SO much for a corner being turned then. Sunderland might have shown a flicker of life in their three previous outings, but this was a return to the dark days that have left the club teetering on the brink of relegation to League One. Many more similar performances, and it will not take long for the Black Cats to be put out of their misery.

There was so much that was utterly embarrassing it is difficult to know where to start. Perhaps the sight of Jason Steele being ironically applauded for making a routine catch after he was at least partially responsible for two of Villa’s goals? How about Ashley Fletcher wasting Sunderland’s best chance of the night by failing to control a routine pass and running the ball out of play? Or maybe the evening was best encapsulated by the rows and rows of empty seats that witnessed the final 20 minutes? Sadly, however, that is nothing new.

The whole experience felt numbingly familiar, and for all that Chris Coleman will talk of 30 points still being available in the final ten matches, this feels like a club that is resigned to its fate. While Aston Villa can realistically dream of a return to the Premier League in the final two months of the season, Sunderland have never felt further away.

Their latest defeat was the product of more wretched defending, with Steele and Lamine Kone especially culpable. Lewis Grabban was always destined to score on his return to the Stadium of Light, but even he must have been surprised by just how much room he was afforded as he headed home before the break.

That was bad enough from a Sunderland perspective, but no Black Cats performance is complete without a sloppy concession right on the stroke of half-time, and sure enough James Chester found himself completely unmarked as he headed home Robert Snodgrass’ corner.

Conor Hourihane added a third goal midway through the second half, via a deflection off Bryan Oviedo, with Steele once again at fault. By that stage, the game wasn’t even close to being a meaningful contest.

The result means Sunderland have now won just one of their last 11 matches, although you can pretty much choose any time-frame and the statistics will be horrendous. Weeks, months, years? In terms of Sunderland’s ratio of wins to defeats, the rot is completely entrenched.

Coleman’s reign started with a defeat to Aston Villa, and last night’s reverse means he has now picked up just 17 points from 19 matches. He is clearly not to blame for so much that has gone wrong with the Black Cats, but nor can he claim to have put anything right. The misery endures regardless.

The man in the opposite dug-out last night knows all about enduring tough times on Wearside, although six-and-a-half years on, and Steve Bruce’s Stadium of Light tenure can be regarded as something of a halcyon existence. Save for a brief spell under Sam Allardyce, it can be argued that Sunderland have been on a downward trajectory ever since he left.

They were 16th in the Premier League when Bruce was dismissed in the wake of a 2-1 home defeat to Wigan Athletic – goodness know how long it will take them to get back to anything like that position.

Bruce was not the only person with Sunderland links returning to Wearside, of course, and there was a numbing sense of inevitability about the identity of Villa’s opening goalscorer 11 minutes before the break.

Coleman is keen to downplay Grabban’s input in the first half of the season, pointing out that Sunderland were still in the bottom three despite the striker’s efforts in front of goal.

Nevertheless, Grabban’s 12 goals for the Black Cats are still six more than anyone else has managed this season, and since his departure, his former employers have looked chronically short of fire-power in attack. Grabban has his faults, but it is hard to claim that Sunderland are better off without him.

He played in a withdrawn role off Scott Hogan last night, and while his strike partner wasted a couple of early opportunities, fluffing an attempted shot on the turn and heading Robert Snodgrass’ floated cross onto the roof of the net, Grabban was never going to be as profligate when a decent opportunity came his way.

Sunderland had actually defended reasonably well for half-an-hour, with Donald Love and Oviedo tucking in to form a five-man backline whenever Villa had the ball.

The departure of the injured Tyias Browning disrupted things, with Billy Jones replacing him as one of three centre-halves, and within three minutes of the alteration, the Black Cats were behind.

Kone conceded possession cheaply, enabling former Middlesbrough winger Albert Adomah to advance and cross from the left. Both Jones and John O’Shea made a complete hash of attempting to head the ball clear, and with Steele completely rooted to his line, Grabban was left with the simple task of heading home at the back post. Even by Sunderland’s standards, the standard of the defending was laughable.

Things were no better on the stroke of half-time, with another routine ball into the box resulting in Villa doubling their lead.

Snodgrass swung over a corner from the right-hand side, and with Kone completely oblivious to the danger around him, Chester was able to head home unchallenged from the edge of the six-yard box.

Sunderland’s first-half attacking was largely non-existent, with Aiden McGeady and Callum McManaman failing to make any kind of an impact and Fletcher turning in the kind of performance that underlines why Middlesbrough were so keen to usher him through the exit door in January.

Fletcher looks like a player completely devoid of confidence, and his struggles were highlighted by a first-half incident that saw him gallop clear of the Villa defence to reach Donald Love’s long ball, only for a dreadful piece of control to see the ball ricochet of his leg and trundle away harmlessly for a goal-kick. “That’s why you’re going down,” crowed the Villa fans. It was hard to disagree.

The hosts’ only first-half effort on target was a long-range daisy-cutter from Jones that was easily claimed by Sam Johnstone, and while Coleman attempted to change things at half-time, introducing Joel Asoro for John O’Shea and switching to a flat back four, there was never going to be any way back into the game.

McManaman briefly threatened with a shot that Johnstone tipped over the crossbar, but Villa remained completely dominant and added a deserved third goal six minutes after the hour mark.

Hogan played Hourihane towards the byline, and the midfielder squeezed the ball between Steele and his near post via a deflection off Oviedo. The flick off the defender made things more difficult for the goalkeeper, but he should still have made a much more convincing attempt to keep the ball out.