"Lose to Norwich and we're down."
That was the consensus view, from Aston Villa fans, on the club's plight early Sunday as a torrid few weeks of football forced optimism to wane.
Nine points from 13 previous games, no goals in their last three and an alarming uptake in form from those around them in the table had fans pushing the panic button midway through February.
The home form has been shocking all season, but if the away form dries up too? That's a chain of implications leading to a crushing eventuality no fan wishes to consider. To give you a hint, it begins with "R."
But Norwich City have fallen into the habit of gifting Villa three points since Paul Lambert swapped East Anglia for the West Midlands, and not even a third-minute Wes Hoolahan goal—an action that riled the home crowd very early on—could upset the form book here.
It took a Christian Benteke cracker to liven up the home crowd, and from there the Belgian took control of the game. He'll get the plaudits, media folk will rush to laud his incredible potential once again, but the most encouraging thing for Villa was that certifiable building blocks were put in place here to improve performances at home.
You can't rely on Benteke to score a golazo overhead kick every week; systems and methods are not built on the expectation of individual greatness winning you the game every time.
But Fabian Delph's dart into the channel to create the fourth goal, Ryan Bertrand's pass to find him and Ashley Westwood's much-improved deliveries from corners are all bankers.
Take it, repeat it and prosper.
Concerns over repeating a failing method over and over surfaced prior to kick-off. For many, it's the footballing equivalent of banging your head against the wall and expecting a different result.
The starting XI, formation and first three minutes of the game felt like Lambert was doing exactly that, but as the growth of Villa's young players continues, strong performances rear their heads from time to time.
Leandro Bacuna's solidity at right-back is a major plus-point, Ron Vlaar's (largely) excellent form and leadership of the defence is irreplaceable. If Benteke can keep scoring, he'll fire the club to safety himself.
Best of all, Villa now sit nine points off the fabled 40-mark fresh from taking three points off a direct rival in the table. Cardiff City, Fulham, West Ham and Hull City all lost, meaning Villa move back up to 11th and are just three goals away from the top half.
The three-goal margin and Benteke will dominate the headlines. Midfield movement, improved execution and newfound confidence are by far the more important takeaways.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!