Steven Gerrard's team has now taken 16 points from their past six games against opponents outside the top eight, with Maxwel Cornet's stoppage-time consolation for the hosts at Turf Moor being the only goal conceded.
A campaign that appeared to be unraveling following four straight defeats to teams vying for European football has been infused with renewed optimism and could possibly result in the club's first top-half finish in more than a decade.
Getting there would only satisfy Gerrard in the short term. Villa's poor record versus aspiring teams cannot be overlooked. The club's summer strategy and recruitment will be centered on finding a means to compete more effectively.
Yet while his six months at the helm haven’t always gone smoothly, Gerrard can point to increasingly strong evidence of progress. Had the season started the day he replaced Dean Smith in the hotseat, Villa would be sitting ninth in the table, one point behind Wolves, having played a game fewer. While such a form could never be described as stunning, at the very least it is a solid foundation to build on.
There remain two big opportunities for Villa to improve their record against the division’s frontrunners, starting with tomorrow night’s visit of Liverpool.
Had the fixture taken place when originally scheduled, a week on from last month’s 4-0 defeat to Tottenham, it would have been approached under a heavy air of apprehension.
Instead, Villa entered it with momentum after a performance at Burnley which ranked among their finest of Gerrard’s reign.
The home side might be in serious danger of relegation, but they began the weekend as one of the top flight’s most in-form teams after a haul of 10 points from four matches, including victories in their last three. It was a run which never looked like being extended from the moment Danny Ings fired Villa into a seventh-minute lead.
The goal was created by a perfectly weighted pass from Emi Buendia, who responded to being handed his first start in six matches by producing arguably his most complete performance since becoming Villa’s record signing last summer. Buendia netted the second goal himself via the aid of a slight deflection off the boot of Clarets skipper James Tarkowski, before playing a key part in the build-up to Ollie Watkins’ 10th Premier League goal of the season early in the second half.
The Argentine would no doubt have wanted more consistency during his first season at the club, and there have been moments, since the January arrival of Philippe Coutinho, where it felt fair to question his place in the long-term plan. But right now he looks the man in form and, though Gerrard later suggested his playmakers will share the workload during the season’s hectic final fortnight – and much as Coutinho will be desperate to face his former club – it is surely Buendia who will get the nod tomorrow night.
So too must Ings and Watkins after both netted for the second weekend running. Ings has averaged either a goal or assist every 59 minutes during his last seven appearances, with the build-up to Villa’s second featuring smart link-up play with Watkins, who took a return pass from his strike partner before laying the ball off for the impressive Lucas Digne to pick out Buendia in the middle.
This was a day when Gerrard could claim to have got his team selection spot on, with all four players recalled to the starting XI involved in the move for the opening goal. Pushing Calum Chambers into midfield as part of a reshuffle due to the absence of Jacob Ramsey through injury also proved productive. The former Arsenal man’s performance might not have been spectacular, but for the second week running, John McGinn flourished with the freedom of having a team-mate do the dirty work, the Scot laying on Villa’s third with a brilliant cross on to the head of Watkins.
The win was Villa’s sixth in 12 away matches under Gerrard. Their record at home, just four victories in 11, is not so stellar, but they have three more chances to improve it with visits from Crystal Palace and Burnley to come after tomorrow night’s showdown with the title-chasing Reds.
It is the second time Gerrard will have faced his former club, and while the occasion is likely to be less emotionally charged than December’s return to Anfield, the importance of his team submitting a strong performance in front of an expectant home crowd is perhaps greater.
A positive result would have the potential to be a watershed moment and clinch the argument that, while things are far from perfect, he does have Villa heading in the right direction.