(CNN) -- Controversial Italian Paolo Di Canio had enjoyed a soaring start to his career as manager of English Premier League side Sunderland -- until Monday night.
The 44-year-old fought off a storm of headlines upon his appointment, the English press keen to unpick his political views after previous interviews in which he'd labeled himself a fascist.
Despite defeat in his first game in charge at European champions Chelsea, victory in his next two matches, including over Sunderland's bitter north east rivals Newcastle, had done plenty to win over those who were skeptical of his appointment, even though he rejected holding any right wing views.
Six points helped drag Sunderland away from the drop zone and they headed to Villa Park knowing a win would take them to the 40-point mark, a virtual guarantee of safety, and at the same time devastate their relegation rivals.
Instead, they were hit for six, and to add to their misery, their best attacking player Stephane Sessegnon was sent off and will miss the final three games of the season.
Villa saved their best performance of the campaign until their 35th match, smashing half a dozen goals past Sunderland to climb above Newcastle on goal difference and onto the same number of points as their opponents.
Belgian striker Christian Benteke grabbed a hat-trick, and there were further strikes from Andreas Wiemann, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ron Vlaar.
After their biggest win since 2008 Villa manager Paul Lambert told Sky Sports: "When you've got Benteke, Agbonlahor and Wiemann there's always goals in us and I thought the performance was outstanding.
"Benteke has been world class, for somebody who has just come to this country he's been brilliant. The biggest compliment I can give him is that he's a really humble guy. If he keeps working hard he can be anything he wants.
"The goal difference has swung again which is great. The whole atmosphere was electric. The goal difference could be crucial; we were a few behind so to get those goals was great. It gives us great impetus to go to Norwich on Saturday."
There was no hint of the thrashing to come in an edgy opening half. Villa took the lead on the half hour mark when Dutch defender Vlaar rifled in a shot from range.
Sunderland hit back inside two minutes as Danny Rose, on loan from Tottenham, swapped passes with Danny Graham before finishing smartly.
But Austrian striker Wiemann ensured Villa went in at the break in front after he controlled and finished astutely from Matt Lowton's decisive pass.
In the second half Sunderland surrendered.
Villa's signing of the season, Benteke, recorded his first Premier League hat-trick in the space of 17 minutes.
He registered his first by nodding into an empty net after Gabriel Agbonlahor's shot was saved by Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and rose to head home a corner moments later.
Then after barging his way into the box Benteke finished from a narrow angle to chalk up his 18th goal of the season before Agbonlahor rounded off a perfect night for Villa with the sixth.
With goal difference often crucial in deciding the relegation places Villa's emphatic win saw them complete a 10-goal weekend swing over Newcastle, who were beaten 6-0 by Liverpool on Saturday.
With Reading and Queens Park Rangers having been relegated to the second tier at the weekend, Wigan are in now in peril, five points from safety but with a game in hand.
To add to Sunderland's misery, Sessegnon was sent off for a late tackle on Yacouba Sylla and will now miss their last three matches of the season, though Di Canio did say the club would appeal.
He told Sky Sports: "It's not a shock but it is a very bad defeat. The problem was our performance. I'm not very happy. Probably we thought the main job was done.
"The first responsibility is with the manager, then the players. If this is medicine in some ways to let us understand we have to play with desire and commitment, then OK. This humiliation can help the players, we can do it but it is not an acceptable performance.
"I have to make sure we work so hard during this week to get the points we need to stay up. We need to apologize, to the fans who travel in numbers."
In Spain, Real Betis and Deportivo La Coruña drew 1-1, Riki gave the visitors an early lead before Jorge Molina equalized. The draw dents Betis' hopes of European football while Deportivo climbed out of the relegation zone.