Match report: Villa 0-1 Sunderland
Former Villa loanee Phil Bardsley's bullet effort proved to be the difference as Gerard Houllier's team were edged out by Sunderland.
Both sides finished the game with 10 men as the North East outfit left Villa Park with three points, despite a bright first period from the boys in claret and blue.
It was a particularly frustrating night for Emile Heskey who struck the bar in the first-half before seeing red after the break following an altercation with Black Cats midfielder Jordan Henderson.
The sensational showing against double winners Chelsea on Sunday gave Villa significant momentum to take into this clash.
There was plenty of hope around Villa Park that the feel-good factor from the weekend display would continue against the Black Cats.
With that in mind, there was no surprise when manager Houllier named an unchanged team.
The hosts began with the same poise and purpose that they finished in the capital at the weekend and there was a great fluency to their play in the opening exchanges.
While goalmouth action was limited, the passing was crisp and the link-up play majestic - an encouraging sign that Houllier's philosophies are slowly but surely rubbing off.
The first period proved to be a waiting game for Villa and when their patience paid dividends only the woodwork could prevent them from taking the lead.
In-form Heskey was left cursing his luck five minutes before the break when he scooped Stewart Downing's low cross on to the bar from close range after the winger purposefully outmuscled Bolo Zenden on the right hand side.
Moments later, the centre-forward headed Ashley Young's right-wing centre wide across goal.
Despite failing to convert, those two passages of play typified the quality of Villa's wing play.
The visitors were also tidy in their build-up play although the best they could muster before the break was Kieran Richardson's hopeful 25-yard effort which went high and wide.
But just as the double festive setback against Tottenham and Manchester City seemed to be a distant memory, things took a turn for the worst.
Steve Bruce's team looked razor sharp as they emerged from the break.
Steed Malbranque twice went close with volleyed efforts, while James Collins recovered from a slip to deny Darren Bent with a sliding clearance off the line.
There were also second-half chances for Villa - firstly Craig Gordon parried Young's angled shot after a swift counter-attack, while Henderson reacted quickly when Richard Dunne looked to pounce on Ciaran Clark's knockdown.
However, the impetus remained with Sunderland, particularly after Heskey's 68th minute dismissal for an exchange with England U21 midfielder Henderson.
Houllier signalled for his 10-men to stay compact and they did just that until Bardsley found a way through with a 25-yard rocket.
After Zenden's free-kick was blocked, Bardsley collected possession just outside the box and picked out the bottom corner with a bullet shot.
There was still time for the red card count to be levelled when Zenden received a second booking for a late tackle on Stiliyan Petrov but the Black Cats held firm to claim three points.
VILLA: Friedel; Cuellar, Collins, Dunne, Clark; Agbonlahor, Petrov, Reo-Coker, Downing; A Young; Heskey. Subs: Marshall, Pires, Albrighton (for Reo-Coker 88), Delfouneso, Bannan (for Petrov, 88), Lichaj, Herd.
SUNDERLAND: Gordon, Bardsley, Ferdinand, Bramble, Richardson, El Mahamady, Henderson, Meyler, Malbranque, Bent, Welbeck. Subs: Mignoley, Angeleri, Da Silva, Riveros (for Welbeck, 83), Gyan (for Malbranque, 55), Adams, Zenden (Meyler, 39).
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