Iain Dowie was left staring into the abyss in the wake of yet another defeat for his Hull City squad, this time courtesy of goals in each half from Gabriel Agbonlahor and James Milner as Aston Villa maintained their hopes of pipping their rivals to the coveted fourth place in the Premier League.
Agbonlahor opened the scoring with a curling finish in the 14th minute and while Hull huffed and puffed throughout they never looked like making a genuine contest of it. When George Boateng tripped the rampaging John Carew with 15 minutes remaining to concede a penalty Milner held his nerve to convert it and leave the hosts heading down a dead end.
The victory for Villa lifts them above Liverpool and into sixth place, but still with some way to go to haul in both Tottenham and Manchester City above them. Hull, meanwhile, have now won just one game since Dowie rode to their rescue in March and find themselves four points adrift of safety with just three games remaining.
The Hull manager looked like a broken man at the final whistle and it wasn't difficult to see why considering the end result was all too familiar and to make matters worse striker Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink had to be taken off on a stretcher midway through the second half with his neck in a brace and looked poised to spend the night in Hull General Infirmary.
Dowie, who had to watch his defenders virtually gift Agbonlahor the game's opening goal, said: "It's a familiar story. We weren't out-performed apart from in the department that matters, goals. We made a bad start but created a good response to going behind. We had a killer chance to get back into it but couldn't take it. The first goal was a joke and these things can hurt you. Villa are a difficult side to cope with as it is.
"Jan was out for five minutes and was in a pretty bad way. He's got a cut on his head and was knocked unconscious. It's a worry but we will see what the scans show. We are running out of games now. We have to beat Sunderland on Saturday, it's as simple as that. I won't dress it up. We've got to win that game. Lets make sure we take care of our business and hope other things go our way.
"The stats say we were the better team. We had more shots, crosses, more on target and 66 per cent more corners. They all add up but the one that doesn't is goals and that's been the problem all year. Villa got the stat that matters.
"There were some excellent passing moves and I can't fault the commitment or effort of the players against an excellent side. This result makes it much more difficult but we've got nine more points to play for. We've got to make sure come Sunderland we put three points on the board."
Villa's manager Martin O'Neill hailed his team's fighting qualities, saying: "This was an important win for us. It was good for us to get the second goal and we came through reasonably comfortably in the end. The team has responded brilliantly and I'm really pleased with them. To have any chance at all [of finishing fourth] we needed to win the last five games.
"It was a fantastic goal from Gaby. He took it really well. I've been very pleased with him and I think he feels he can score even more goals. He worked very hard for the team.
"We're in the mix. We've gone above Liverpool with three games to go and that's pretty exceptional. But where I've been pleased with the team is that they've responded fantastically to the defeat at Stamford Bridge. We've come back and taken 10 out of the last 12 points. I think the team has shown a great deal of character all season and I think that was epitomised tonight."
Hull City (4-5-1): Duke; McShane, Sonko, Mouyokolo, Dawson; Fagan, Cairney (Geovanni, 70), Boateng, Kilbane (Olofinjana, 84), Bullard; Vennegoor of Hesselink (Altidore, 54). Substitutes not used Myhill, Barmby, Cullen, Cooper.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Cuellar, Collins, Dunne, Warnock; Downing, Milner, Petrov (Sidwell, 84), A Young; Agbonlahor, Carew (Heskey, 90). Substitutes not used: Guzan, L Young, Delfouneso, Reo-Coker, Beye.
Referee M Dean (Wirral).
Booked Hull Cairney, Fagan; Villa Petrov, Milner.
Man of the match Agbonlahor.