By Rob Bishop
Richard Dunne's own goal condemned Villa to a defeat which was a travesty of justice at the Stadium of Light.
The Republic of Ireland defender had the misfortune to prod Steed Malbranque's 25th-minute cross into his own net but Gerard Houllier's men were undoubtedly worth a point.
Villa were the more dangerous side in the opening stages and dominated for long spells of the second half but were unable to find the breakthrough which would have earned them a deserved draw.
They also had two penalty appeal turned down on an afternoon when nothing went right - including an injury to skipper Stiliyan Petrov.
There was a scare for the visitors when Malbranque headed wide from Jordan Henderson's second-minute cross but Villa quickly settled to create some decent chances.
Ashley Young's strong run and fine pass set up Stewart Downing for a low, right-foot drive which hit the post and then Nigel Reo-Coker exchanged passes with Emile Heskey to burst through the heart of the Sunderland defence.
The midfielder went tumbling as Lee Cattermole made a challenge from behind and appeared to clip his heels, but Villa's penalty appeals were ignored by referee Mark Halsey.
After Stephen Warnock had fallen awkwardly on the half-way line and needed treatment, Heskey crossed low for the right and Stephen Ireland was denied at the n ear post as Titus Bramble slid in to clear at the expense of a corner.
But Villa were rocked when the Black Cats grabbed the lead in the 25th minute.
Malbranque got the better of Petrov near the right hand corner flag, and although Dunne was first to react, he succeeded only in turning the ball just inside the near post.
It was just the lift Sunderland needed and a couple of minutes later Brad Friedel did well to turn away a powerful Danny Welbeck shot.
That chance was created by Ahmed Elmohamady and the Egyptian midfielder wasn't far off target with a shot of his own in the 42nd minute.
By then, Petrov had been forced out of the action, the skipper being replaced by Steve Sidwell after twisting his knee.
Young was close to an equaliser five minutes after the interval, the winger accepting Downing's astute pass before firing a right-foot shot which was well saved by Simon Mignolet.
Manager Houllier then reshuffled his midfield, taking off Ireland and pushing Young into a more advanced position, with substitute Marc Albrighton operating on the right flank.
The switches almost paid dividends as Villa exerted more pressure.
Heskey worked his way past Bramble, only for Mignolet to save at his feet - and was then left frustrated as he failed to capitalise when goalkeeper Mignolet allowed Downing's low cross to slip past him.
Sidwell was also unfortunate to see his 63rd-minute header blocked on the line by Cattermole, while Albrighton was desperately unlucky twice in the space of a minute.
First, he moved on to Sidwell's superb pass and teased Phil Bardsley before unleashing a shot which was well saved by Mignolet; then his angled effort appeared to be handled by Bramble before Dunne hit an angled shot which was tipped away by Sunderland's keeper.
Steve Bruce's side had barely threatened since the interval, although former Villa man Bardsley was only just off target with a low 25-yard shot on 77 minutes.
In stoppage time, Dunne's sliding tackle prevented Darren Bent from grabbing a second Sunderland goal - but Villa had a raw deal on Wearside.