A second-half hat trick from top goalscorer Christian Benteke helped Aston Villa cruise to an important 6-1 vcitory over Sunderland at Villa Park. Follow GOAL.COM on Twitter
Two first-half goals from Ron Vlaar and Andreas Weimann set the tone early on and a late tap-in from Gabriel Agbonlahor secured a vital three points for Aston Villa, which now sits five points clear of relegation.
Danny Rose scored for the visitors in the 33rd minute.
Paul Lambert made one change from the Aston Villa side that lost 3-0 to Manchester United last weekend, with Sylla replacing Charles N'Zogbia to make his first appearance since their 2-1 defeat to Liverpool at the end of March.
Meanwhile, Paolo Di Canio made two changes to the side that beat Everton 1-0, with Craig Gardner coming straight back into the starting 11 after his two-match ban at the expense of James McClean, and Phil Bardsley replacing Jack Colback.
With both teams finding themselves firmly placed in the fight to avoid relegation, it was no surprise that the game started in frantic fashion, with both defenses fully involved in absorbing several early attacking movements, as well as dishing out a plethora of hefty challenges.
Sunderland has looked reinvigorated by the appointment of Di Canio as manager in recent weeks, but it was up against an equally determined Aston Villa side which carved out the first real chance of the game when Benteke and Agbonlahor linked up wonderfully with a beautifully worked one-two on the edge of the area, but Agbonlahor was unable to convert the opportunity as his shot not only beat Simon Mignolet but also narrowly beat the left post.
The narrow miss spurred on the Villa players to push for the opening goal, and just a few minutes later their pressure had paid off and they had the ball in the back of the net thanks to a 25 yard low drive from captain Vlaar which sailed through a sea of red and white shirts and past the helplessly outstretched limbs of Mignolet.
Sunderland replied immediately, however, and equalized just one minute and 48 seconds later when silky smooth play from Graham and Rose set up the latter to fire in from close range.
The frantic nature of the opening period wasn't over yet though, as Villa embarked on a swift counterattack after Matthew Lowton stole the ball off the advancing Sunderland midfield and unleashed a wonderful long ball to an unmarked Weimann on the edge of the box. The Austrian striker's first touch was exquisite and he was able to pass the ball into the far corner of the net to put the hosts ahead once again.
The second half started in a similar fashion to the first, with Aston Villa pushing for a third goal in the hope of securing the win, and it was duly rewarded nine minutes into the half when Benteke headed in to an open goal after Agbonlahor's deflected shot had been parried into his path by Mignolet.
Just five minutes later the big Belgian was on hand to head in once again, rising high above the Sunderland defense and nodding in Ashley Westwood's corner to put Villa 4-1 up and surely end any hopes Sunderland might have had of initiating a comeback.
Sunderland's hopes were ruined further by Sessegnon's dismissal after his stamp on Sylla after 71 minutes, and just a minute later Villa's top goalscorer picked up a stray touch from Cuellar and slotted the ball in between the near post and Mignolet's body to record his first hat-trick in Villa colours
With Sunderland dead and buried, Agbonlahor took advantage of poor defending to round Mignolet and score his side's sixth with just a minute of normal time left to play, putting the game to bed and wrapping up a win that is as important as it was emphatic.
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