Christian Benteke scored three goals in the second half as Aston Villa thrashed Sunderland 6-1 to move five points clear of Wigan, which occupies the last relegation place in English soccer’s Premier League.
Villa also moved above Newcastle into 16th place in the standings with 37 points from 35 of 38 games. Newcastle and Sunderland also have 37 points.
Wigan, which has played 34 games and hosts Villa on May 19, the final day of the season, is in 18th place with 32 points. Reading and Queens Park Rangers were demoted two days ago.
“That was a massive performance and a big win for us,” Villa coach Paul Lambert told Sky Sports in a televised interview. “It’s great credit to the players and staff.”
Villa opened the scoring after 31 minutes at Villa Park in Birmingham on a low shot into the corner of the net from about 30 yards (27 meters) by Ron Vlaar, the Dutch defender’s first goal for the club.
Sunderland tied it within a minute as Danny Rose collected Danny Graham’s pass before sliding the ball past Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
Villa took the lead for good six minutes later as Andreas Weimann directed Matthew Lowton’s lofted pass into the corner of the net past onrushing Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
After 55 minutes, Mignolet parried Gabriel Agbonlahor’s deflected shot into the path of Benteke, who stooped to head the ball into an empty net and make it 3-1.
Benteke outjumped two Sunderland defenders at a corner kick four minutes later to direct a header down and into the net.
Sunderland’s chances of recovery ended in the 70th minute when a mistimed tackle by Stephane Sessegnon resulted in a straight red card, which could rule the striker out of the final three games of the season.
Within two minutes, Benteke had his third goal, as he beat Mignolet at the goalkeeper’s near post with a left-footed shot from close to the goal line. It was the Belgian’s 18th league goal of the campaign, a single-season record for Villa, and his 22nd in all competitions.
Two minutes before fulltime, Agbonlahor rounded Mignolet and side-footed the ball into an empty net to eclipse the mark of Dwight Yorke with his club-record 61st Premier League goal.