Houllier's position is not under threat, according to chief executive Paul Faulkner, but results like this will not help his longevity. How is this for a nightmare litany?
Not looking good: The knives are out for Gerard Houllier
MATCH FACTS ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Friedel 6;Cuellar 7, Collins 7, Dunne 7, Clark 7;Young 7, Petrov 6 (Albrighton 88min),Reo-Coker 7 (Bannan 88), Downing 7;Heskey 6, Agbonlahor 6. Subs not used: Marshall, Pires, Delfouneso, Lichaj, Herd.Booked: Clark, Collins.Sent off: Heskey.
SUNDERLAND 4-4-2): Gordon 6;Bardsley 7, Bramble 6, Ferdinand 7,Richardson 6; Elmohamady 6,Henderson 7, Meyler 6 (Zenden 39, 6),Malbranque 6 (Gyan, 55, 6); Welbeck(Riveros 83), Bent 6.Subs not used: Mignolet, Angeleri,Da Silva, Adams.Booked: Richardson, Bramble.Sent off: Zenden.
Man of the match: Ciaran Clark.Referee: Peter Walton 7.
Emile Heskey missed a sitter and was sent off for shoving Jordan Henderson in the face, Phil Bardsley scored his first top-flight goal and Villa dropped into the bottom three for the first time in seven years.
The dark days of David O'Leary had receded into the memory banks of most Villa supporters. After all, this time last year their club were in fourth spot in the Barclays Premier League under Martin O'Neill.
Now there is the prospect of a relegation battle and the natives are becoming decidedly restless, having seen Villa pick up just five points from the last 30.
The Holte End started the chant, but as the 63-year-old Frenchman trudged slowly towards the dressing room, it reverberated around the stadium.
Three days after the euphoria of a battling 3-3 draw at Chelsea, Houllier was left reeling by an overdose of realism.
'I heard the fans,' he admitted. 'It hurts. What can I do? It was 11 men against 10. I have the support of the board.
'It's a shame, really. There weretwo moments which were extremely crucial. The first was when Emilemissed the sitter and the second was when he was sent off. It is adifficult time but we must keep our chins up.'
Super strike: Phil Bardsley cracks in the late winner
What made defeat even more unpalatable was that it was delivered by former Birmingham boss Steve Bruce, who has a habit of irritating the followers of the other Second City club.
A turgid first half should have seen Villa take the lead, however.
Heskey did not look like he could miss from four yards but spooned his shot on to the bar. His night went from bad to worse when he and Bolo Zenden tangled.
Henderson made a comment and Heskey pushed him in the face. Straight red.
Tough break: Aston Villa's David Meyler is stretchered off the pitch
Ten minutes from time, Sunderland finally made the breakthrough they had threatened, although the source was an unlikely one. Bardsley, who had a spell on loan at Villa, scored from 20 yards after Zenden's free-kick bounced straight back off the wall.
It was a killer blow on a desperate night for Houllier's side. His campaign could not have been more graphically illustrated than by the sight of rows of empty claret and blue seats at the end of the most wallet-challenging fortnight of the season.
When owner Randy Lerner considers his strategy for January, he must surely take absent fans into consideration. They are desperate for something to cheer, results-wise and recruitment-wise.
Red mist: Aston Villa striker Emile Heskey is sent off by referee Peter Walton
Kyle Walker looks like being the first through the door in a loan deal from Tottenham and will add competition for the right-back position. Houllier thought he had turned a corner at Chelsea.
Perhaps not. Sheffield United await in the FA Cup and then there is the trip to Birmingham City; the very stuff of sleepless nights.
Aston Villa v Sunderland: how the action unfolded at Villa ParkClub-by-club guide to every Premier League transfer deal during JanuaryAll the latest Aston Villa news, features and opinionAll the latest Sunderland news, features and opinion
Explore more:People: Emile Heskey, Gerard Houllier, David O'Leary, Steve Bruce Places: Birmingham