Well I'm not sure too many people saw that coming. An absolutely sensational performance from Aston Villa - coupled with a shocking one from Sunderland - has moved them up to 16th place, above Newcastle on goal difference and five points clear of Wigan. Safety is so close. Christian Benteke will grab the headlines for his hat-trick but let's not forget how good his team-mates were, with Matthew Lowton, Ashley Westwood, Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann standing out in particular. As for Sunderland, they're not out of the woods yet and they'll have to do without Sessegnon for the last three games. Di Canio's suit stayed clean tonight. Thanks for reading and emailing. Night.
Full-time: Aston Villa 6-1 Sunderland
90 min+5: Sunderland almost grab a consolation goal but Mandron's header from Rose's corner is well saved by Guzan.
90 min+2: "If we're on the subject of names and mistakes, how do you think I feel, constantly getting mistaken for a certain Cafu-esque Villa fullback?" says Matthew Loten.
90 min+1: Four minutes of torture for Sunderland.
90 min: Villa are now above Newcastle on goal difference. Newcastle will end the night in 17th place.
GOAL! Aston Villa 6-1 Sunderland (Agbonlahor, 88 min)
What an impact from David Vaughan! He splits Sunderland's defence wide open with a through-ball to Agbonlahor, who speeds off into the distance, rounds Mignolet and taps it into the empty net. Wait. Oh. One of the all-time great substitutions.
87 min: David Vaughan replaces Craig Gardner, who's booed off.
86 min: Sunderland replace Danny Graham with the young French striker Mikael Mandron, who's making his debut.
85 min: Agbonlahor's cross finds Bent. He lays it off to Weimann on the edge of the area and his firm side-footer is held by Mignolet. "This Benteke hat trick is like making a mockery of PFA awards," says Gokul Kannan. "How on Earth can you decide who the best players are with 5 weeks of action remaining. And why would you do that."
83 min: Bennett curls a cross towards the far post. Mignolet punches it away. Villa have stepped off a bit since the fifth goal.
81 min: "As a Villa fan in Australia, getting up at 4.50am to watch this 6 pointer, it's particularly sweet," says Andrew James. "Re: mistaken names, I get called James at work at least once a week. Damnable email headers that put surnames before first names..."
I wonder if that ever happened to Stern John.
79 min: Benteke departs to a standing ovation after his hat-trick. On comes Darren Bent.
78 min: "Would love to see Sunderland or Newcastle go down but even with the game in hand it's going to be Wigan, isn't it?" says Peter Ferry. Well they have games against West Brom, Swansea and Villa, plus one at Arsenal, so they could do it. It's a tall order though.
77 min: "It doesn't take much to empty a lorry load of fivers on to the bridge to The Emirates and say We'll have Robin Van Persie please," says Gary Naylor. "But Christian Benteke eh? Who saw him coming? Helluva coup. Might be a £25M player already." It's a wonder no one else spotted him.
76 min: Bardsley is booked for going through the back of Benteke.
75 min: Almost an exact replica of Benteke's second goal. Westwood hangs another corner to the far post for Benteke to attack, only for Cuellar to flick it behind with his hand. It should be a penalty but Probert thought Benteke had got his head to the ball. It was difficult to tell to be fair to the referee.
74 min: So Villa's goal difference is now the same as Newcastle's. They're both on -23 but Newcastle have scored 43 goals to Villa's 41.
GOAL! Aston Villa 5-1 Sunderland (Benteke, 72 min)
Sunderland are a rabble. Cuellar messes around with the ball in his own half and loses it to Agbonlahor, before inadvertently knocking it through to Benteke. He races clear on the left of the area and then drills a low left-footer underneath Mignolet for his hat-trick!
72 min: Di Canio's cooking. That will rule Sessegnon, Sunderland's best player, out for the rest of the season.
STEPHANE SESSEGNON IS SENT OFF!
Paolo Di Canio flings up his arms in frustration as Sunderland's night goes from bad to worse. I'm not sure there can be too many arguments with this. Sessegnon arrived late and stamped down with his studs on Sylla's right ankle. That's a sore one. The Villa bench were immediately up demanding a red and Lee Probert swiftly obliged.
69 min: "I can confirm that your offended colleague was Irish due to the amount of Gaelic swear words he was able to fit into one email," says Ian Copestake. Oh Baz!
68 min: Who's better - Matthew Lowton or Cafu? You decide.
67 min: It might not be -10 for very long because Sunderland are a mess. A high free-kick from the right from Westwood eventually finds Benteke unmarked on the left of the area. The angle is tight and he can only pulls his volley back across goal, all the way to Weimann on the other side of the area. He controls it and then sees his fierce volley beaten away by Mignolet - and his follow-up cleared off the line!
66 min: Danny Rose is booked.
65 min: So here is the table as it stands. Wigan will be on 32 points with four games left, while Villa, Sunderland and Newcastle will all be on 37 points with three games left. Sunderland's goal difference is currently -10 to Villa and Newcastle's -24 and -23.
64 min: "Gotta love Paul Lambert's Barry Fry-style touchline celebrations," says David Lipworth.
63 min: "Is it too late for the confused naming riff?" says Ianto Brychan. "I've variously been Anton, Iantos, Antos and, my favourite, Ayanato. I've created a whole back story for Ayanato as I am so fond of it. Diplomatic service in Tokyo is the very short version. I really need to look into hobbies or, perhaps, a pet."
62 min: James McClean on, Sebastian Larsson on.
61 min: Adam Johnson's shooting is growing ever more woeful.
GOAL! Aston Villa 4-1 Sunderland (Benteke, 59 min)
Christian Benteke does it again! From the left, Westwood lifted the corner up high to the far post, where Benteke hangs in the air, above Cuellar and O'Shea, and sends a downward header past Mignolet and into the bottom-left corner. What a leap! Hang time.
59 min: Lowton: cross, cross, cross, cross, cross, cross. Another forces Bardsley to shuffle the ball behind for a corner on the left and...
58 min: Then again. Johnson jinks in from the right and chips a cross towards the far post. Vlaar inexplicably ducks instead of heading it away and the ball drops just past the right post with Guzan rooted to the spot. What on earth was Vlaar thinking of there?
57 min: The Villa fans are pleased. Surely their side can't mess this up.
GOAL! Aston Villa 3-1 Sunderland (Benteke, 55 min)
Well they always said the next goal was going to be important and there's a hint of fortune about it, to be fair. Agbonlahor did well to skip past two Sunderland players before unleashing a left-footed drive from 25 yards out that took the slightest of deflections off a defender. That was enough to wrongfoot Mignolet and he could only push it out as far as Benteke, who was onside. He stooped and headed the ball into the empty net.
52 min: The Villa fans' wick is engaged. Bennett is brought down from behind by Johnson but Lee Probert waves play on, before giving Sunderland a free-kick over on the left for a foul by Sylla on Rose.
50 min: Bennett curls a free-kick in from the right but it's straight into Mignolet's hands. "So, I've been thinking about being offended," says Cameron Harris. "And I've decided that people are only offended when they choose to be. Otherwise, you're hurt, and that doesn't involve mounting of the high horse. 'I'm offended' translates as 'I feel like I should be hurt, but I'm not, so I'll just pretend I am'." If you're offended by everything, you've got all the bases covered. Let's see someone try to accuse you of a lack of sensitivity!
47 min: The Sky commentator just turned Dutch for a moment, calling Ashley Westwood "Ashley Weschtwood". Or maybe he's drunk.
46 min: Here we go then. Understatement: this is a big 45 minutes for Aston Villa Football Club Football Club.
"I offended a colleague of yours by berating him for a lack of umlauts in a recent report when it was the very last thing he wanted to read for the 100th time," says Ian Copestake. "I was expecting the sort of twitter exchange you might expect with Jeff Woad, where he tells you what he's going to do to you before he does it, and doesn't take any pleading. Luckily I don't have twitter."
Name and shame.
I think Lambert must have read the preamble. He went nuts when Villa scored their second. He's upped the ante. Your move, Di Canio.
Half-time: Aston Villa 2-1 Sunderland
That was good.
45 min+3: "C'mon Jacob, tell us what we're all checking in to find out," says Rob Crich. "What's Di Canio up to?" I haven't seen a lot actually. Lambert lost himself a bit when Weimann scored.
45 min: There will be three minutes of added time. In the first of those, Johnson totally messes up a free-kick.
44 min: Sunderland have the ball in the net but it won't count. Larsson curled a cross in from the left but Guzan was clattered by Graham as he caught it. The ball fell loose and Gardner slid it home, but the whistle had long gone. There's not too much to debate there.
43 min: Johnson cuts on to his left foot and rams one miles over. "Not to dwell on it too much (it being 30 years ago etc), but my mum used to put my tea on the table at 5pm every day," says Andy Turner. "This was fine when I attended school, but it became slightly more problematic when I starting working in an office one hour away. And finishing work at 5.30pm. In any future autobiography I intend to refer to them as 'the lean years'."
42 min: That pass from Lowton. That touch from Weimann.
41 min: N'Diaye has a dig from 25 yards out. It was probably going wide but Guzan dives to his left to save and hold it anyway.
40 min: Phew!
GOAL! Aston Villa 2-1 Sunderland (Weimann, 38 min)
Matthew Lowton, take a bow. Andreas Weimann, take a bow. Villa have their lead back. What a response. Lowton started this by reading an unwise crossfield pass from right to left, beating his man to the ball and chesting it forward and past the halfway line. With Sunderland suddenly exposed, he spotted Weimann in space and curved a delicious pass through to him on the left. He still had a lot to do but his first touch with his right foot, taking the ball out of the air, was exquisite. It opened up his body for the shot and with his second, he stroked the ball under Mignolet and past the man on the line. What a goal and what a game.
36 min: Those goals were the first Vlaar and Rose have scored for their respective clubs. A man who's scored a few more, Weimann, cuts inside from the right but doesn't catch his shot right and Mignolet saves.
34 min: Carlos Cuellar is booked for a foul on someone or other.
THAT DIDN'T LAST LONG! Aston Villa 1-1 Sunderland (Rose, 32 min)
This is a brilliant goal. Villa kept their lead for all of a minute. And that's why they're in trouble. Well, part of why they are in so much trouble. On the left, Rose poked a pass down the left-hand channel and into the area for Graham, who was just onside. He held it up and then pulled the ball back into the path of Rose. Unforgivably no one had bothered to track his run and he swept a ruthless first-time finish across Guzan with his left foot and into the far corner.
GOAL! Aston Villa 1-0 Sunderland (Vlaar, 31 min)
I believe this is what they call a captain's goal. Larsson did take that free-kick and although it was whipped in with pace and curl, Guzan collected it. From there Villa broke, Agbonlahor speeding past Rose on the right. His cross was too high for Weimann but it was collected by Benteke. He cut inside and had a shot blocked, as did Westwood. The ball was cleared towards the halfway line but Vlaar charged on to it, romped forward and then sent a low right-footed skidder through the bodies and into the bottom-right corner from 30 yards out!
29 min: Sessegnon is brought down by a combination of Baker and Vlaar around 40 yards from goal. Larsson will send this one into the box.
27 min: Up the other end, Johnson teases Bennett, shifts the ball on to his left foot and then whips in a cross that evades Graham at the near post and drifts behind. Sunderland need to get more men in the box. That cross was begging to be tapped in.
26 min: There still hasn't been a shot on target. But there has been an atrocious miss from Agbonlahor after a great move from Villa. Well, from Benteke and Agbonlahor, who combined beautifully. The move started with Benteke laying a pass off to Agbonlahor, who surged through the middle and away from Gardner. He then found Benteke again and his gorgeous flick ran through perfectly for Agbonlahor, but with only Mignolet to beat, he poked the ball past him and past the right post. A great move though. Two one-twos. Is that a three-four?
25 min: I do believe there hasn't been a shot on target yet. Hmm.
23 min: Villa's players seem beset by nerves. If they concede the first goal here, you fear for them. They just can't strike up any sort of rhythm at all.
21 min: Under little pressure, Agbonlahor hits a tame cross straight at Mignolet with Weimann and Benteke both making good runs through the middle. Come on now.
20 min: Paolo Di Canio is joining in the applause for Stiliyan Petrov.
19 min: "I have just purchased a pebble watch and the current watch face tells Hobbit time," says Dave Jackson. "The developers description: I'd like to think hobbits tell time by the grumbling in their tummies. You decide how practical this is for your wrist, Starting at 5am (and 'sleep' otherwise):
almost breakfast, breakfast, seven-ish, almost second breakfast, second breakfast, almost elevenses, elevenses, luncheon, after lunch nap, afternoon tea, three-ish, almost dinner, dinner, almost supper, supper, eight-ish, nine-ish."
When's the third breakfast?
18 min: A short pass from Larsson tempts Lowton into a 50-50 with Rose. They end up cleaning each other out and although it might have been a foul by Lowton, he's come off worse. He's winded.
17 min: Villa's passing has been so poor and they're really struggling to get their dangerous front three into the game.
15 min: A lot of endeavour so far but, and this isn't too surprising, a lack of quality. "I am an Englishman in New Mexico," says Raimon Skrupskis. "Some people assume my accent is Aussie on first acquaintance. How's that for offensive!"
13 min: Westwood clips a fine cross to the far post from the right but Cuellar does well to head away with Benteke waiting.
12 min: "It's regional*, for sure," says Russell Richardson. "Up in Barrow-in-Furness we had breakfast, dinner, tea and supper. Meals at school were school DINNERS, 'tea' was 'something and chips' after school/work, around 5 , after Blue Peter... Lunch didn't exist at all, though there was that mysterious 'luncheon meat'.... when (or indeed, why) would one eat that?
*or temporal, I'm back in the 1960s."
11 min: Villa need their fans to stay with them. They're really on edge after this slow start from their side and are howling at every little mistake. It won't help.
10 min: It's amazing what two wins can do for the confidence.
8 min: Villa are being opened up down the right at will. What's Joe Bennett playing at here? A simple pass from N'Diaye finds Sessegnon in space again. He slides a clever pass into the middle for Larsson but the ball gets stuck under his feet, meaning he can't get a shot away. Johnson can though - but it's blocked.
7 min: Villa need to step this up. A ball over the top - I'm not sure from who - from the right finds Graham in behind. He beats Guzan to it and nips the ball round the Villa keeper, but his touch just forces him a tad wide. He hooks it back into the six-yard box, but it's hacked behind and the corner is cleared.
6 min: I said that Villa had started well. That was mainly on the basis of winning one corner. As it goes, Sunderland are actually the better side at the moment. On the right, Sessegnon bewitches the Villa defence and rolls a cross in towards the near post. Graham tries to turn it across goal and eventually it rebounds to Guzan off an unwitting Villa defender. That could have gone anywhere.
5 min: The rain has now soaked Di Canio's suit. He just can't catch a break. Adam Johnson has started on the right flank by the way, with Seb Larsson on the left.
3 min: Westwood swings a corner to the far post, where Mignolet comes and lets the ball slip out of his hands. Baker tries to force the ball back into the six-yard box and after a spot of head-tennis, Mignolet eventually claims it. That wasn't especially convincing from Sunderland's goalkeeper.
2 min: Villa's fans are offended by Craig Gardner and with good reason - he used to play for them and then he left for Birmingham. Their side has started well though. Benteke flicks a ball into the area for Delph and Bardsley has to cover it well. It breaks to Weimann and eventually Rose has to concede a corner on the right. "Jason Steinberg?!" says Ryan Dunne. "Sounds a bit "Jerry Cougar Mellencamp"! I think Eminem's "I find you offensive for finding me offensive'' is the best contribution to the subject of offence (but then I have been known to regard the covers-all-sins "no offence but...'' as the three sweetest words in the English language)."
Off we go! Villa, to a huge roar from their fans, get the game underway and are attacking from left to right. "The great Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner/Tea Debate," says Adam Hirst. "We had School Dinners and Tea-Time was 5pm. I got confused on moving down to London and hearing friends of friends say things like ‘Why don’t you come around for supper one night?’ Supper? Are they crazy? Why would you go around somebody else’s house for a glass of milk and biscuit just before you go to bed?" That'\s so weird.
And here come the teams. Aston Villa are in their claret and blue shirts, the best kind of shirts, and Sunderland are in their red and white stripes. It's a shame the pre-match handshake means that teams no longer run out of the tunnel. Offensive, if you will.
"I am offended (mostly bewildered, but in order to fit the theme I will be offended) by the amount of our fellow West Ham supporters who believe that Paolo Di Canio is just building up a bit of experience before coming over to replace Big Sam," says Courtney Fleury. "I'm not sure why so many seem certain that he would even want to come manage at West Ham, it seems like romantic wishful thinking to me. Do you reckon he would be interested if the opportunity came up?"
He would definitely want to come to West Ham and would have taken the job if it had been available when he was out of work. Whether he would now he's at Sunderland is another matter, of course. If he does well, I think that his next job would arguably be at a bigger club than both - or even at an Italian club.
"I’m a Jason... I sometimes get Justin," says
Cuthbert Jason Stone. "What do people called Justin get called by accident? James?" Elroy.
"Gary Neville's punditry is spot on again - dinner is indeed at 12 and tea at 5pm," says Mark Judd. "Not only a great pundit but a man of the people (if a bit richer than most)."
Don't get me started. Lunch is between 12 and 2, dinner is what you have in the evening. Tea is a hot drink.
"I'm offended that I've been too busy at work to listen to today's Fitba Weekly," says Mark Coale. "And the end of Doctor Who this week." Who's to blame about the work? We need to know. As for Doctor Who, well, we have the passing of time to blame for that. STOP TIME!
"I'm offended by the fact you're now saying we can't call you Jason," says Dominic Murphy. "FREEDOM OF SPEECH."
"Happy Lee Elia day to JR," says Ian Copestake. "Alas I was unable to share the rant as it is the clip is not available in Germany.They are still a bit sensitive about that sort of thing." Offensive.
"It's raining," says Philippa Booth. "This just isn't on." Thor out.
Gary Neville is offended by Newcastle's defending. Sshh, Gary Neville is talking.
"Today is my favorite day of the year," says JR in Illinois. "It's a holiday I invented and have been celebrating for a long time. It's called "Lee Elia Day" and today is its 30th anniversary. 30 years ago today the manger of the Chicago Cubs baseball team went on a tirade the likes of which had not been heard before and hasn't been heard since. The Cubs had started off the season poorly (again) and Mr. Elia was a bit upset about the behavior of the fans. (To help understand a little: Back in 1983 the Cubs were the only team that did not have a lighted stadium, hence his reference to the fact about how many people are working and that the rest come to their games.) I've noticed y'all over there get all geeked up by that Kevin Keegan "rant". Well, I think this has it beat by quite a distance.
(I'll give you a link to an edited version and one to the audio.)
This is special.
Please email me about something that has offended you today. Anything. Let's be offended together.
Here are ... the teams.
Aston Villa: Guzan; Lowton, Vlaar, Baker, Bennett; Westwood, Delph, Sylla; Weimann, Benteke, Agbonlahor. Subs: Given, Bent, N'Zogbia, Holman, Bowery, Bannan, Lichaj.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Bardsley, O'Shea, Cuellar, Rose; Larsson, N'Diaye, Gardner, Johnson; Sessegnon; Graham. Subs: Westwood, Kilgallon, Colback, Vaughan, Mangane, McClean, Mandron.
Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire)
I've noticed a recent increase in calling me Jason. Jason Steinberg. Doesn't quite work does it? It reminds me of an encounter with my headmaster at school. I was in my fifth year there and he'd never spoken to me, but I had to see him to look over my university application. Despite the advantage of my name being on the piece of paper in front of him, he proceeded to call me Ben for the next 30 minutes. What do you do in that situation? There's nothing worse than someone not knowing your name.
Hello. There are many ways to manage a football team. There are right ways, there are wrong ways, there are a lot of ways and perhaps no two managers prove that more than Paul Lambert and Paolo Di Canio. No one does a poker face better than Lambert, a man who keeps his emotions firmly in check and who makes it virtually impossible to tell what sort of mood he's in. Aston Villa could have beaten Barcelona 10-0 in the Champions League final and he'd probably still be as inscrutably impassive as ever; equally whenever they have been thrashed this season, and that has happened more than once, he has done his best to give little away. It's hard to imagine Lambert getting an expensive suit dirty celebrating a goal. It's hard to imagine Lambert crying.
Di Canio's style is a bit different; one more goal in Sunderland's 3-0 win at Newcastle and the suit was coming off. Here is a man who once vowed to kill himself if he failed to win a trophy with West Ham - thankfully everyone remembers West Ham's heroic title win in the 1999-00 season - and who once said: "The man who comes to take care of my piranhas told me that if I left West Ham he would kill all my fish." Charisma works in different ways though. You don't have to be a ranter and a raver to inspire passion in your players. This has been a difficult season for Lambert and Villa but he has still demonstrated that he is a tactically innovative manager manager with an astute eye in the transfer market and an admirable faith in youth. Whatever happens to Villa between now and the end of the season, they will be better for having Lambert in charge.
And just as it would clearly be asinine to paint Lambert as a dour Scot, so it would be to write off Di Canio as a passionate cheerleader. The early signs would suggest that there is more to him than that, even if we will probably learn more about his character when Sunderland struggle under him. For now, though, it is a match made in heaven, the recent wins over Newcastle and Everton leaving Sunderland, who looked to be in freefall under Martin O'Neill, so close to safety. A win tonight would move them up to 40 points, eight points clear of Wigan. They'll have to work for it though. Villa, three points worse off than Sunderland, are even more desperate for a win that would be disastrous for Wigan - or, maybe, Newcastle. If nothing else, this promises to be an interesting study in human nature. Luckily, with so much at stake for both sides, it is so much more.