Paolo Di Canio apologised to the Sunderland supporters and described his team's performance as "unacceptable", after they crashed to a 6-1 defeat against a rampant Aston Villa side inspired by Christian Benteke.
The Villa striker scored a second-half hat-trick to lift the Midlands club five points clear of the relegation zone, above Newcastle on goal difference and level on points with Sunderland, who are back in trouble again after this crushing defeat.
Di Canio, who branded the result "humiliating", made a point of going over to the Sunderland supporters at the final whistle to say sorry. To compound Sunderland's misery, they finished the game with 10 men after Stéphane Sessègnon received a straight red card for a clumsy, rather than reckless, challenge on Yacouba Sylla. Di Canio felt that the dismissal was harsh and said that Sunderland would be appealing against a decision that brings an automatic three-match ban, ruling the forward out for the rest of the season.
The Sunderland manager's main concern, however, was the manner of this defeat. Sunderland were a shambles defensively, unable to handle Benteke, whom Paul Lambert, the Villa manager, described as "world-class" after the Belgium international took his tally for the season to 22 with three predatory goals.
"It's not acceptable, it's obvious there were two different teams on the field," Di Canio said. "One team, Aston Villa, with a ferocity, with desire, ambition and dedication, like it was the last chance of their life. In some ways, they looked like us in the last few weeks. It's obvious this can happen once in football but it's not acceptable.
"I know it probably can happen because [after] two wins in a row the stomach is a bit full; they gave everything the last two weeks but we can do much better. Sometimes when you eat a lot you relax or you sleep but you need more food to be alive and we need three more points minimum."
Di Canio acknowledged that the fans were entitled to feel badly let down. "Obviously we have to apologise to all of our environment because we have a big responsibility. We have to make sure this week we are going to work like we did in the last few weeks with the blood in our eyes and make sure we are going to treat the next game like it is the last game of the season and we need three points. Maybe now we need four or five points.
"When I was a footballer I did the same [apologised to the supporters]. It's beautiful to go there when you celebrate, when you win against Newcastle and Everton, but you have to make sure you stand in front of everybody when you lose and when you lose heavy like this."
Di Canio said he is hopeful that Sessègnon's red card will be overturned. "There is nothing. His sole [of his boot] obviously finishes in Sylla's foot but the leg is not straight. He didn't want to cause any damage to his opponent at all. For sure we are going to appeal."
For Villa this superb victory was the shot in the arm they badly needed going into the final few games of the season. Lambert was effusive in his praise of his players, singling out Matthew Lowton, who set up Villa's second goal with a majestic pass, as "the best player on the pitch by a mile" and applauding Benteke's remarkable contribution in his first season in English football.
"As long as [Benteke] keeps his hunger for the game, he can have a big career," the Villa manager said. "People tend to forget he's only young. I've just seen his [second] goal from [Ashley Westwood's] corner and he's jumped as high as the crossbar. He was excellent. His technique for a big lad is fabulous."
As for the bigger picture, Villa have given themselves every chance of surviving with a display that electrified the home supporters. "First and foremost, the most important thing was to win a high-pressure game," Lambert said. "The way we played was outstanding. Right from the off we were fantastic. I always think you can judge a team's performance by a crowd and tonight the whole place was absolutely rocking."
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