Aston Villa must improve, says Shay Given after Sunderland stalemate

• We have underachieved and lack experience, says Given
• Tuesday's visit of Bolton takes on even more significance

For some Aston Villa supporters, the club's miserable league position is entirely predictable. Villa sold a couple of their best players, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, in the summer and appointed Alex McLeish, a manager with two relegations in three Premier League seasons on his CV, to take charge of a team who had made hard work of surviving in the previous campaign. Villa, so the theory goes, were an accident waiting to happen.

Shay Given, however, refuses to subscribe to that view. "I don't think it was always going to be a difficult season. I think we have underachieved as a club and as a team," the Villa goalkeeper said, rather damningly, after this goalless draw left the Midlands club in 15th place, five points clear of the relegation zone ahead of Tuesday's home game against Bolton.

Given added: "The most important thing is we get up to safety and then we can hopefully strengthen in the summer and bring in a few more experienced players. I think we are lacking that. We don't have enough players with experience. We have a lot of young players in the team and squad. But we can't look past Tuesday. We know we are not safe and it is important we focus on the next couple of games."

Confidence is brittle. Villa have won just one of their last 12 league matches and it is a measure of how poor they have been in front of their own supporters that they have won only once at home in the past five months. To compound matters, James Collins has joined Richard Dunne on the sidelines after picking up a groin injury against Sunderland, leaving Villa without both of their first-choice centre-halves for Bolton's visit, as well as long-term absentees Stilian Petrov and Darren Bent.

The good news for Villa is that Gabriel Agbonlahor is expected to recover from a shoulder problem that forced him off early in the second half. The bad news is that the stand-in captain has only one goal to his name since the start of November. It has been that sort of season. "We don't want to be where we are at," Given said. "But it is important we try and get a win [against Bolton] to give us some breathing space."

Villa's position would be more perilous had the assistant referee not incorrectly raised his flag for offside when Nicklas Bendtner turned in Sebastian Larsson's cross in the 74th minute, denying Martin O'Neill the chance to mark his return to a club who are unrecognisable from the one he left, on the eve of last season, with a victory. "I think great clubs like this just might be down for a little while, but they will respond," said the Sunderland manager, whose side finished the game with 10 men after Craig Gardner received a second booking late on. "The club is too big and too good not to come back."

Man of the match James McClean (Sunderland)

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