ABYSMAL Sunderland suffered their heaviest defeat since January 2010 after Paolo Di Canio’s recent resurgence came crashing down at relegation rivals Aston Villa.
The Black Cats were blown away during the second half at Villa Park, with a Christian Benteke hat-trick ensuring the hosts moved level on points with both Sunderland and Newcastle in the dogfight.
And to make matters worse, Stephane Sessegnon was shown a straight red card, which will ruled the Benin international out of the final three games of the campaign, unless Sunderland opt to appeal.
Sunderland found themselves 2-1 down at the interval after Danny Rose’s first goal in red and white was sandwiched by strikes from Ron Vlaar and Andreas Weimann.
But Di Canio’s side collapsed in the second half with a 17-minute Benteke treble followed by a sixth goal from Gabby Agbonlahor.
Phil Bardsley and Craig Gardner both started for Sunderland, as Di Canio made two changes to the side which triumphed over Everton.
Fit-again Bardsley replaced Colback at right-back while back-from-suspension Gardner came in for James McClean in midfield, with Seb Larsson moving out wide.
Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert made just one change from the side which lost 3-0 at Manchester United, with Yacouba Sylla preferred to former Sunderland transfer target Charles N’Zogbia.
Sunderland had the first opportunity in the seventh minute when Adam Johnson lifted a beautifully weighted reverse chip down the right-hand side of the area.
Gardner got to the ball ahead of Villa stopper Brad Guzan, but his shot from an acute angle was deflected behind by Nathan Baker.
Both teams were guilty of sloppily conceding possession in the exchanges that followed, but Villa went desperately close to breaking the deadlock in the 26th minute.
Gabby Agbonlahor collected possession 30 yards out, played a one-two with Christian Benteke and burst onto the return ball the wrong side of Sunderland’s defence.
But with just Simon Mignolet to beat, Agbonlahor agonisingly slid his shot an inch wide of the post.
Villa did make the breakthrough five minutes later though after Larsson blocked Ashley Westwood’s effort on the edge of the area.
The ball came out to Ron Vlaar, 35 yards out and after a touch to control, the Villa skipper smashed a thumping shot into the boittom corner.
Villa’s lead lasted just two minutes though after Rose received a return-ball from Gardner on the left-hand touchline and fed Danny Graham down the left-hand channel of the area.
Graham managed to pick out Rose, who had burst into the box looking for the return-ball and the left-back swept a left-footed shot into the bottom corner.
But it only took Villa until the 38th minute to regain the advantage after a telegraphed crossfield pass from Gardner to Larsson was intercepted by Matt Lowton.
The right-back burst forward and swept a ball to the left flank where Andreas Weimann had gone completely untracked by the Sunderland defence.
Faced with the outrushing Mignolet, Weimann kept his cool and placed the ball beyond the Belgian into the far corner.
HALF-TIME Aston Villa 2 Sunderland 1
Villa doubled their advantage 10 minutes into the second half after more shoddy Sunderland defending.
Agbonlahor was allowed to twist and turn on the edge of the Sunderland area before scuffing a shot which deflected off Bardsley and wrong-footed Mignolet.
The keeper managed to palm it away, but only into the path of the waiting Benteke who cushioned a header into the empty net.
Benteke didn’t have to wait long for another.
On the hour mark, Ashley Westwood delivered a corner from the left which was met at the far post by Benteke, who got above John O’Shea and Carlos Cuellar to head into the bottom corner.
Villa almost added a fifth in the 67th minute, Weimann drilling a shot at Mignolet from the right-hand side of the area and then sending the rebound towards the far corner, only for Cuellar to clear off the line.
Matters only got worse in the 70th minute for Sunderland when Stephane Sessegnon was handed a straight red for a high challenge on Sylla.
Benteke then completed his hat-trick three minutes later when Cuellar was carelessly caught in possession on the edge of the Sunderland box.
Agbonlahor fed Benteke down the left-hand side of the area and he managed to wrong-foot Belgian team-mate Mignolet by beating him at the near post.
And with two minutes to go, Villa added a six after substitute David Vaughan played a dreadful back pass, beyond O’Shea.
It left Agbonlahor with the opportunity to race away and the striker rounded Mignolet before knocking the ball into the empty net.
Debutant Mikael Mandron almost grabbed a consolation in stoppage time, but his header from James McClean’s corner was blocked by Brad Guzan.
FULL-TIME Aston Villa 6 Sunderland 1
ASTON VILLA: Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Baker, Bennett, Westwood, Delph, Sylla, Weimann, Agbonlahor, Benteke (Bent 79). Subs not used: Holman, Lichaj, Bowery, N’Zogbia, Bannan, Given.
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet, Bardsley, O’Shea, Cuellar, Rose, Johnson, Gardner (Vaughan 87), N’Diaye, Larsson (McClean 61), Sessegnon,