Boss Ralph Hasenhuttl saluted two-goal Danny Ings after he fired Southampton out of the drop zone.
The striker’s brace inspired the Saints to a 3-1 win at Aston Villa and see them leapfrog their fellow Premier League strugglers.
Jack Stephens also netted in the first half and, while Jack Grealish scored a spectacular late goal, the visitors deserved victory.
They have now won three of their last five games to sit three points above the relegation zone after Ings’ 12th goal in his last 13 games.
Hasenhuttl said: “We like him in this form, I like to see how he is working and he is always there. He has a clinical finish, the second goal was fantastic.
“He was unlucky in the last game, hitting the woodwork and having a goal disallowed, but he is full of confidence. Not only this, he is a fantastic character for the team.
“We knew it was a very important game for us, all week I felt the guys were working well. In defence we were very compact and it was a deserved win for us.
“At 3-1 you could feel we were a bit nervous but it was normal. We are out of the relegation zone and looking at the Christmas games. It gives us a lift.”
Ings pounced to open the scoring after 21 minutes on Saturday when Tom Heaton parried Shane Long’s effort.
Stephens made it 2-0 10 minutes later, heading in James Ward-Prowse’s corner to put the Saints in control.
Ings grabbed his second six minutes after the break, cashing in on Marvelous Nakamba’s mistake, and Grealish’s fine strike was just a consolation for the hosts.
Villa trail Southampton by three points ahead of Boxing Day’s crucial visit of Norwich and next weekend’s trip to Watford – the two teams directly below them.
They have lost their last four games – and seven of their last nine – and boss Dean Smith demanded his players prove themselves.
He said: “I’m sure they’re getting the message, they know where we are at.
“They have to go out and prove they are Premier League players, they are Premier League players whether they like it or not.
“The players have to take responsibility and I have to as well. We have conceded seven in the last two home games. Today was more about individual mistakes.
“There was no tactical element in the game, they got the ball back to front very quickly, made it hard, competed and won the second ball.”
Villa lost John McGinn to an early injury after he landed badly on his ankle with Smith fearing the worst.
He added: “He has gone for an X-ray, it doesn’t look good. He got his studs caught in the turf. We will wait and see.”