Ashley Young still has some way to go to convince Fabio Capello of his worth for England but his position in Aston Villa lore has been secured. Two goals and a significant part in two others in a five-goal derby-day demolition and demoralisation of Birmingham will live long in the memory.
Capello was here and will have approved. He will also have approved of another accomplished performance by Gareth Barry, a player who has impressed him greatly so far, and went further yesterday in controlling the midfield in the way the Italian demands.
There was a goal for Gabriel Agbonlahor also, but how Capello would have wished John Carew was at his disposal. Privately, the England manager has rued the lack of a focal point striker, a Didier Drogba or Fernando Torres, and the Norwegian provides that. Two more goals for him and how he milked the applause as he was last to leave the pitch. "Really brilliant," was the verdict of the Villa manager, Martin O'Neill.
And how the supporters will milk this victory, a double over Birmingham, the biggest winning margin in a league fixture since 1960 (6-2) and a result that meant the Blues stay in the bottom three. On this evidence they might remain there. As he was substituted the on-loan striker Mauro Zarate – he of the £20m buy-out clause – kicked an advertising hoarding in frustration. "He was disappointed with his performance," said Alex McLeish. "And so he should have been." There would also have been plenty of cats kicked when the club's supporters returned home. The Birmingham manager then added of Villa: "These guys are a better side than us. Let's be honest. We were against a side who are miles away from us at the moment."
Villa are reaching for the stars. It's now an astonishing 15 goals in just three games as they have gobbled up the ground between them and fifth-placed Everton. They sit three points behind the Merseysiders and visit Goodison Park on Sunday. It will take some resilience to stop them. "We have put ourselves in with a chance," O'Neill said, "but we have to win." European football has been held as the goal to keep Barry – a target of clubs with Champions League participation on offer – Young and the young tyros, and convince Villa owner Randy Lerner to spend big this summer.
The managers have done battle before. They faced up to each other – last in combat almost three years ago – on either side of the Old Firm but that was as far more equal contestants. Yesterday Birmingham were simply dreadful. Out-played, out-fought, out-muscled, out-thought. Their points of resistance came from a frustrated James McFadden and the substitutes Mikael Forssell – who scored – and Olivier Kapo.
Defensively they were shocking. Quite why the slight right-back Stephen Kelly was deployed to mark Carew at set-pieces was a mystery. It was a man against a boy while the Birmingham central defenders stood off in fear of Villa's power and pace.
That came from Carew, Agbonlahor and – starting on the left but given a free role – Young who hammered in a half-volley from the edge of the area, after a scuffed shot from Olof Mellberg fell to him, to give Villa the lead. It was doubled before half-time when, amazingly, Carew was left unmarked to glance in Young's free-kick.
Blues had two opportunities – Mehdi Nafti and David Murphy blazing over – before, into the second half, Young picked out Barry, who rolled the woeful former Villa player Liam Ridgewell and squared for Carew to tap home. The fourth came soon after as Young collected a throw-in and feinted past Kelly. His shot was saved by Maik Taylor with an outstretched boot but Young gleefully fired in the rebound.
A slight glimmer for Blues came when Forssell's low shot, after fine approach play, beat Scott Carson, but another poor intervention by Ridgewell, heading a clearance straight to Agbonlahor, invited the fifth. The striker, with Kelly and Radhi Jaidi standing off, accepted and beat the unsighted Taylor to leave Villa out of sight.
Goals: Young (28) 1-0; Carew (42) 2-0; Carew (53) 3-0; Young (62) 4-0; Forssell (67) 4-1; Agbonlahor (78) 5-1.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Carson; Mellberg (Harewood, 85), Laursen, Knight, Bouma; Reo-Coker, Petrov, Barry, Young; Agbonlahor, Carew. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Salifou, Routledge, Berger.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Taylor; Kelly, Ridgewell, Jaidi, Murphy; Jerome (Kapo, 58), Nafti, Muamba, McSheffrey; McFadden, Zarate (Forssell, 58). Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), O'Connor, Parnaby.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).
Booked: Birmingham City McFadden.
Man of the match: Carew.