Ollie Watkins scored his second hat-trick of the season as Aston Villa delivered a ruthless display to thrash high-flying Brighton at Villa Park.
Watkins gave Unai Emery’s side an early lead, finishing coolly into the left corner after Matty Cash had picked out the forward with a low cross.
The 27-year-old went close with a rasping drive that flew inches wide, before doubling his personal tally with a low shot inside Jason Steele’s right-hand post.
Sharper to the ball and stronger in the challenge, Villa were all over Brighton and increased their lead just five minutes later when Moussa Diaby’s scuffed shot deflected in off the unfortunate Pervis Estupinan.
Half-time substitute Ansu Fati pulled one back as Brighton improved after the restart, but Watkins’ third of the game – a powerful drive that took a deflection off Adam Webster on its way in – ended the visitors’ hopes of an unlikely comeback.
Watkins, who also scored three against Hibernian in Europa Conference League qualifying, is the first Villa player to net more than one hat-trick in a season since Andy Gray in 1976-77.
Late efforts from Jacob Ramsey and Douglas Luiz were the icing on the cake for Villa, who move level on points with the Seagulls in the Premier League table.
Watkins at heart of scintillating display
Both these teams were knocked out of the Carabao Cup in midweek, Villa losing at 2-1 home to Everton and Brighton going down 1-0 at Chelsea.
That was Villa’s first home defeat since February, but Emery’s team delivered the perfect response as they repeatedly tore into the Seagulls, ruthlessly exposing the visitors’ vulnerability on the counter-attack.
Watkins, who had scored just once in his past 12 league outings prior to last weekend’s winner at Chelsea, was a constant threat and could have had a hat-trick in the first half – but sent a fierce effort agonisingly wide of the far post with the score still 1-0.
There was an element of fortune about the forward’s third of the match, which struck Webster and looped high into the Brighton net, but it was no more than the former Brentford man deserved after a scintillating performance in front of watching England manager Gareth Southgate.
The 27-year-old has now scored in each of his past four Premier League appearances against Brighton – only Sergio Aguero, Jamie Vardy and Phil Foden had previously found the net in four successive top-flight appearances against the Seagulls.
Ramsey added a fifth with a curling, right-footed shot from the corner of the penalty area, before Douglas Luiz pounced on a rebound from Watkins’ saved effort to complete the rout deep into added time.
This was Villa’s 10th home league win in a row – their best run since registering 13 home league victories in succession 40 years ago.
Nightmare afternoon for Seagulls
Brighton boss Roberto de Zerbi was linked with the Real Madrid manager’s job in midweek but this was a sobering afternoon for his side, who could have taken an early lead through Estupinan but were second best from the moment Watkins broke the deadlock after 14 minutes.
The full-back poked into the arms of Emiliano Martinez after running on to Billy Gilmour’s lofted through ball, but the chance proved to be the high point of a wretched afternoon for the visitors.
Brighton may feel aggrieved by Villa’s second and third goals. Nicolo Zaniolo was in an offside position when the ball left Watkins’ boot for 2-0, but the video assistant referee ruled the winger was not obstructing Steele’s line of vision and the goal was given.
The home side’s third was also allowed to stand after Solly March had been caught by the falling Douglas Luiz in the build-up, but the half-time scoreline did not flatter Emery’s team in the slightest.
De Zerbi’s half-time introduction of Fati, Joao Pedro and Tariq Lamptey paid immediate dividends as the Barcelona loanee bundled home his first goal for the club, but the effort failed to spark a second half revival as Villa went on to rub further salt into the visitors’ wounds.
This was the first time Brighton conceded six goals in a single top-flight game – and the first time in any league match since a 6-0 defeat by West Ham in the Championship in April 2012.