A landmark game and a landslide win for the best Aston Villa team in two decades.
What a way for Dean Smith to celebrate 100 games in charge of his beloved boyhood club and for Jack Grealish to mark his own 200th appearance.
Such was the dominance of Villa, in their best position since 1998-99 when they were top at Christmas, that it was easy to forget the fact that they played the entire second half a man light.
Aston Villa beat Crystal Palace 3-0 despite playing half of the match with ten men
Villa boss Dean Smith (above) celebrated his 100th game in charge of the club by going sixth
One up courtesy of Bertrand Traore’s second goal in as many matches when Tyrone Mings was dismissed in the 45th minute, they emphasised their dominance when Kourtney Hause nodded in number two and Anwar El Ghazi completed the 3-0 scoreline during the final quarter of the contest.
In contrast to the verve and tenacity of the home team, the performance of Roy Hodgson’s Palace suggested a lingering hangover from their seven-goal humbling by Liverpool pre-Christmas.
Villa’s latest victory, which left them six points off the Premier League summit with a game in hand, was founded on the kind of defensive steel Palace can only dream of right now.
Dean Smith’s Villa took the lead via Bertrand Traore’s (middle) early opener on the rebound
Traore (right) celebrates after Ollie Watkins’ (left) fierce strike was saved and fell into his path
This was an eighth clean sheet of the season – more than they managed in the entire 2019-20 campaign.
Villa had won every game in which they had scored first in too and promisingly went ahead after just five minutes in the bid to extend that statistic.
John McGinn seized upon a misplaced Palace pass inside his own half, and invited Traore to launch an attack down the right flank which saw Ollie Watkins glide around Scott Dann as if he wasn’t there to open up a shooting chance – although Vincente Guaita met the effort from a diminishing angle with a strong right palm, it fell invitingly for the £17million recruit from Lyon to side foot out of the reach of the covering defenders.
It atoned for an early error that could have led to Palace taking a first-minute lead.
Traore inadvertently gifted possession to the visitors when an ambitious back pass deflected into the path of former Villa striker Christian Benteke, who in turn moved the ball into the path of Wilfried Zaha.
A surge past Mings slipped the Ivory Coast international into the Villa penalty area but Emiliano Martinez stood up to keep the clean sheet intact.
Villa’s Tyrone Mings (middle) was sent off just before half-time for two first-half yellow cards
Traore, clearly back up to speed with the Premier League after several years away and undoubtedly turning in his best performance in a Villa shirt, then came agonisingly close to adding a second just after the quarter-hour.
Another eye-catching interchange with Watkins preceded a surge from the right touchline, dip of the shoulder to thread between two white shirts and a left foot curler from 18 yards that thudded the base of a post.
And the former Chelsea trainee turned creator soon afterwards with a through ball that sent Grealish galloping clear from halfway.
Admirably neglecting the opportunity to go down in the area after contact from the chasing Cheikhou Kouyate, Grealish was denied a Villa second by Guaita’s feet.
Traore (middle) hit the post midway through the first-half in a promising display for the striker
Jack Grealish (left) launched a Villa first-half counter-attack but his close-range shot was saved
Villa were simply strolling it as the interval approached but the complexion changed in the final five minutes of the first half.
Mings was walking a disciplinary tightrope following a 41st-minute caution for an altercation with Zaha as the pair tussled for a loose ball.
It was therefore a piece of naivety from the England international to get drawn into the kind of situation that gave referee Anthony Taylor with a decision to make by Zaha’s cute play on the stroke of the interval.
When Mings bodged a defensive header, Zaha nipped in to take possession and invited his opponent to make a challenge with a quick step inside.
Anwar El Ghazi (middle) hit a stunning third to seal the points for Dean Smith’s Villa
The anticipated contact knocked the Palace player off his feet in an incident that provided the home team with a double whammy.
Reduced to 10, they also lost the game’s stand-out player as Smith sacrificed Traore to throw Ezri Konsa into the heart of the defence.
But the momentum in the contest did not alter significantly despite the numerical advantage afforded to a Palace team aggrieved they were denied a penalty midway through the period when Matty Cash found himself on the wrong side of Patrick van Aanholt but was reprieved after video official Craig Pawson offered Taylor the chance to review the footage.
VAR checked a penalty by Matty Cash (right) on Patrick van Aanholt (left) but did not give it
Indeed, it was Villa that got stronger as the clock ticked, and they doubled their advantage in the 66th minute.
El Ghazi drew a foul from Luka Milivojevic on the right, and swung over a free-kick that saw Kourtney Hause’s determination to get to a rebound – after Watkins headed onto the crossbar – rewarded.
Guaita clawed the ball away but only after it had clearly gone over the line.
Kourntey Hause (right) headed home in the second-half after Watkins’ shot hit the bar
And El Ghazi completed the scoring with a clinical strike 14 minutes from time that would have had the Holte End purring in normal times.
Grealish kept a Villa clearance in play on the left touchline and advanced into opposition territory before threading into the path of Watkins’ run.
An uncharacteristically poor first touch forced Watkins away from goal but the lay-off to El Ghazi resulted in an arrowed finish into the top corner that left Guaita rooted to the spot.
And the London club’s goalkeeper was powerless to stop Watkins’ late drive too, thankful that it rebounded back into play off an upright to limit embarrassment.