Sunderland 0 Aton Villa 4
Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor combined to leave Gus Poyet’s job hanging by a thread as Aston Villa tore Sunderland apart.
Villa, who had scored only four Barclays Premier League goals on the road all season, doubled their tally inside 44 remarkable minutes, and but for a glaring miss by Scott Sinclair, could have led 5-0 at the break.
However, doubles from Benteke – his first ended a 614-minute wait for an away goal in the league – and Agbonlahor gave them a commanding lead they never looked like surrendering as they ran out 4-0 winners.
That left Poyet, who was confronted by angry supporters close to his dug-out, to walk the gauntlet as the locals among a crowd of 45,746 – the biggest of the season – at the Stadium of Light, voted with their feet with many leaving long before the final whistle.
Villa’s third successive win, two of them in the league after seven defeats on the trot, eased Tim Sherwood’s men further clear of the drop zone, but left Sunderland deep in trouble and the Uruguayan, whose side has now won just one of its last 11 league games on home soil, facing a no-holds-barred inquest with the Black Cats’ season unravelling alarmingly.
Given the game kicked off with no Premier League side having scored fewer goals than Villa and Sunderland their closest rivals for that dubious honour, the prospect of a thrill-a-minute encounter was a distant one.
However, inside 44 soul-sapping minutes for the Black Cats, Villa boosted their goals for column from 15 to 19 as they served up a brand of counter-attacking football which left their hosts in tatters.
They had not scored on the road in the league since Benteke’s 32nd-minute strike at Crystal Palace on December 2, but they remedied that situation inside 16 minutes on Wearside when Charles N’Zogbia flicked the ball around full-back Patrick van Aanholt to Leandro Bacuna, and he charged upfield before squaring for the Belgium international to side-foot past Costel Pantilimon with the help of a slight deflection off John O’Shea.
The Republic of Ireland international was more culpable two minutes later when he failed to cut out Ciaran Clark’s long ball and Agbonlahor ran in to beat Pantilimon with ease to make it 2-0.
The home side, who offered little going forward, had appeals for a 33rd-minute penalty waved away after Jermain Defoe played the ball against Clark’s arm, and their woes increased within for minutes N’Zogbia and Bacuna combined to play Agbonlahor in, and he cut inside Brown before calmly slotting the ball past Pantilimon for a second time.
A mass walk-out which had started after the second goal grew in size and several fans had to be led away by stewards after heading towards the dug-out to berate Poyet.
But their pain was far from over and Benteke extended the lead a minute before the break when he powered a header home from another Bacuna cross.
The boos which greeted the half-time whistle were deafening, and they were repeated as the players returned with striker Connor Wickham having replaced midfielder Ricky Alvarez, but played the opening three and a half minutes with only 10 men as Sebastian Larsson missed the restart.
Villa might have increased their lead during the Sweden international’s absence, but Pantilimon produced a good save to keep out N’Zogbia’s curling effort.
The home side came close to pulling a goal back with 58 minutes gone when Fletcher found space on the left and drilled the ball across the face of goal, but agonisingly out of Defoe’s reach.
Sunderland were significantly better after the break, but without causing Villa keeper Brad Guzan any difficulty, although he was sent sprawling anxiously across his goal by Larsson’s curling 68th-minute free-kick, which flew just wide, and Fletcher was unfortunate to see his 81st-minute effort come back off the post.
But as the game ground towards its inevitable conclusion, there were thousands of empty seats with all the noise coming from the visiting supporters high up in the stand behind Guzan’s goal.