Sunderland 0 Aston Villa 2

High-flying Aston Villa moved into third place after a convincing 2-0 win over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

Martin O'Neill's side may not have put the Black Cats to the sword, but in the end they were comfortable winners.

It was a miserable night for the home side, who in the end not only saw their team brushed aside, but also had skipper Lorik Cana sent off for two bookable offences.

It didn't start badly for the Wearsiders, who could have gone ahead after just four minutes, but youngster Jordan Henderson's shot flew just wide of the target.

But after that things never really went their way. Manager Steve Bruce, his team and the home support felt that several decisions went against them, much to their chagrin.

So much so that the Sunderland fans made sure match official Kevin Friend and his assistant were in no doubt about how they rated their performance as the match officials were met with a crescendo of boos as they left the field at half-time and upon their return after the break.

But while some of the man in the middle's decision were less than favourable towards the hosts, it the Wearsiders themselves who were the architects of their own downfall.

A dreadful wayward pass by George McCartney gave Villa their opener on 24 minutes. The loose ball was pounced upon and Stilyan Petrov played the ball into the feet of James Milner on the edge of the area.

The former Newcastle United man pushed the ball through to Emile Heskey, who fired home from eight yards out.

The hosts did try to get back into the game before the break, but the majority of opportunities which came their way were little better than half-chances.

Henderson fired wide of the mark twice, while Kieran Richardson was also way off-target with an effort on 41 minutes.

But by far the Black Cats' best chance of the opening half came on 35 minutes when Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel got down well to save from Andy Reid, after good work down the right by Henderson.

Bruce's side started the second brightly and were almost level on 48 minutes, Reid firing wide after racing on to Darren Bent's flick-on.

But the Wearsiders were left with a mountain to climb after a sublime piece of finishing from Milner.

The midfielder cut inside and held off Richardson before firing in a rocket from 25 yards out which gave Black Cats keeper Marton Fulop no chance.

Sunderland continued to look for a way back into the game and a superb tackle from Richard Dunne prevented Kenwyne Jones from putting the finishing touch to McCartney's cross on 65 minutes.

Bruce brought on Lee Cattermole on 71 minutes, hoping the tenacious midfielder, back after a lengthy lay-off, could add more fight to the home attack.

Sunderland could have reduced the deficit on 90 minutes, but substitute Phil Bardsley headed wide, which would have been scant consolation for those who remained among the home support.