By Phil McNultyChief football writer at Villa Park
Christian Benteke's second-half hat-trick lifted Aston Villa's hopes of Premier League survival and brought Sunderland's revival under new manager Paolo Di Canio to an abrupt halt as the Black Cats were thrashed at Villa Park.
Di Canio described this vital meeting of the strugglers as Sunderland's "Champions League Final" - but it turned into a nightmare as they were dragged right back into the relegation fight along with north-east neighbours Newcastle.
The home victory, and emphatic winning margin, also made it a bad night for Wigan as they now lie five points adrift of Villa, albeit with a game in hand.
And to make matters worse for Sunderland, the influential Stephane Sessegnon was given a straight red card in the second half for a challenge on Yacouba Sylla, prematurely ending his season at this vital time.
Ron Vlaar's thumping shot gave Villa the lead on the half-hour only for Danny Rose to equalise almost instantly for Sunderland.
Andreas Weimann restored Villa's advantage before half-time to set the stage for the powerful Benteke to demonstrate once more the quality that has made him such an outstanding purchase by manager Paul Lambert following his £7m summer arrival from Belgian side Genk.
The 22-year-old striker tormented the Sunderland defence with a 17-minute hat-trick and Gabriel Agbonlahor added further polish to Villa's goal difference with the sixth two minutes from time.
Monday night woe
Sunderland haven't won any of their last 17 Premier League games on a Monday, a run stretching back to a 2-1 win over Leicester in April 2002.
The joy around Villa Park at the final whistle in recognition of this crucial win was in sharp contrast to the desolation of Di Canio and his players.
A rainstorm was slanting across Villa Park as a frenetic first half unfolded, with Villa creating the first clear opening as Agbonlahor rolled his effort inches wide after a slick exchange with Benteke.
When the first goal arrived after 31 minutes, it came from an unlikely source. Sunderland struggled to clear under sustained Villa pressure and when the ball came to Vlaar 25 yards out, the powerful defender sent a low drive beyond the grasp of keeper Simon Mignolet with the help of a slight deflection off Carlos Cuellar.
Sunderland performance 'unacceptable'
Villa barely had time to celebrate before the visitors were level. Rose, as he had done previously, moved forward at speed and took Danny Graham's pass perfectly in his stride before sending a composed finish past Brad Guzan.
The positive attitude of both sides was to be admired, if not their defending, and Villa were back in front seven minutes before the interval. Sunderland were caught short at the back as Villa struck on the counter-attack, Matthew Lowton's perfect pass inviting a superb first-time touch and finish from Weimann.
The second half belonged to Benteke as he took Sunderland's defence apart and may just have opened up the route to safety for Villa.
He scored his first 10 minutes after the restart, stooping to head home after Mignolet had failed to deal convincingly with Agbonlahor's shot. He then demonstrated his power in the air with a towering far post header from Ashley Westwood's corner.
Christian Benteke's 18 goals is the most any Aston Villa player has managed in a single Premier League season - Dwight Yorke scored 17 on two occasions.
The early good impression the Black Cats have made under Di Canio's guidance had been replaced by a ragged, disjointed display. And it got even worse with 20 minutes left when Sessegnon was shown a red card for leaving his foot in on Sylla.
It was turning into a dreadful night for Di Canio and and Benteke was the tormentor-in-chief. He scored his third with 18 minutes left, collecting another deflection off Cuellar to fire in from the angle.
Benteke's name rang around Villa Park and he was given a deserved standing ovation - and a flamboyant embrace from Lambert - when he was replaced by former Sunderland striker Darren Bent late on.
With Sunderland in complete disarray, Agbonlahor got the goal his industry and endeavour deserved as he raced clear to round Mignolet and complete the almost perfect night for Aston Villa.
90:00+3:52 James McClean takes the outswinging corner, John O'Shea takes a shot. Bradley Guzan makes a comfortable save.
90:00+2:35 Outswinging corner taken from the left by-line by James McClean.
90:00+0:18 Foul by Alfred N'Diaye on Fabian Delph, free kick awarded. Joe Bennett takes the direct free kick.
87:32 GOAL - Gabriel Agbonlahor:Aston Villa 6 - 1 Sunderland Gabriel Agbonlahor finds the net with a goal from inside the penalty area low into the middle of the goal. Aston Villa 6-1
85:58 Substitution David Vaughan joins the action as a substitute, replacing Craig Gardner.
84:58 Substitution Danny Graham goes off and Mikael Mandron comes on.
84:16 Andreas Weimann takes a shot. Save made by Simon Mignolet.
82:17 The ball is crossed by Joe Bennett, Simon Mignolet makes a save.
77:36 Alfred N'Diaye restarts play with the free kick.
77:36 Substitution (Aston Villa) makes a substitution, with Darren Bent coming on for Christian Benteke.
77:36 Craig Gardner gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Fabian Delph. Matthew Lowton restarts play with the free kick.
Foul by Gabriel Agbonlahor on Danny Rose, free kick awarded.
75:31 Direct free kick taken by Ashley Westwood.
75:31 Booking Phil Bardsley goes into the referee's book for unsporting behaviour.
75:25 Phil Bardsley concedes a free kick for a foul on Christian Benteke.
73:44 Inswinging corner taken from the right by-line by Ashley Westwood, Christian Benteke produces a header from deep inside the
six-yard box which goes wide of the right-hand post.
73:29 Gabriel Agbonlahor fouled by Phil Bardsley, the ref awards a free kick. Bradley Guzan takes the free kick.
71:48 Assist on the goal came from Gabriel Agbonlahor.
71:48 GOAL - Christian Benteke:Aston Villa 5 - 1 Sunderland Christian Benteke finds the net with a goal from inside the six-yard box low into the middle of the goal. Aston Villa 5-1
69:40 Free kick taken by Matthew Lowton.
69:40 Sent off Stephane Sessegnon shown a red card for violent conduct.
69:33 Stephane Sessegnon concedes a free kick for a foul on Yacouba Sylla.
69:14 Danny Rose takes a shot from 35 yards. Blocked by Yacouba Sylla.
67:56 The official flags Joe Bennett offside. Indirect free kick taken by Simon Mignolet.
Correction - 66:05 Shot from 12 yards by Andreas Weimann. Andreas Weimann takes a shot. Clearance made by Carlos Cuellar. Save made by Simon
66:05 Shot by Andreas Weimann. Blocked by John O'Shea. Andreas Weimann takes a shot. Carlos Cuellar manages to make a clearance.
65:28 Direct free kick taken by Matthew Lowton.
65:28 Booking Danny Rose goes into the referee's book for unsporting behaviour.
65:09 Danny Rose concedes a free kick for a foul on Andreas Weimann.
61:30 Alfred N'Diaye challenges Christian Benteke unfairly and gives away a free kick. Joe Bennett restarts play with the free kick.
60:48 Substitution James McClean comes on in place of Sebastian Larsson.
60:42 Adam Johnson has an effort at goal from outside the area missing to the wide left of the goal.
60:16 Inswinging corner taken by Sebastian Larsson from the left by-line played to the near post.
58:59 The assist for the goal came from Ashley Westwood.
58:59 GOAL - Christian Benteke:Aston Villa 4 - 1 Sunderland Christian Benteke scores a headed goal from inside the six-yard box. Aston Villa 4-1 Sunderland.
58:26 Matthew Lowton produces a cross, Phil Bardsley makes a clearance. Corner taken by Ashley Westwood from the left by-line,
57:54 The ball is crossed by Yacouba Sylla, Carlos Cuellar manages to make a clearance.
57:05 Adam Johnson crosses the ball.
56:26 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Danny Rose by Christian Benteke. Free kick taken by Danny Rose.
54:17 Assist by Gabriel Agbonlahor.
54:17 GOAL - Christian Benteke:Aston Villa 3 - 1 Sunderland Christian Benteke scores a headed goal from close in. Aston Villa 3-1 Sunderland.
54:10 Gabriel Agbonlahor takes a shot. Save made by Simon Mignolet.
51:37 Yacouba Sylla concedes a free kick for a foul on Danny Rose. Direct free kick taken by Sebastian Larsson.
50:15 A cross is delivered by Danny Rose, Matthew Lowton makes a clearance.
48:51 Alfred N'Diaye concedes a free kick for a foul on Matthew Lowton. Joe Bennett delivers the ball from the free kick left-footed
from right channel, save by Simon Mignolet.
45:01 The referee gets the second half started.
45:00+3:21 The referee blows for half time.
45:00+2:28 John O'Shea fouled by Nathan Baker, the ref awards a free kick. Simon Mignolet takes the direct free kick.
45:00+1:58 Foul by Phil Bardsley on Christian Benteke, free kick awarded. Joe Bennett takes the free kick.
45:00+0:18 Nathan Baker gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Adam Johnson. Adam Johnson crosses the ball from the free kick
left-footed from right wing.
43:56 A cross is delivered by Sebastian Larsson. Danny Graham challenges Bradley Guzan unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free
kick taken by Bradley Guzan.
42:48 Shot from outside the area by Adam Johnson misses to the left of the target.
42:24 The ball is sent over by Yacouba Sylla, comfortable save by Simon Mignolet.
40:20 Alfred N'Diaye takes a shot. Save by Bradley Guzan.
37:02 Matthew Lowton provided the assist for the goal.
37:02 GOAL - Andreas Weimann:Aston Villa 2 - 1 Sunderland Goal scored by Andreas Weimann from deep inside the penalty box to the bottom right corner of the goal. Aston Villa 2-1 Sunderland.
35:31 Yacouba Sylla takes a shot. Craig Gardner gets a block in. Andreas Weimann takes a shot. Save made by Simon Mignolet.
33:39 The ball is crossed by Matthew Lowton, Simon Mignolet makes a save.
33:04 Direct free kick taken by Ashley Westwood.
33:04 Booking Caution for Carlos Cuellar.
32:54 Carlos Cuellar gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Christian Benteke.
31:51 The assist for the goal came from Danny Graham.
31:51 GOAL - Danny Rose:Aston Villa 1 - 1 Sunderland Danny Rose fires in a goal from inside the penalty box to the bottom right corner of the goal. Aston Villa 1-1 Sunderland.
30:03 Assist on the goal came from Ashley Westwood.
30:03 GOAL - Ron Vlaar:Aston Villa 1 - 0 Sunderland Ron Vlaar gets on the score sheet with a goal from long range to the bottom left corner of the goal. Aston Villa 1-0 Sunderland.
Correction - 30:00 Christian Benteke takes a shot. Blocked by Carlos Cuellar. Ashley Westwood takes a shot. Carlos Cuellar gets a block in.
Gabriel Agbonlahor takes a shot. John O'Shea gets a block in.
30:00 Christian Benteke takes a shot. Blocked by Carlos Cuellar. Ashley Westwood takes a shot. Blocked by Carlos Cuellar. Gabriel
Agbonlahor takes a shot. John O'Shea gets a block in.
29:48 Gabriel Agbonlahor delivers the ball.
28:37 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Stephane Sessegnon by Yacouba Sylla. Free kick crossed by Sebastian Larsson.
26:48 Adam Johnson produces a cross.
25:09 Gabriel Agbonlahor has an effort at goal from deep inside the area missing to the left of the goal.
24:01 Unfair challenge on Adam Johnson by Joe Bennett results in a free kick. Phil Bardsley takes the direct free kick.
22:57 A cross is delivered by Matthew Lowton, blocked by Danny Rose. Ashley Westwood takes the outswinging corner, clearance made
by John O'Shea.
21:00 Unfair challenge on Danny Rose by Gabriel Agbonlahor results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Danny Rose.
20:37 Gabriel Agbonlahor crosses the ball, Simon Mignolet makes a comfortable save.
18:47 Alfred N'Diaye challenges Christian Benteke unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick crossed left-footed by Joe Bennett
from left wing, clearance by John O'Shea. Free kick awarded for a foul by Gabriel Agbonlahor on Carlos Cuellar. Direct free
kick taken by Simon Mignolet.
16:17 Adam Johnson produces a cross.
11:51 Free kick awarded for a foul by John O'Shea on Gabriel Agbonlahor. Free kick crossed right-footed by Ashley Westwood from
right wing, Danny Rose manages to make a clearance.
10:48 Unfair challenge on Fabian Delph by Alfred N'Diaye results in a free kick. Joe Bennett takes the free kick.
8:18 Craig Gardner challenges Fabian Delph unfairly and gives away a free kick. Fabian Delph takes the direct free kick.
6:33 Craig Gardner takes a shot. Nathan Baker gets a block in. Short corner worked by Adam Johnson. Phil Bardsley crosses the ball,
Joe Bennett makes a clearance.
5:04 The assistant referee signals for offside against Sebastian Larsson. Matthew Lowton takes the indirect free kick.
4:09 Free kick awarded for a foul by Christian Benteke on Phil Bardsley. Phil Bardsley restarts play with the free kick.
2:05 Corner taken by Ashley Westwood from the right by-line. Nathan Baker takes a shot. Save made by Simon Mignolet.
0:39 The referee blows for offside against Christian Benteke. Carlos Cuellar takes the free kick.
0:00 The match has kicked off.
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