James Milner delivered another reminder why he should be part of England's World Cup squad by inspiring Aston Villa to a comfortable 3-0 home win over Hull which maintained their European push.
Milner set up the opening goal for central defender Richard Dunne and scored the second himself before half-time with an exquisite lob.
John Carew added a third from the penalty spot two minutes from time.
To make matters worse for the Tigers, midfielder Jimmy Bullard had to be substituted after 18 minutes through injury to his left knee, which has been responsible for lengthy lay-offs in the past.
The former Fulham player had only returned to action in October after nine months out of action and had played a major role in Hull's recent revival.
But it is doubtful whether even Bullard at his best would have been able to contain Villa who produced some of their best football of the campaign in the opening 45 minutes when inspired by Milner.
He made his first England start against Brazil last month and Villa boss Martin O'Neill believes his versatility could clinch him a place on the plane to South Africa.
The 23-year-old has played predominantly on the flanks for Villa but slotted effectively into a central role.
Stewart Downing impressed on his home Barclays Premier League debut before understandably tiring after his lengthy injury lay-off, while skipper Stiliyan Petrov and full-back Luke Young also played key roles.
Hull never threatened to extend their four-game unbeaten run and it was like a cloud was hanging over them once Bullard had hobbled to the dressing room to supportive applause from both sets of fans.
Villa, bubbling with confidence after reaching the Carling Cup semi-finals, began confidently and almost went ahead inside the first 45 seconds.
Milner's chip was headed by Emile Heskey into the path of the overlapping Luke Young who burst into the Hull penalty area, but the Villa full-back dragged his low shot just past the far post.
Hull were on the back foot and a pass from Ashley Young set up an opportunity for Heskey but he failed to make proper contact with his shot.
Duke had to be alert to tip a cross from Milner, which took a wicked deflection, over the bar.
But Villa were not to be denied and after 13 minutes went ahead through Dunne's third goal of the campaign.
Milner's perfectly weighted pass found the Republic of Ireland defender in plenty of space and he hammered an unstoppable rising shot past Duke from 12 yards out.
Hull suffered a further setback when Bullard limped off in the 18th minute with a knee problem after landing awkwardly following an aerial challenge with Milner.
The midfielder was warmly applauded by Villa and City fans as he made his way to the dressing room and was replaced by Craig Fagan.
Gardner did well to block a shot on the turn from Agbonlahor on the edge of the box after he had attempted to evade his marker.
But after 29 minutes Milner doubled the home side's lead with his fifth goal of the campaign - and third in the league.
Duke had no choice but to come racing well outside his area to head an Ashley Young pass aimed at Agbonlahor out of play.
But the Hull goalkeeper did not have time to get back between the posts before Agbonlahor's quick throw picked out Milner and his 25 perfectly angled 20-yard lob flew into an empty net.
Hull midfielder Dean Marney became the first player to be yellow carded after 32 minutes for bringing down Stephen Warnock.
Downing continued to look sharp and was only just wide with a swerving 25 yarder.
Villa defender Carlos Cuellar was yellow carded for a late sliding challenge on Richard Garcia. Then Ashley Young was booked after five minutes of the second half after holding back Stephen Hunt.
Heskey found himself in space outside of the Hull box but instead of shooting he elected to take an extra touch and was dispossessed by Gardner.
Out of the blue Hull almost reduced the arrears after 61 minutes. Fagan cut in from the right and his left-footed drive beat Brad Friedel and crashed against the angle of post and crossbar.
Luke Young was cautioned a minute later by referee Stuart Attwell after a high challenge on Dawson and Petrov became the fourth Villa player to go into the book after bringing down Hunt.
The second half was a stop-start affair as Fagan continued the stream of yellow cards after lunging at Downing.
But Villa substitute Carew, who had replaced Heskey, sealed the points from the penalty spot in the 88th minute.
Duke was booked for bringing down Ashley Young and up stepped Carew to hammer the ball into the corner of the net.
Copyright (c) PA Sport 2009, All Rights Reserved.