Ollie Watkins’ hot streak continued as Aston Villa moved into the Premier League’s top six with a 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest, whose manager Steve Cooper’s job remains under threat.
Watkins struck his ninth goal in the last 11 games at the death after Bertrand Traore had opened the scoring early in the second half.
It was Villa’s sixth win from the last seven matches and they are now in real contention for European qualification, with the Europa League firmly in their sights.
Boss Unai Emery must not have thought this was possible when he took over from Steven Gerrard in November, and they are on course for their best finish since 2009-10.
For Forest, an eighth game without a win sees them return to the bottom three for the first time since January, and unless something drastic changes in the next few weeks they look almost certain to return to the Championship.
Whether that drastic change is the removal of Cooper remains to be seen as, although owner Evangelos Marinakis gave his manager public backing this week, his statement was pointed by saying he expected results and performances to “improve immediately”.
Although they were not outplayed at Villa Park, the Reds carried so little threat and, unsurprisingly for a team who have only scored five away goals so far this season, never looked like getting back in the game.
And with Manchester United, Liverpool and Brighton to play in their next three fixtures, their chances of survival are now looking bleak.
Amid their impressive run of form, Villa might have expected the first half to be played on their own terms against a Forest side who have been so inept on their travels.
And things looked promising in the opening few minutes as Watkins was presented with a good chance when Moussa Niakhate’s clearance was closed down and fell nicely for the forward, but he drilled his low effort wide.
But that was as good as it got in a drab first half that presented very little in the way of attacking quality from either side.
Forest’s best moment came on the half-hour when Brennan Johnson was set free down the right and he pulled back for Morgan Gibbs-White, who kicked fresh air under pressure from his marker.
Villa needed only three minutes after the restart to improve as they went ahead, though had some criminal Forest defending to thank.
After Traore’s low cross was palmed away by Keylor Navas, Jonjo Shelvey inexplicably tried to pass the ball to Niakhate but instead gave it straight to Traore who made no mistake from eight yards.
Forest immediately probed for a response as Gibbs-White’s shot from the edge of the area was deflected over while Danilo forced goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez into a low save with a shot from distance.
But they could not create anything clear-cut and Villa killed the game in time added on.
Forest, playing with 10 men as Niakhate went off injured with all substitutions already made, were cut open and and Jacob Ramsey teed up Watkins to dink home from close range.