Gabriel Agbonalhor scored the only goal at the Stadium of Light as Aston Villa secured a vital win against fellow strugglers Sunderland.
It was another toothless performance from the Black Cats attack that will have Martin O’Neill tearing his hair out after succumbing to defeat at the hands of his former employers.
Paul Lambert’s men were fully deserved of victory with captain Ron Vlaar and Ciaran Clark kept the home sides attack with a powerful defensive display to ensure a first victory on their travels since January.
The visitors started the brighter and should have taken an early lead through Agbonlahor, who saw his snap effort from the edge of the area blocked superbly by Phil Bardsley.
Sunderland quickly picked themselves up but former Villa man Craig Gardner could only strike tamely wide from range before captain Lee Cattermole side footed just wide of the post from Adam Johnson’s lay-off.
It looked as if the hosts would be the ones to make the breakthrough in the second half, but it was away side that struck first 10 minutes after the restart. Matthew Lowton’s cross from the right was nodded back into the six-yard area by Christian Benteke and Agbonlahor was on hand to stab home from close range.
O’Neill threw Louis Saha on in an effort to force a goal and the Frenchman went close, heading Sebastian Larsson’s free kick just over the bar. That came just after they had a penalty shout rejected despite Johnson’s cross appearing to strike Benteke on the arm inside the Villa box.
Andreas Weimann then forced Simon Mignolet into a smart save before Brad Guzan scrambled to prevent Fletcher turning home a loose ball after he’d spilled Cattermole’s dipping effort.
Substitute Fraizer Campbell then passed up a chance to equalise as Villa held on to register a priceless win.