Barry on the spot as Villa edge Sunderland
© AFP

Gareth Barry's controversial late penalty gave 10-man Aston Villa a 2-1 win against Sunderland to consolidate their position in the Premier League's top four.

Martin O'Neill's side rode their luck at the Stadium of Light after falling behind to an early goal from Danny Collins. Even when James Milner equalised in the second half, Villa still contrived to surrender the advantage as Ashley Young was sent off for a wild two-footed lunge.

However, Barry struck from the spot with 10 minutes to play after Paul McShane was controversially ruled to have fouled Gabriel Agbonlahor. Villa arrived in the north-east of England hoping to cement their place in the UEFA Champions League places, but Sunderland have been revitalised in recent weeks and they threatened first when a Carlos Edwards cross was almost deflected into his own net by Steve Sidwell.

The visitors had a sight of goal when Milner's pass found Young but the England star's sliding effort failed to test Marton Fulop. Just as Villa were starting to hit their stride, Sunderland took the lead with 11 minutes gone.

After Kenwyne Jones had been tripped by Curtis Davies, Edwards curled a free-kick into the box for Collins to power a header past Brad Friedel. Sunderland went close to increasing their lead as Jones tested Friedel with a well-struck shot on the turn in the 15th minute.

Ricky Sbragia's side were on the attack again when skipper Dean Whitehead found space in the box and hit a low shot that Friedel saved well. It was one-way traffic at that point and Black Cats defender Anton Ferdinand got his head to an Edwards cross at the near post and glanced his effort just wide.

Yet Villa almost finished the half on level terms when Young curled a free-kick narrowly past a post. The second half was a feisty affair as tackles flew in from both sides, with Djibril Cisse booked for a crude challenge.

Sunderland should have added a second goal in the 57th minute when Jones cut in from the right but his scuffed shot was easy for Friedel. Villa finally got themselves back into the game on the hour with their first cohesive break, although there was a touch of controversy about it.

Barry and Agbonlahor combined to send Young clear and he crossed for Milner, who bundled the ball home with his shoulder as he went to ground under Pascal Chimbonda's challenge. Just as Villa looked to be taking control, Young was shown a straight red card in the 72nd minute for a two-footed challenge on Whitehead.

However, that didn't rattle Villa and they snatched a dramatic winner in the 80th minute. Agbonlahor looked to be offside as he chased a long ball over the Sunderland defence and to make matters even worse McShane was adjudged to have fouled him inside the penalty area as he grappled with the England striker.

Barry stepped up to smash the spot-kick high into the net and spark wild celebrations from the travelling fans.