Aston Villa manager Dean Smith celebrated his 100th match in charge of the Midlands club with a 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace and what he described as an “outstanding” three points on Saturday.
Goals from Bertrand Traore, Kortney Hause and in-form Anwar El Ghazi capped a dynamic display made all the more impressive as Villa had Tyrone Mings sent off in the first half.
They moved up to sixth in the Premier League standings and they have also played a game less than those around them.
After last year’s season-long relegation battle, Smith’s side, inspired by a superb display by striker Ollie Watkins on Saturday, appear capable of challenging the top four.
“It’s an outstanding three points,” Smith said.
“I said to the players at halftime, we’ve got to find a good balance here between defending and attacking, we don’t want to be sat deep on the edge of our box.
“I thought we did it really well and found the balance excellently. There’s a growing maturity among this group of lads at the moment and some of our attacking threat in the second half was excellent.”
England defender Mings was shown a second yellow card on the stroke of halftime after tangling with Wilfried Zaha.
“Performance of the season that second half; lads were absolutely unreal!! I put the team in a horrible situation and I take full responsibility for that, but what a response,” he said on his Twitter feed.
While Villa were vibrant in attack, they snuffed out Palace’s attack at the other end as they recorded a fourth successive Premier League clean sheet.
Smith praised keeper Emiliano Martinez for a first-minute save from Zaha. The Argentine has nailed down the keeper’s jersey since signing from Arsenal in September and his shutout against Palace was his eighth of the season.
“We were indebted in the first minute to Emi, he’s made a really good save, but then we’ve gone up the other end and (scored) a really good counter-attacking goal. We looked a threat on the break all the time.”