Bournemouth extinguished any lingering relegation worries with a 5-0 win over an abject Brighton & Hove Albion side looking anxiously over their shoulder.
Chris Hughton’s beaten FA Cup semi-finalists made the stronger start at the Amex Stadium but fell behind to Dan Gosling’s first Premier League goal of the season after the half hour.
Ryan Fraser doubled the advantage 10 minutes into the second half as Albion found chasing the game to be beyond their capabilities.
Anthony Knockaert’s mindless challenge on Adam Smith in the 68th minute and subsequent red card made the hosts' task even more tricky and there was a sense of implosion as David Brooks, Callum Wilson and substitute Junior Stanislas meted out further punishment.
Injuries to Charlie Daniels and Diego Rico meant Bournemouth entered the match without a recognised left-back and it was an area Brighton targeted during the opening half hour.
Unfortunately for the hosts, Bournemouth exposed remarkable passivity at the heart of their defence in the 33rd minute.
Brooks found Gosling and the former Everton midfielder exchanged passes with Wilson before finishing – a goal with all the tidiness of a training ground routine.
A fracas involving Chris Mepham and Brighton striker Florin Andone appeared to rouse Albion, but a greater willingness to attack left them exposed on the break.
Josh King and Wilson drove Bournemouth forward and Fraser – assisted by a slip as he struck the ball – curled a shot beyond Mat Ryan from 20 yards.
Brighton were increasingly fraught and Knockaert’s wild, scything tackle on Smith left them exposed to a thrashing.
Following that ugly moment, Bournemouth’s third was a thing of beauty as another driving King run allowed Brooks to complete a cute one-two with Fraser and finish crisply.
Many of the home fans had streamed for the exits by the time Wilson engineered space outside Dale Stephens and arrowed into the bottom corner, with the Brighton backline similarly absent when Stanislas crowned another precise break in stoppage time.
What does it mean? Bournemouth out of the woods; Brighton in trouble
Heading into this weekend, Bournemouth had a solitary win since the end of January and that came at basement club Huddersfield Town. But Sunday's results mean they are all-but mathematically safe. A vastly inferior goal difference means Cardiff City would have to win all of their remaining five games to end up ahead of Bournemouth. Brighton have a game in hand on Cardiff, but a gap of five points means they can ill afford a fifth consecutive defeat in all competitions when the sides meet in midweek.
Wilson reigns supreme
All of Bournemouth’s swashbuckling attack were worthy of a mention but England striker Wilson claiming a pair of assists before doing what he does best amounted to a complete performance.
Knockaert blow for Brighton’s survival hopes
For a side so lacking in creativity, Brighton can hardly afford to plod on for their next three matches without Knockaert. The Frenchman’s moment of madness leaves his team-mates a vital man down over a crucial period.
Key Opta Facts
- Brighton have lost consecutive home games in the Premier League for the first time ever.
- Bournemouth are unbeaten in their last 10 league games against Brighton, winning six and drawing four.
- Brighton have lost at home in the league by a five-goal margin for the first time since an 8-2 defeat against Bristol Rovers in the third tier in December 1973.
- Fraser and Wilson have combined for 11 Premier League goals this season, the most by a duo in a single campaign since Alan Shearer and Mike Newell in 1995-96 (also 11).
Cardiff’s visit to the Amex Stadium on Wednesday is likely to go a long way in deciding whether either of them drop down to the Championship alongside Fulham, who visit Bournemouth next weekend.