Match ends, Watford 3, Aston Villa 0.
Watford's revival under new manager Nigel Pearson continued as the Hornets survived being reduced to 10 men to beat relegation rivals Aston Villa 3-0 and move within three points of safety.
The Hornets played for more than half an hour with 10 men after defender Adrian Mariappa was sent off following two yellow cards in the space of six minutes.
Watford were leading 1-0 when Mariappa was sent off - Hornets captain Troy Deeney reacting quickest to slot home after Tom Heaton had palmed away Abdoulaye Doucoure's shot following a mistake by Ezri Konsa.
Deeney doubled the lead from the penalty spot after he was fouled by Douglas Luiz before the impressive Ismaila Sarr added the third from Etienne Capoue's cross.
Villa were upset the penalty for Watford's second goal was awarded as defender Matt Targett was down injured, while the visitors were also aggrieved about the third goal as they felt Jack Grealish was fouled by Capoue in the build-up.
However, Sarr's goal was allowed to stand after a video assistant referee (VAR) check.
- Villa boss urges referees to use VAR monitors
- Has Watford's great escape started?
- Villa to add signings in January
Villa in trouble
Aston Villa will start 2020 in the relegation zone and with pressure building on manager Dean Smith, who only signed a new four-year contract in November.
While they were unhappy with the penalty and the build-up to the third goal, they were abject and rarely looked like capitalising on the man advantage.
With the game goalless, Wesley was denied by a superb save by Ben Foster yet they mustered just two attempts on target despite playing for more than half an hour with an extra player.
Wesley has not scored in his past 12 league matches, and Spanish forward Jota, who made a rare start, rarely looked like troubling a well-drilled Watford defence.
Villa have troubles at the back too. England defender Tyrone Mings was missing for the fifth successive game with a hamstring injury and Villa have not kept a clean sheet away from home in the Premier League since January 2016.
With problems mounting up, fans will be hoping Smith can land some of his targets in the January transfer window.
Watford improving under Pearson
Watford have had a chaotic season, with managers coming and going, an 8-0 thrashing at Manchester City and a long relegation battle.
Yet their polished performance against troubled Villa provided further evidence things are changing for the better.
The Hornets look refreshed and reborn under Pearson.
Having secured just one top-flight win in 16 games before the arrival of the former Leicester City boss earlier this month, Watford have since taken seven points from four games.
While Deeney will get the plaudits for his two goals, Sarr was outstanding, using his pace to torment Villa's defence and score his side's third goal.
Despite Mariappa's dismissal - his first in 158 top-flight appearances - they played with confidence and belief against Villa, which suggests they have an appetite for the battle ahead.
Man of the match - Ismaila Sarr (Watford)
'To extend lead with 10 men is positive' - what they said
Watford manager Nigel Pearson: "We couldn't afford to lose. Must-win is something I'm not overly keen on putting into the players yet. The important thing is to get the performance right. We showed good intensity. We showed incredible unity on the pitch and bench. We have to make sure that remains high on our agenda - to keep the players together.
"I thought in the first half we were pretty dominant. We expected Villa to improve in the second half and to a certain extent they did. To extend the lead with 10 men is something positive."
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith: "I read the players the riot act at half-time. We weren't good enough. We lost the game in the first half. We created the best chance before the break, Wesley should probably score.
"Their work-rate was better than ours, which is the biggest disappointment. In the second half, we started to get on the front foot but didn't create chances.
"When the other team go down to 10 men and the score is 1-0, you've got a chance but unfortunately other incidents happened and they scored a second and third."
Villa's terrible away record - the stats
- Aston Villa have won fewer points on the road than any other side in the Premier League this season - four points from a possible 30.
- Watford scored three goals or more in a Premier League game for the first time since April.
- Since the start of the 2015-16 season, Watford have been shown more red cards than any other Premier League team (18).
- Watford striker Troy Deeney has scored five goals in three league appearances against Aston Villa, with four of those coming at Vicarage Road.
Both teams are back in action on New Year's Day with Watford hosting in-form Wolves (15:00 GMT) and Aston Villa away at Burnley (12:30).
- 6MariappaBooked at 57mins
- 15CathcartSubstituted forMasinaat 85'minutes
- 29CapoueBooked at 74mins
- 19HughesSubstituted forChalobahat 45'minutesSubstituted forDawsonat 60'minutes
- 23SarrBooked at 84mins
- 9DeeneyBooked at 90mins
- 27El Mohamady
- 18TargettSubstituted forGuilbertat 66'minutes
- 6Douglas Luiz
- 23JotaSubstituted forEl Ghaziat 45'minutes
- 8LansburySubstituted forKodjiaat 72'minutes
- 10GrealishBooked at 90mins
- 21El Ghazi
- Simon Hooper
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Watford 3, Aston Villa 0.
Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) is shown the yellow card.
Foul by Frederic Guilbert (Aston Villa).
Ismaila Sarr (Watford) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa).
Ismaila Sarr (Watford) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Troy Deeney (Watford) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Douglas Luiz (Aston Villa) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Troy Deeney (Watford).
Attempt missed. Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Frederic Guilbert.
VAR Decision: No card change Gerard Deulofeu (Watford).
Foul by Gerard Deulofeu (Watford).
Ezri Konsa Ngoyo (Aston Villa) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Watford. Adam Masina replaces Craig Cathcart because of an injury.
Attempt missed. Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the left following a set piece situation.
Ismaila Sarr (Watford) is shown the yellow card.
Foul by Ismaila Sarr (Watford).
Jonathan Kodjia (Aston Villa) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Attempt blocked. Douglas Luiz (Aston Villa) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Ahmed El Mohamady.