- Only Harry Kane (15) has scored more league goals than Christian Benteke’s 10 in 2015
- Belgian striker scores twice in the first-half before Romelu Lukaku’s penalty made it 2-1
- Tom Ceverley put the game beyond Everton with Villa’s third five minutes later
- Phil Jagielka scrambled in a second for the Toffees in the 90th minute to set up tense finish
- Win moves Aston Villa up to 14th, but they remain only two points above the drop zone
- Everton slip back down to 11th after first defeat in seven games under Roberto Martinez
Christian Benteke scored twice as Aston Villa stayed two points clear of the relegation zone with a crucial 3-2 win over a lacklustre Everton at Villa Park.
Tim Sherwood’s side were fully deserving of their victory, as the Belgian Benteke pounced to score twice in the opening period to move Villa up to 14th in the Premier League.
The Toffees, who dropped back into the bottom half with this defeat, produced an awful opening 45 minutes, but they temporarily reduced the deficit when Romelu Lukaku scored from the penalty spot.
Tom Cleverley scored Villa’s third with a cooly-taken finish, before Phil Jagielka set up a tense finale with a scrambled effort in stoppage time, but the points stayed in the Midlands.
With two home games still remaining for the Villains against West Ham and Burnley, they will feel that survival is now within touching distance.
Everton entered the 200th game between these two sides – the most played fixture in the top flight – as the form team in the Premier League, with five wins and a draw in the last six games.
But they hadn’t won four in a row against Villa in 30 years, and it rarely looked on the cards on Saturday.
Lukaku appeared on his holidays in the first-half, in stark contrast to the bustling centre forward down the other end, as his compatriot Benteke deservedly scored twice to make it 10 goals in his last nine games.
The first came after 10 minutes. Meeting the hanging, early ball from Fabian Delph, Benteke rose in between Jagielka and Leighton Baines to plant his header low to the rooted Tim Howard’s right.
Despite their close proximity with their relegation rivals, there has been a growing sense of optimism swirling around this part of the country ever since Sherwood took over from the departed Paul Lambert in February – and with good reason.
A goal every six shots compared to one every 16 under Lambert tells its own story, but Villa’s unlikely run to the FA Cup final may’ve masked the fact they had previously only accrued 10 points from the former Tottenham manager’s nine games in charge.
But after Ron Vlaar had missed a gilt-edged chance to make it 2-0 when he rose and missed a header from point-blank range, they deservedly doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time.
It was Vlaar who made amends for that sitter when he again flicked on the impressive Jack Grealish’s corner, this time finding the unmarked Benteke to prod home at the far post. Both Jagielka and his defensive partner John Stones were left for dead by Villa’s sharper movement.
The last time Everton came back from a goal down to win was against Villa over a year ago, but there was no sign of this happening on Saturday. Everton looked tentative and didn’t pursue the ball collectively, as Lukaku cut an increasingly forlorn figure, compounded by a poor first touch.
This wasn’t the same Everton side that had conceded two goals in their previous six games. There was the same sluggishness that defined Roberto Martinez’s side throughout the winter months. Steven Naismith was trying too hard, looking rusty with his passing on his first start since March.
Considering the form Everton have been in, this was a shambolic first-half performance. Shay Given, whose last top flight appearance was against the Toffees in August 2012, had barely a save to make in the opening 45 minutes, as the away side lacked the intensity of that performance against Manchester United at Goodison Park last Sunday.
Martinez sent his players out early for the re-start, their ears ringing from a half-time dressing-down no doubt, and within minutes, the fired-up Lukaku ran at the defence, and shot low with his left-foot from the edge of the box, but Given was equal to it, tipping the ball around the post.
The former Chelsea striker, under pressure from Benteke, could then only head over from Baines’ corner moments later. In truth, it was only marginally better from Everton, as James McCarthy tangled with Delph in a show of dissent that went by unpunished.
But out of nowhere, the visitors were given a route back into the game, as Naismith went down inside the box after contact from Vlaar. It was unorthodox, but Lukaku stuttered and then stroked the ball into the corner to halve the deficit with 30 minutes to go.
The reprieve was short-lived, however.
Within five minutes, Leandro Bacuna picked up the ball midway through his half, and waited for the run of Cleverley behind Gareth Barry into the gaping space between Everton’s stretched defence.
Having picked up the perfectly-weighted pass, the former Manchester United midfielder, a former target of the Toffees, lifted the ball over the advancing Howard for his second goal in as many games.
It ought to have sealed only Villa’s ninth win of the season, but after another Baines corner was headed onto the crossbar by McCarthy, Jagielka looped the ball back over the line from close range.
A draw would have greatly flattered the Merseysiders, and there was barely time for them to mount another attack, as Villa held on to clinch three vital points.
While they remain just two points clear of the drop zone with current occupants Sunderland having a game in hand over their relegation rivals, performances as accomplished as this would suggest Villa have little to fear.
Aston Villa: Given, Bacuna (Hutton 81), Okore, Vlaar, Richardson, Cleverley, Westwood (Sanchez 75), Delph, N’Zogbia (Cole 90), Benteke, Grealish.
Everton: Howard, Baines, Coleman, Stones, Jagielka, Barry, McCarthy, Lennon, Naismith (Barkley 75), Mirallas (Osman 75), Lukaku.