Unai Emery has switched his objective from Premier League survival to securing a top-10 finish after Aston Villa’s 3-0 win against Bournemouth.
Douglas Luiz, Jacob Ramsey and Emiliano Buendia all scored as mid-table Villa moved on to 38 points with 11 matches remaining.
They were only a point above the relegation zone when boss Emery officially started work as Steven Gerrard’s successor in November.
But after three wins in their last four games, they are now 14 points clear and part of the battle for Europe.
Emery said: “Of course, today I am happy – first, with one thing, (which) is today maybe we can feel we are completely safe from the bottom teams.
“When I arrived here, of course, we were struggling more than we are now, at the bottom.
“And of course, we can add a new step, an objective, looking at the teams in the top 10 now. But they have an advantage over us, and we have to fight, starting behind them.
“But we are going to play here against Fulham, we are going to play here against Brighton, we are going to play at Brentford, at Chelsea. Of course, it is going to be very difficult, but we are going to try as well to add a new target in our minds.”
Luiz finished from close range to put Villa ahead in the seventh minute, before the hosts wrapped things up with two late goals, Ramsey slotting home with 10 minutes of normal time to go and Buendia completing the scoring with an 89th-minute header.
Bournemouth had gone close to equalising just past the hour mark through a Philip Billing free-kick that was saved in fine style by Emiliano Martinez.
Gary O’Neil’s Cherries slipped a place to 19th, a point adrift of safety, having failed to further boost their survival bid after the surprise 1-0 win over Liverpool last weekend.
O’Neil said: “I don’t think we were well beaten. I think the last 10 minutes got a bit scrappy when we opened it up. I thought at 1-0 we were right in the game, created numerous opportunities, and weren’t clinical enough, couldn’t take them.
“We started too slowly, gave Aston Villa a little lift at the beginning, lost some individual duels that isn’t like us, let Villa wriggle out of some situations where we had good pressure.
“We need to do better from the situations we create, the control we had, the amount of times we arrived behind their back four in the match was a lot but we didn’t manage to convert.
“It was an even game that doesn’t really look that way now.”
There was a special moment in the 79th minute, prompting applause from both sets of fans, as Bournemouth midfielder David Brooks came off the bench to make his first appearance since being diagnosed with cancer in October in 2021.
And O’Neil said: “I’m delighted for David, he’s obviously been on a really tough journey for him and his family. He’s worked his socks off to arrive where he is at this moment.
“We obviously have to be sensible with his minutes. He’s got two weeks now of work, hopefully he’ll play for the under-21s in the week and then by the time we come back he’ll be available for longer than he is at the moment.”