Sunderland's woes deepened as Gabriel Agbonlahor hit the winner for Aston Villa at the Stadium of Light.
Agbonlahor, who also scored the only goal when the teams met on Wearside last season, capitalised on Lee Cattermole's error to secure his side's first league win in six games.
The hosts were unlucky not to emerge with a point after Emanuele Giaccherini had a 52nd-minute equaliser incorrectly ruled out for offside -- a decision which left Sunderland manager Gus Poyet fuming.
"It was a very difficult day for me," he said. "I need to be careful with what I say because it could bring consequences. It could be a good excuse, that the referee (Mike Jones) was poor.
"He didn't let us play when we needed to, he stopped the game a hundred times, he talked to everybody -- the only thing missing was him making a phone call."
The reality is that his side remain stranded at the bottom of the table despite encouraging results at Everton and Cardiff over the festive period.
Cattermole miscontrolled Valentin Roberge's pass and allowed Agbonlahor to round goalkeeper Vito Mannone and walk the ball into the empty net.