Aston Villa eased to their second straight home win under new boss Dean Smith as they eventually saw off free-falling Bolton Wanderers.
Jack Grealish’s fourth-minute strike gave Villa the perfect start, but all they could add to it was a second-half header from skipper James Chester.
Villa’s victory – only their fifth in 16 Championship games this season – lifts them four places to 13th going into the rest of the weekend fixtures, just four points off a play-off place.
But Phil Parkinson’s Bolton have now managed just one win in 12, having picked up just one point out of a possible last 18.
Grealish had been given a pre-match nudge by new Villa boss Smith to spend less time chasing the ball and concentrate on the area where he can do most damage, closer to the opposition goal.
And he took less than four minutes to show he had listened to that advice.
From Tammy Abraham’s nicely-weighted pass through the Bolton defence, Villa’s prize asset coolly rounded keeper Ben Alnwick before side-footing into the empty net.
It was exactly an hour later, in playing time, when captain Chester, who had a first-half header disallowed for offside, then did add the second with his head from Grealish’s dipping free-kick.
But in between, it was certainly not all plain-sailing as Villa – Abraham in particular – proved wasteful and were frustrated by too many offside decisions and a lack of protection of their players at times from referee Oliver Langford.
It took an extraordinary acrobatic clearance on the line by Chester to keep out a goalbound header from Jack Hobbs. And it needed a scrambled near post save from home keeper Orjan Nyland, who still looks far from assured, to keep out Craig Noone.
Although Villa did hold out for a second home clean sheet under Smith, Bolton pressed throughout. A side who have scored just three times in two months were only denied something by their glaring lack of any genuine goal threat.
Aston Villa head coach Dean Smith told BBC Sport:
“We deserved to win, but I didn’t think we were anywhere near our best. Of the four games we’ve had since I came in, that was probably the least dominant we’ve been.
“After we scored the second goal, we had a 15 or 20 minute spell in which we were excellent, but there’s still a lot for us to work on. That brief spell showed me the levels this group can get to.
“There was a distinct averageness about other things we did. But keeping a clean sheet will have given Orjan Nyland a lot of confidence.
“Jack Grealish did just what was asked of him in getting in the box and scoring. And James Chester put in a really good performance. Quite apart from his goal, that goalline clearance he pulled off was like another goal.”
Bolton boss Phil Parkinson told BBC Sport:
“We just need something to go for us. We had the chances. One cleared off the line and a lot of scrambles in the box.
“Conceding so early was disappointing. Was it concentration levels or was it a good link-up play between Abraham and Grealish? Probably a bit of both.
“But, for their second goal, how has the ref has given a free-kick? I’m gobsmacked. Joe Williams has won the ball cleanly with a great tackle.
“The officials have got to give us a helping hand by getting simple decisions right. I was livid. It’s unacceptable at this level. They were probably not up to the standard required.”