By his own admission, Patrick van Aanholt endured a nightmare start to the season.
He quickly established himself as the pantomime villain at the Stadium of Light with a series of baffling displays and error-prone performances.
It is far too soon to say van Aanholt - who struggled badly against Chelsea and Manchester City - has turned a corner, but the indicators are certainly on.Richard Mennear
But slowly, he is showing that perhaps it was too soon to write off the marauding Dutch defender.
The 25-year-old has a decent pedigree having come up through the ranks at Chelsea.
But he has failed to set the world alight since arriving at Sunderland in the summer of 2014.
Against Aston Villa though, van Aanholt produced arguably his best display of the season - granted the bar hasn’t been set very high - with an impressive performance in the ‘must-not-lose’ encounter.
Jermain Defoe grabbed the headlines with a second-half brace to ensure victory, a win that keeps alive hopes of survival while almost certainly relegating Villa in the process.
This reporter awarded Defoe the man of the match award and I make no apology for that.
He barely had a kick until his first goal 72 minutes in, adding a late second in added-on time.
But he deserved the award because he made the biggest impact.
Without Defoe, Sunderland wouldn’t have won.
Sam Allardyce doesn’t have another player that is so clinical in the penalty area.
There was, however, a strong argument for van Aanholt to be honoured with the gong and how often can we say that this season?
Arguably over the 90 minutes he was the most consistent performer.
Van Aanholt made several key interceptions at the back on the rare occasions the Sunderland defence were troubled and he looked a threat going forward.
He scored the opening goal too, courtesy of a hefty deflection off the boot of Villa captain Micah Richards.
But until that point, Villa were dominating possession with Leandro Bacuna posing problems.
The Black Cats looked nervy, devoid of confidence after five-straight defeats, so the first goal was always going to be crucial.
And the Dutchman scored it.
Cutting inside, he opted to shoot from distance rather than play in a teammate and Sunderland reaped the rewards.
After all, if you don’t shoot, you don’t score.
He has now scored two goals in his past seven Premier League appearances, after failing to score in his first 42.
At times, there were too many stray passes in good areas from the full-back, who loves to bomb forward.
But overall it was a much improved display, linking up well with Fabio Borini down the left, with the Italian tracking back well to provide assistance.
It is far too soon to say van Aanholt - who struggled badly against Chelsea and Manchester City - has turned a corner, but the indicators are certainly on.
He made an impression in the crucial win, a game that needed calm heads and steady nerves.
Now he needs to build on that and produce again in the huge upcoming games against Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium and AFC Bournemouth at home in the coming weeks.
With 17 appearances in all competitions, van Aanholt has also become a regular under Allardyce.
And with his attacking threat, pace and ability from set pieces - he can be a dangerous weapon for Sunderland. He set the bar with his Villa performance.
Now he needs to prove he is capable of performing consistently in the top flight against much stronger opposition than Villa.