AN awful error by Lee Cattermole handed Villa victory as Sunderland failed for the 10th time of asking to beat a side in the bottom half of the table.
The captain’s cock-up came just quarter-of-an-hour into a game Sunderland had controlled ujp until that point when he allowed a pass from Valentin Roberge to escape his possession.
That was all it took for the lurking Gaby Agbonlahor to pounce on the ball, take it around the exposed Vito Mannone and slot home.
From then on, the pattern was set, with Sunderland dominating possession and Villa looking to hit on the break.
But the Black Cats could not complain about their defeat, even though Emanuele Giaccherini had a second-half effort disallowed in a decision which looked very harsh.
Sunderland were poor in front of goal all afternoon - getting just one further shot on target all afternoon - while Villa created the more clear-cut chances and could have won by more.
It was a bad defeat for the home side - ending their five game unbeaten run, as well as Villa’s five-match run without a win - and it leaves Sunderland becalmed on the bottom of the table, just as they had got themselves into a position to potentially climb out of the bottom three.
Sunderland had made four changes to the side that grabbed a last-gasp point at Cardiff City - Ji Dong-won, Steven Fletcher, Jack Colback and Ondrej Celustka replacing Jozy Altidore, Fabio Borini, Seb Larsson and Andrea Dossena.
Villa made two changes from the side that drew against Swansea to end a run of four straight defeats but the changes were big ones - powerful frontman Christian Benteke and centre-half Ron Vlaar replacing Aleksander Tonev and the suspended Ciaran Clark.
The big talking point though for Sunderland fans was the return of Ji Dong-won to the starting line-up, having never previously even made the bench under Gus Poyet.
It was a sign of how stretched Sunderland’s squad has become by the arduous fixture list, and the side would have welcomed a fresh pair of legs with the conditions appalling at kick-off as strong winds and torrential rain lashed around the Stadium of Light.
Understandably, given the weather, both sides started the match tentatively and the first shot did not arrive until the sixth minute when Emanuele Giaccherini drove a grass-cutter a yard wide of Bard Guzan’s right-hand post from distance.
Giaccherini turned provider a minute later when he played Steven Fletcher in on goal with a diagonal ball into the box on the right.
The pass though pushed the striker just a little wide and his side-footed effort disappeared the far post.
And Giaccherini was in the thick of it again in the ninth minute, beating his man down the left and centreing to the far-post where Ji was deceived by the jumping defender in front of him - the ball bouncing off the striker’s thigh which meant his hastily improvised shot flashed wide of the target.
It was a good start by Sunderland with Villa not mounting an attack until the 11th minute when Leandro Bacuna’s cross from the right was volleyed clear by Valentin Roberge.
But disaster struck in the 15th minute when Cattermole mis-controlled a simple ball from Roberge and Gaby Agbonlahor nipped in to pinch possession, round Vito Mannone and slot the ball into an empty net as Cattermole desperately back-tracked.
The Black Cats tried to hit back immediately and Colback was unlucky to see his shot from 12 yards strike the back of Ron Vlaar and got out for a corner.
Sunderland could not afford to push too hard however against one of the best counter-attacking teams in the division and Bacuna reminded them of that in the 18th minute when he burst upfield and dragged a shot across goal from the left.
Giaccherini was booked for simulation in the 23rd minute and Sunderland’s woes threatened to worsen a minute later when Agbonlahor broke on goal and forced a great block from Mannone with Modibo Diakite needing to be brave to scoop the rebound away from the lurking Andreas Weimann.
Sunderland started to improve - Ki brought the first save out of Guzan in the game in the 26th minute, firing low to the near post from the left.
Fletcher might have embarrassed Guzan when a back-pass slipped out of his hands, had the striker gambled a little more.
But when Cattermole lost the ball once more to Agbonlahor just before the half-hour, home fans started to lose patience.
The next 10 minutes was all about Sunderland battering away at Villa and they might have capped a good spell in the 41st minute when Bacuna was yellow-carded for fouling Bardsley on the edge of the area, only for Giaccherini to squander the free-kick.
Ji went close from the first of two corners in the 42nd minute only for his shot from eight yards to be blocked out, leaving Sunderland to go into the break trailing.
Sunderland 0 Aston Villa 1
The second-half began with an immediate change - the troubled Cattermole off and Fabio Borini on - but it was Villa who produced the first danger on the resumption with a Bacuna shot deflecting off the back of Roberge and forcing an excellent reaction save from Mannone.
Sunderland had the ball in the back of the net in the 53rd minute though, Borini taking possession just outside the six-yard box, only for the linesman’s flag to go up when replays suggested he was offside.
Borini was on the end of Sunderland’s next chance, his shot from the edge of the area blocked out for a corner on the hour, and from the ball in from the left, Bardsley produced a thunderbolt from 20 yards which drifted a yard wide of Guzan’s right-hand post.
With the game getting increasingly bad-tempered, Poyet brought on Altidore for Ji in the 66th minute and when play resumed Ki struck a powerful shot from range which curled narrowly off target.
A Giaccherini effort a few minutes later was similarly hopeful from distance but even more wayward and Sunderland were forced into an almighty goal-mouth scramble when Benteke bore down on goal and Bardsley was forced to head off the line.
Poyet brought on Adam Johnson for Roberge in the last quarter of an hour as Sunderland gambled on all-out attack.
But it was Villa who threatened to finish the stronger side - substitute Marc Albrighton forcing a stunning save out of Mannone in the 82nd minute with the Italian clawing away a bullet of a shot destined for the top corner.
Albrighton had a great chance to seal all three points for his side in the 85th minute when he put clean through on goal from a diagonal ball to the right-hand channel but from 16 yards out he slashed his shot high and wide.
Sunderland meanwhile were fluffing their lines at the other end - Altidore holding the ball up for Colback but the midfielder’s attempted cross into the danger zone going astray.
A couple of minutes later and Giaccherini got in a decent shooting position only to hoist his effort high over the bar.
There was an on-field scrap in the 88th minute after a heavy challenge on Colback which saw the Sunderland man lucky only to be yellow-carded for his retaliation while the Villa man also received a booking.
But that was only a sideshow to the main event - a home defeat for Sunderland to a potential relegation rival - a defeat which really did feel like nail in the Black Cats’ Premier League coffin.
Full-time: Sunderland 0 Aston Villa 1
Sunderland: 25 Mannone, 12 Celustka, 21 Diakite, 29 Roberge (sub Johnson 76), 2 Bardsley, 4 Ki,, 23 Giaccherini, 33 Cattermole (sub Borini 46) 4 Ki, 14 Colback, 27 Ji (sub Altidore 66), 9 Fletcher. Subs not used: Pickford, Dossena, Larsson, Gardner.
Aston Villa: (4-4-2) 1 Guzan, 34 Lowton, 4 Vlaar (sub Albrighton 69), 2 Baker, 14 Luna, 7 Bacuna, 15 Westwood,16 Delph, 10 Weimann, 11 Agbonlahor, 20 Benteke. Subs not used: Steer, El Ahmadi, Tonev, Kozac, Donacien, Bowery.
Booked: Giachherini (Sunderland) 23, Bacuna (Aston Villa) 41, Delph (Aston Villa) 56, Ki (Sunderland) 64, Colback (Sunderland) 89, Agbonlahor (Aston Villa) 89.
Ref: Mike Jones (Chester).