbonlahor poked Villa's first decent effort wide, a breakthrough from an unexpected source as captain Ron Vlaar scored his first goal for the club.

A couple of his colleagues had tried their luck, to no avail, and when the ball broke loose 30-odd yards from goal, the Dutchman moved forward with intent; one touch and he sent a fizzing right-foot effort low and past Simon Mignolet. 1-0 Villa, on the half hour mark.

The lead lasted less than two minutes when Danny Rose, Sunderland's quick and adventurous left-back, scampered forward and on to a pass from Danny Graham. As Vlaar, caught out of position, slid desperately across, Rose tucked his shot past Brad Guzan for the equaliser.

A sucker punch for Villa, but instead of sucking the resolve from the home side, it drew a response. From that moment on, the game seemed to fall wide open, and it was the Villa right back, Matt Lowton, who led the charge and continued the first half theme of fullbacks influencing proceedings. Having picked himself up from the turf following a bruising collision with Rose, and watched the Sunderland left back pull his team level, Lowton turned marauder.

Intercepting in his own half, the right back drove into the Sunderland half, and spotted Andreas Weimann, hitherto almost anonymous, motoring into space on the left hand side. The pass was perfect, as was Weimann's composure as the Austrian cut inside onto his right foot and stroked his finish into the net. Villa ahead 2-1 at the break.

The game's fourth goal was always going to be crucial, and Villa got it early in the second half. Attack has been the best form of defence for Paul Lambert's bright young side all season, and there was never a suggestion that Villa would seek to sit and hold on to their lead through the concluding 45 minutes. They maintained a quick tempo from the re-start and put the game to bed by the hour mark.

First, Benteke nodded in when Mignolet parried Agbonlahor's shot -- it should be noted that it was Lowton, stretching on the touchline, who kept the ball in play and the move alive earlier in the build-up - and then the big Belgian towered above Carlos Cuellar to bulldoze in a header from six yards, profiting from a corner. It was, overall, a wretched night for Cuellar on his return to Villa Park and, amid all the jubilation, hard not to feel some sympathy for a player who was popular with Villa fans during his time at the club.

Still, Villa kept going, by now thoroughly enjoying themselves and playing unrestrained football. Benteke's hat trick arrived with a near post finish, and Agbonlahor wrapped it all up with number six, sprinting through to round Mignolet. By that stage, the Black Cats were reduced to ten men following Sessegnon's sending off. His dismissal, for a studs-up challenge on Sylla, had no bearing on the outcome of this game but a three-match suspension, if upheld, could have implications on Sunderland's survival hopes yet. He's out for the remainder of the season.

In his technical area, Lambert was punching the air and embracing his players. His opposite number, Di Canio, bore the look of shock, a coach on the wrong end of an old-fashioned drubbing, his fairytale start to life in the Premier League over. He didn't see this coming, Di Canio, having claimed Villa Park was 'an easy place' to go.

Actually, that wasn't so much of an outrageous statement. Villa have been a soft touch for too long, and Villa Park has hardly been a fortress. It has seen so many disappointments over the last 12-18 months, and more, that the home fans have every right to revel in putting six goals past another Premier League side. They deserved this. For the miserable Christmas period, the mockery of losing to Bradford City in the League Cup, the ongoing tribulations of fighting relegation, they more than deserved this.

Villa are still not safe, but, after witnessing such a pulsating victory, relegation is unthinkable. Now to Norwich at Carrow Road, and Villa's next challenge. It can't come quickly enough for a group of players who will be absolutely buzzing right now.

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