Aston Villa claimed their first victory in six games as Gabriel Agbonlahor scored the only goal at Sunderland.
Agbonlahor remained calm to round goalkeeper Vito Mannone after an error from home captain Lee Cattermole.
Mannone then made a great save to deny Leandro Bacuna, before Christian Benteke had an effort headed off the goalline by Phil Bardsley.
Sunderland lacking quality - Poyet
Sunderland had lots of possession but Emanuele Giaccherini, Steven Fletcher and Ji Dong-Won all shot off target.
Black Cats substitute Fabio Borini also had a goal disallowed for offside, but it was a hugely frustrating afternoon for home boss Gus Poyet.
His side are bottom of the table, four points from safety and showed why they have the joint worst goalscoring record in the Premier League with Cardiff City after only 15 goals from 20 matches.
The hosts passed the ball well, but in ineffective areas and lacked a cutting edge up front on a comfortable day for visiting goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
Villa were happy to play on the counter-attack and looked more likely to add to Agbonlahor's gifted opener than concede an equaliser.
Alistair MannBBC Match of the Day commentator
"Aston Villa won with a one-goal victory, but what a desperate goal it was.
"Lee Cattermole was caught in possession and Gabriel Agbonlahor took full advantage after 15 minutes.
"After that there were chances for both sides but the best of them came from Aston Villa. Sunderland will regret a missed opportunity and this is a very damaging defeat for them."
Sunderland had been unbeaten in their last five matches and had chances to take the lead but Giaccherini, Fletcher and Ji, making only his second Premier League start of the season, all fired tamely off target inside the opening 10 minutes.
That wastefulness proved costly as the visitors went ahead after 15 minutes with Agbonlahor's third goal of the season.
There appeared to be little danger when Valentin Roberge played a square pass across goal 30 yards out, but Cattermole failed to control it and that enabled Agbonlahor to run in and take the ball around Mannone.
Villa striker Benteke, making his first appearance in four matches after a knee injury, nearly helped double his side's lead as his flick found Agbonlahor, whose 22-yard effort was well blocked by Mannone.
The Italian goalkeeper again did well at the start of the second half, when Bacuna's 25-yard strike took a huge deflection off Roberge and Mannone dived to push the ball to safety.
Villa deserved to win - Lambert
Sunderland thought they had equalised moments later when Borini put the ball into the net from Steven Fletcher's knock down, but was judged to be offside.
However, that was one of only a few chances for the hosts in the second half as the visitors continued to create the better opportunities.
Benteke came close to scoring his first goal since 14 September, but was denied by Bardsley's goalline clearance.
Villa substitute Marc Albrighton also wasted a late chance to seal the game by shooting well over when he only had Mannone to beat.
But it did not matter as Sunderland could not force their way back into the match and Paul Lambert's side claimed a deserved three points to move up to 11th in the table.
Sunderland manager Gus Poyet said:
"It is difficult to take. Football is unpredictable but when you start well and have chances you have to take them.
"Unfortunately the mistake was against us and after that there were too many nerves and too much tension.
"I don't know why they were nervous and we were not organised enough. People were making individual decisions, but not thinking as a team and that disappoints me. I'm getting a little bit fed up.
"The weakest people look for excuses and it is all down to us to correct it. We miss quality to play at this level and do what we need to do when we are in control of the game.
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert said:
"We now have everybody fit and we are a really good side when that happens. We needed our big players back from injury and if you take out Christian Benteke and Ron Vlaar then they are a big part of our side.
"It could have been more than a 1-0 win, we had good chances so it could've been three or four.
"This is a hard place to come but I'm delighted with the result.
"We will try to bring in people if it's possible. If we can get one or two experienced players in to give us a hand then we will try to do that. It could give us a lift in the dressing room if we can do it."
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