Ollie Watkins continued his scoring streak with a double as Aston Villa gave their European aspirations a huge boost by beating top-four hopefuls Newcastle United 3-0.
The 27-year-old is loving life under Unai Emery and took his tally to 11 goals in 12 outings with a second-half brace after Jacob Ramsey’s early opener laid the foundations of a seventh win in eight games for Villa.
That run of form has catapulted them up the table and, not only are they looking a good bet for a top-six finish, with Manchester United and Tottenham still to play they might have one eye on Champions League qualification, especially with Watkins in this sort of form.
He again showed himself the be the most in-form striker in the division, with his pace and movement a constant danger, and with England manager Gareth Southgate watching he is surely set for a summer recall to the national team.
Newcastle certainly could not handle him and the defeat sees their own Champions League qualification hopes hit as a run of five successive wins was abruptly ended in a rare poor showing for Eddie Howe’s side.
The tone for the afternoon was set after less than 30 seconds as Watkins showed what he is all about.
He raced on to Alex Moreno’s through ball, held off Sven Botman and got his shot away only to see it hit the post and bounce to safety.
Alexander Isak tested Emiliano Martinez’s handling with a stinging shot which was tipped over as Newcastle also looked an early threat.
But it was Villa who drew first blood, taking the lead in the 11th minute.
John McGinn’s cross was expertly headed down by Watkins straight into the path of Ramsey and he made no mistake, smashing home in front of the Holte End.
They were good value for that advantage and came close to doubling it four minutes later with two chances in quick succession.
First the dangerous Watkins was denied by Nick Pope’s feet after he darted towards goal and then, from the recycled play, Ramsey struck the crossbar from Moreno’s cutback.
Newcastle were at least able to get a foothold into the game, which allowed them to get to half-time only 1-0 down and still in it.
But Watkins was a constant threat and he again caused danger early in the second half as he weaved into the box and was again denied by Pope’s legs.
There was a short spell after that where Newcastle made an effort to get back into the game as Jacob Murphy dragged an effort just wide and then Isak again forced Martinez into a stretching save.
But the visitors could simply not cope with Watkins.
Villa thought they had doubled their lead on the hour as he was played through by Moreno and finished coolly, but VAR ruled him offside by the thinnest of margins.
Watkins was not going to be denied, though, and duly got his first of the afternoon three minutes later when he expertly turned and fired home from Moreno’s cutback.
His second came seven minutes from time as Villa put the game to bed, finding the bottom corner after Ramsey had diverted McGinn’s ball into his path.