Aston Villa continued their fine form under manager Unai Emery by holding off West Ham to move back to the brink of the Premier League’s top four.
Tuesday marks the anniversary of Emery’s appointment as Villa boss and the Spaniard has transformed the team since taking over from Steven Gerrard.
An entertaining first half, typical of the free-flowing football Emery has encouraged at Villa Park, saw Douglas Luiz open the scoring and the Brazil midfielder also converted a penalty just after half-time.
A deflected shot by Jarrod Bowen led to a nervy spell for the hosts, but England striker Ollie Watkins then fired in his eighth goal of the season for Villa.
Substitute Leon Bailey struck late on to wrap up an 11th straight league victory at home, Villa’s best run since winning 13 in a row when they were reigning European champions in 1983.
Before Emery’s first game in charge, Villa were 16th in the Premier League – one point off the relegation zone. But he steered them to European qualification last season and now they are back within a point of the Champions League places.
Several players have been revitalised by Emery’s arrival at Villa Park, including Douglas Luiz. Previously seen as a holding midfielder, he scored three league goals during Gerrard’s tenure, which lasted just under a year.
But the adventurous, attacking formation that Emery has deployed – with three at the back and Matty Cash and Lucas Digne as wing-backs – allows Douglas Luiz the freedom to move into a more advanced role.
The 25-year-old had already forced West Ham goalkeeper Alphonse Areola to turn a shot wide before opening the scoring.
Nicolo Zaniolo, assisting an Italian investigation into alleged illegal betting activity, remains available to Villa and the on-loan Italy winger cut the ball back for Watkins, who in turn laid it off for Douglas Luiz to beat Areola with a 20-yard strike into the bottom corner.
The partnership that Watkins and summer signing Moussa Diaby have already struck up has also proved pivotal for Villa this season.
Before the game they had created 14 chances for one another in the Premier League this season – four more than any other duo – and Diaby made two more for Watkins in the first half.
Watkins dragged the first effort wide from right in front of goal before unleashing a low strike from outside the box that Areola had to palm into the side-netting.
Douglas Luiz doubled Villa’s lead, slotting a penalty down the middle after Ezri Konsa had been fouled, before Watkins, who scored his third goal for England during the international break, made no mistake after latching on to John McGinn’s long ball, firing inside the near post.
For Villa’s fourth, Youri Tielemans fed the ball into fellow substitute Bailey, who showed neat footwork inside the box before curling inside the far post.