When Martin O'Neill managed Aston Villa he turned Gabriel Agbonlahor into an England international but the forward has a strange way of showing his gratitude. Agbonlahor's winner ensured that, once again, boos rang in O'Neill's ears as his struggling, creatively malfunctioning Sunderland suffered yet another setback.
If the Northern Irishman will now be seen as in crisis, his old friend Paul Lambert could enjoy a rare celebratory Saturday night. Ron Vlaar and Ciaran Clark, Villa's robust central defensive partnership, played their part in securing it, as did Agbonlahor's counterattacking pace but arguably Lambert's outstanding player was Stephen Ireland. If Ireland can keep playing like this Villa have real reason for optimism.
While Lambert has presided over Villa's worst start to a season for 43 years, a sense of anticlimax envelops Sunderland. Maybe O'Neill suspected it was not his day when Steven Fletcher's third-minute "goal" was ruled out for offside.
"I didn't think we deserved to lose," said Sunderland's manager, whose team have won only once in the League this season and have scored a mere six goals. "Nothing is falling for us. It's difficult."
O'Neill's problems revolve around the failure of Adam Johnson, Stéphane Sessègnon and James McClean to invent or improvise. McClean began on the bench but some initially encouraging moments suggested Sessègnon and Johnson were finally remembering a few of their old tricks. As the afternoon unravelled, though, the pair increasingly flattered to deceive with Johnson rarely turning up in the right areas and appearing neither fully fit nor remotely confident.
Although this was, in some ways, an improved home display with the impressive Lee Cattermole having a dynamic game in midfield, this lack of imagination and incision explains Sunderland's chronic inability to translate general pressure into clearcut scoring chances.
Meanwhile Villa were not to be underestimated. Designed in 4-2-3-1 guise – but lacking he former Sunderland striker Darren Bent who had an ankle injury – they counterattacked cleverly.
One such break prefaced the winner. Matthew Lowton crossed, Christian Benteke headed on and Agbonlahor stabbed the ball beyond Simon Mignolet from close range. Incredibly it was his first Premier League goal for an entire year.
With Ireland now highlighting O'Neill's lack of a central midfield playmaker alongside Cattermole, Sunderland were back to square one. Things could have been worse for them had Phil Bardsley been sent off for a second bookable offence, namely a rash tackle on Agbonlahor. Already on a yellow card, Sunderland's right-back was the recipient of extreme refereeing lenience.
By then McClean and Louis Saha had replaced Craig Gardner and Sessègnon. Meeting Sebastian Larsson's free-kick Saha headed fractionally, agonisingly, over the bar with Brad Guzan stranded but Villa soon regained the limelight.
When Bardsley's horribly overhit backpass forced Mignolet into a brilliant overhead bicycle kick the ball fell to Ireland whose shot hit the junction of post and bar. O'Neill's concern must be that his players are not even hitting the woodwork.