Rampant Villa leave Megson's Trotters with mountain to climb
Aston Villa 4 Bolton Wanderers 0
Only Gary Megson knows whether he truly believes in his shell-shocked Bolton Wanderers side rallying over the next month and avoiding relegation.
If he is to stir his players into one last telling push, though, his language this week will have to deviate substantially from the utterly downcast assessment he gave of this seventh defeat in nine league and cup games.
True, Aston Villa were so reinvigorated by scoring goals again following their own three-game nosedive that they were rampant in the final half-hour. But, in the very necessary search for positives and mitigating circumstances, there were straws Megson could have clutched at and didn't.
Such as the fact Bolton were very much in the game almost up to the two-thirds stage, were exposing Scott Carson's frayed nerves and, early in the second half, subjecting Villa to what even Martin O'Neill described as "a storm". Megson, having won at the ground with Leicester City in the autumn, could also have absolved his players of blame for Villa's magnificent move for the second goal and acknowledged that the third, although well struck by Gareth Barry, was covered by Ali Al Habsi until deflected beyond him by Joey O'Brien.
He didn't have a good word to say about them, though, and after a sequence of one point from 24 and seven goals from 12 games, his inspirational talk needs to start now if what he calls a must-win home game against West Ham United next Saturday is to bear the essential fruit.
"The games are ticking away and nobody's going to lie," said Bolton's former Villa defender, Gary Cahill. "These are difficult times but we've got to believe we can still get out of trouble. I would be devastated if we went down because I feel settled and I'm happy to be playing regularly in the Premier League."
Bolton had some decent glimpses of goal, only to ultimately play Villa – Gabriel Agbonlahor, in particular – back into form and incur some heavy damage to their goal difference.
Agbonlahor rounded off one of the moves of the season to double the early lead established by Barry, who followed up his second goal of the afternoon with a late second assist, this time for Marlon Harewood. The substitute's unchallenged header showed how badly Bolton had imploded for the second Saturday running.
The gateway to Europe remains ajar for Villa, whose equal biggest win of the Premier League season coincided with their opponents' joint heaviest defeat.
O'Neill was rightly enthused by the dynamic counter-attacking of his side, especially Ashley Young. Stiliyan Petrov also had one of his best games for them and Young said: "Things hadn't been coming off for us but we started well and it was a great result. We wanted to get back to winning ways after the slump we've been through and this sets us up for the remaining games."
The two clubs face contrasting outlooks and, from the words of the respective managers, don't we know it.
Goals: Barry (9) 1-0 ; Agbonlahor (56) 2-0 ; Barry (60) 3-0 ; Harewood (85) 4-0.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Carson; Mellberg, Laursen, Knight, Bouma; Reo-Coker, Petrov (Routledge, 87), Barry, Young (Berger, 82); Carew (Harewood, 77), Agbonlahor. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Salifou.
Bolton Wanderers (4-3-3): Al Habsi; Steinsson, A O'Brien, Cahill, Taylor; McCann, J O'Brien (Cohen, 82), Guthrie; Davies, Helguson, Diouf. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Samuel, Giannakopoulos, Campo.
Referee: M Atkinson (Yorkshire).
Booked: Aston Villa Carew, Reo-Coker. Bolton Guthrie.
Man of the match: Barry.