Dean Smith heaped praise on Ollie Watkins after 10-man Aston Villa earned a convincing victory over Crystal Palace.
Villa only led through Bertrand Traore’s fifth-minute goal when Tyrone Mings was sent off after receiving two yellow cards in quick succession shortly before half-time.
But the hosts were much the better side after the break as well and wrapped up a 3-0 win with goals from Kortney Hause and Anwar El Ghazi.
Watkins was a thorn in Palace’s side throughout and was involved in all three goals as well as hitting a post late on.
Boss Smith said of the big-money signing from Brentford: “I wanted the Christmas present of a good performance and I certainly got that and a good result as well.
“Our counter-attacking threat was there for all to see. We created numerous opportunities. Unfortunately Tyrone gets sent off but I said at half-time there was nobody better to lead the line with 10 men than Ollie Watkins and I thought he was outstanding.
“The only thing missing was a goal. All the lads are very appreciative of the work he’s doing. He deserved more today than three assists.”
The negative was the red card for England defender Mings, meaning he will be suspended for Monday’s clash with Chelsea.
Both bookings were for clashes with Wilfried Zaha – the first for some argy-bargy after a foul by the Palace man on John McGinn and the second for a block with his arm.
Smith criticised referee Anthony Taylor, saying: “I thought they were very soft. I thought the first one was pathetic. He got attacked by Wilfried Zaha and got a yellow card. The second one it looks like he’s been fouled first.
“I think the ref has set his tolerance level and, once they do that, they were two soft and frustrating cards really.”
Ross Barkley had been expected to return to the squad after a month out with a hamstring injury but the on-loan Chelsea man was absent once more.
Smith said: “He can’t play against Chelsea and it wasn’t worth the risk today. He’s still not 100 per cent with it. But he was very, very close.”
The emotions were very different for Palace boss Roy Hodgson, who had hoped to see his team bounce back from last weekend’s 7-0 mauling by Liverpool.
Hodgson said: “I didn’t see the 3-0 coming. I thought at half-time we’d shown enough to suggest we had enough to get back in the game. When Mings was sent off, there was even more reason to think that we would create some chances.
“It didn’t work out that way. The real saddening factor is this was an opportunity to get something from the game and we weren’t good enough to do that. I thought Aston Villa thoroughly deserved their victory.”
Palace are also back in action on Monday against high-flying Leicester, and Hodgson added: “I don’t think it would be good to dwell on it for any longer than we have to, but we do have to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask what have we done wrong, what clear mistakes have been made, and try to find a way around that in two days’ time.”