Danny Ings scored twice to help Southampton climb out of the relegation places and send Aston Villa into the bottom three with a convincing 3-1 win at Villa Park.
Villa lost their talismanic midfielder John McGinn after just five minutes, when he appeared to twist his ankle after a meaty block on Cedric, but things turned from bad to worse for Dean Smith's side.
Southampton began to assert dominance after a scrappy opening period and broke the deadlock on 21 minutes when Nathan Redmond hit a looping pass for Shane Long to shoot, with Tom Heaton's block landing for Danny Ings to finish.
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- Villa: Douglas Luiz and Conor Hourihane entered the fray, with Marvelous Nakamba and Henri Lansbury dropped to the bench
- Southampton: Stuart Armstrong earned a starting berth, Moussa Djenepo, who was carrying a hamstring problem, dropped out
The Saints soon doubled their lead after the increasingly influential James Ward-Prowse fired a corner into Jack Stephens, who exposed defensive frailties to head home between two static markers.
Boos rang round Villa Park at the half-time whistle and those disgruntled fans saw their side concede a third goal within six minutes of the restart, with Marvelous Nakamba gifting Ings his second of the game.
Jack Grealish was the only shining light for the hosts and scored a sumptuous consolation in the closing minutes, allowing the ball to drop from a corner and firing with curling precision past Alex McCarthy's glove.
But Smith's men were outclassed and outsmarted by a rejuvenated Southampton side who looked lethal with their wide delivery and an in-form Ings up top.
Aston Villa: Heaton (6), Douglas Luiz (5), McGinn (n/a), Wesley (5), Grealish (7), Hourihane (5), Targett (5), El Ghazi (4), Engels (5), Guilbert (5), Hause (5)
Subs: Nakamba (4), Kodjia (7), Trezeguet (5)Southampton: McCarthy (6), Cedric Soares (6), Stephens (7), Long (7), Ings (8), Ward-Prowse (8), Armstrong (6), Bertrand (7), Redmond (7), Hojbjerg (6), Bednarek (6)
Subs: Romeu (6), Obafemi (n/a), Adams (n/a)
Pivotal moment for Saints and Villans?
With the teams both locked on 15 points at kick-off, this fixture was a genuine six-pointer going into the hectic festive schedule and Ralph Hasenhuttl's men approached it in exactly that manner.
Villa's rearguard quickly began to creak as they struggled to cope with the visitors' wide, offensive approach, with Redmond and Ryan Bertrand initially piling down the left flank.
It was Redmond who flicked a delicious lobbed pass to instigate his side's opening goal before Ward-Prowse collected his second assist this term with a simple cross for Stephens to head home with ease.
Anwar El Ghazi had tracked the defender but failed to apply a suitable challenge at the critical moment, while Douglas Luiz also appeared flat-footed as danger emerged.
A gulf of conviction, cohesion and desire between the sides appeared to grow before Frederic Guilbert and El Ghazi failed to engage Redmond on the edge of the box and Nakamba's wayward touch led to Ings' second of the game.
Hasenhuttl will be delighted with his team's performance and it bodes well for the battle ahead, with his side showing a hunger that was reflected by collectively covering five kilometres more than the hosts.
Meanwhile, despite another stellar display from Grealish, it was simply not enough effort from Villa and Ings' stunning form is a stark contrast to Wesley, who has managed only four league goals since his £22m move from Club Brugge in the summer.
What the managers said
Aston Villa manager Dean Smith
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl
Man of the match - Danny Ings
Ings was back to his clinical best after a goalless blip in the 1-0 defeat to West Ham last week and has now scored seven goals in his past seven league outings, with 11 this season.
While neither goal will be filed as top drawer, Ings ensured he was in the right place at the right time to sweep up Heaton's block, and, again, to capitalise on Nakamba's poor touch.
Ward-Prowse was a contender with a match-topping seven crosses and his pinpoint precision caused no end of problems for Villa's back-line, but Ings proved the difference on a crucial afternoon.
- Aston Villa have conceded more headed goals (9) and more goals from corners (8) than any other side in the Premier League this season, with Jack Stephens' goal for Southampton today being a header from a corner.
- Aston Villa's Jack Grealish has scored three goals in his last five Premier League games - as many as he had in his previous 45 in the competition.
- No Southampton player has scored more Premier League goals before Christmas in a season than the 11 Danny Ings has netted this term (level with James Beattie in 2002-03).
- James Ward-Prowse has been involved in 42 Premier League goals for Southampton (21 goals, 21 assists) - more than any other current player at the club.
Aston Villa still have a favourable run of fixtures, facing the only two sides below them in the table over the next week, hosting Norwich on Thursday before travelling to rock-bottom Watford on the Saturday.
Southampton have a slightly trickier run and will hope to carry their impressive bounce in form to Stamford Bridge midweek before facing Crystal Palace at St Mary's at the weekend.