Despite a dull 0-0 draw with Norwich in our last home game, Sunderland came into this fixture on the back of a five game unbeaten run (in all competitions) but that run was ended in extremely disappointing fashion, as a first half error by Lee Cattermole was then compounded with a worryingly inept second half display.
Gus Poyet made four changes from the team which secured a 2-2 draw at Cardiff after a late comeback, with goalscorers Jack Colback and Steven Fletcher replacing Seb Larsson and Jozy Altidore, Ondrej Celuskta came in for Andrea Dossena and Ji Dong-Won earned a surprising recall to replace Fabio Borini who was left on the bench after not fully recovering from illness.
Sunderland actually started much the better of the two teams, as they kept possession comfortably despite the wet and windy conditions and went close early on as Emanuele Giaccherini found room 25 yards out and hit a shot that went just wide of Brad Guzan's right hand post. A couple of minutes later the Italian ran at the Villa defence and found Fletcher who should have done much better but could only steer his shot wide past Matthew Lowton on the goal line.
Giaccherini was involved again a few minutes later, as his cross found Ji at the back post but the Korean had a heavy touch and could only fire over from a tight angle under pressure from Luna.
Up until this point Sunderland were completely dominating the game, with Paul Lambert's men barely having a kick, unfortunately it looked as if Lee Cattermole had a New Year's hangover and it showed after 16 minutes as Valentin Roberge passed a routine ball to his captain, which Cattermole inexplicably completely missed, allowing the lucky Gabby Agbonlahor to stroll into the area, take it past Mannone and put the ball into the net past the scrambling Cattermole.
The home side almost hit back immediately, as first Colback's shot from Ji's cutback was blocked and then Ki should have been awarded a penalty as he skipped past Andreas Weimann in the box, only for the Austrian to clearly trip the Korean but Ki's honesty in attempting to stay on his feet was for naught as he lost the ball and the referee refused to point to the spot.
Both sides traded shots, with Ki testing Guzan with a low drive (Sunderland's only shot on target during the game) and then Mannone saved smartly from Agbonlahor, before Giaccherini was given a harsh booking for diving.
Sunderland's confidence appeared to be draining by the half hour mark and this was typified by their captain, who was dispossessed twice in dangerous areas only for the visitors to fail to take advantage of their good fortune. Despite this we were remained in control until half-time but unfortunately the scrappy nature of our play was a portent of things to come in the second half.
Thankfully Cattermole was hauled off at half-time, as Poyet made an attacking change by bringing on Borini but Sunderland were thankful to Mannone shortly after the restart, as he made a brilliant save to keep out a deflected Leandro Bacuna effort.
Borini thought he had equalised on 52 minutes, when he stabbed home from Fletcher's knock-down but the assistant referee ruled his effort offside, a decision which looked harsh on the Italian as replays suggested he was just about level with the Villa defender.
That was as good as it got for us, with Sunderland looking increasingly scrappy and Villa getting numerous chances to extend their lead on the break, all of which they squandered, as the home side looked to push forward for an equaliser that never looked like coming.
There were a couple of flash points as Ki and Colback were both issued yellow cards by Mike Jones after reacting to challenges by Agbonlahor, first the Villa striker caught the Korean with a stray elbow and then Colback caused a flare up by retaliating to being barged in the back by the Brummie.
In truth, this is a result that Aston Villa deserved. For all of Sunderland's good possession in the first half, unforced errors, failing to trouble the opposition goalkeeper and players attempting to be the hero by shooting when they have team-mates better placed, the home side looked to have regressed to the poor side they were earlier in the season. If Poyet knew beforehand that he needed to bring in players during this transfer window, this display may have forced him to look at bringing more players in than he initially intended, which is all the more disappointed considering the good run we had been on.
With the club now four points from safety, the head coach has his work cut out clawing that gap back after today's hugely damaging setback.
We'll have more reaction with Player Ratings and more later on in our Stream. Find that HERE.