A brilliant brace from Scott Hogan and a goal from Conor Hourihane against his former club saw the Reds beaten at Villa Park.
Hogan scored twice in two minutes to give Villa a fine start but Dimitri Cavare pulled a goal back four minutes later after a frantic opening to the contest.
But eight minute later former Reds’ skipper Hourihane popped up to score – and that’s the way it stayed as Steve Bruce’s impressive side deservedly took the points and completed a league double on their opponents this season.
Reds head coach Paul Heckingbottom made three changes to his side with new striker Kieffer Moore handed a welcome debut up front alongside Tom Bradshaw.
But despite an early chance for midfielder Brad Potts, the Reds started poorly and found themselves 2-0 down in double quick time.
Hogan headed home in the fifth minute and less than two minutes made it a brace, with another clinical header, to put Villa firmly in control.
Credit though where credit is due and the Reds hit back in the 11th minute when Cavare pulled a goal back with a powerful header from Steve Mallan’s corner.
But no sooner had the visitors got back into the contest then they found themselves two goals adrift again.
And it was a sucker-punch as former Reds skipper Conor Hourihane who got Villa’s third. A sweet strike from the Irishman into the bottom right corner.
At the other end Bradshaw headed wide from a Mallan cross as Heckingbottom’s team came close to reducing their arrears again.
However, John Terry headed wide and Jack Grealish had a right-foot shot saved by Reds’ keeper Adam Davies as the hosts looked to kill off the contest before the break.
Goalscorer Cavare headed wide as the Reds kept pushing but Villa held their two-goal advantage at the break.
The Reds struggled to create made chances after the break despite a string of substitutions from Heckingbottom to freshen things up.
It was Villa who went closest to making it 4-1 when Hogan struck a post in search of a hat-trick, while Houirhane went agonisingly close.
Sub Adam Hammill rifled over for the Reds and fellow sub Mamadou Thiam somehow headed wide when unmarked at the back post from a pinpoint Mallan cross.
That miss summed up a frustrating afternoon for the Reds who remain hovering just about the relegation zone.
Reds XI: Davies (c), Yiadom, Pinnock, Lindsay, McCarthy (Hammill 45), Cavare, Potts (Mottley-Henry 68), Mallan, Moncur, Moore (Thiam 73), Bradshaw.
Subs: Townsend (GK), Pearson, Brown, Wolfe.
Aston Villa: Johnstone, Elmohamady, Chester, Terry, Hutton, Snodgrass, Hourihane (Whelan 86 N/A), Bjarnason, Adomah (Onomah 77), Grealish, Hogan (Davis 90).
Subs: Bunn, Taylor, Elphick, Whelan, Lansbury.