Aston Villa 4 Norwich City 1
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Norwich City crashed to an embarrassing 4-1 Premier League defeat against Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa on Sunday afternoon at Villa Park.
Wes Hoolahan’s early opener against the club who tried to sign him in the January transfer window was the precursor to a devastating four-goal salvo in 16 first half minutes.
Christian Benteke’s acrobatic overhead kick flew past John Ruddy before the powerful striker climbed above Seb Bassong two minutes later to smash home a thumping close range header. Leandro Bacuna slotted a third after City were undone by a swift Villa counter and Bassong’s miserable afternoon was complete when he bundled Fabian Delph’s cross past his own keeper under intense pressure from Gabby Agbonlahor.
City managed to stem the bleeding after the interval in a second half which saw a late cameo for former captain and triple player-of-the-year Grant Holt in another forgettable outing for the Canaries against their ex-boss.
Hughton made two injury-enforced changes from the starting line up that beat Tottenham 1-0 a week ago. Leroy Fer (hamstring) and Ricky van Wolfswinkel (knee) were ruled out with Hoolahan and Gary Hooper coming in to replace the Dutch international duo. Hoolahan made his first Norwich start since a well-publicised January enquiry from Lambert’s Villa and a transfer request from the Dubliner that was also rejected.
Lambert named an unchanged line up from the side that lost 1-0 to Newcastle at St James’ Park, which meant no place from the start for City Hall of Famer Holt.
Hoolahan’s first involvement was to leave Delph clutching his right ankle after inadvertently trampling on the midfielder. Norwich dealt with the initial free kick threat before Ruddy gathered Ashley Westwood’s corner.
The Irishman’s next intervention proved far more decisive for the visitors when he slid home Hooper’s cut back seven yards out after Hoolahan’s first time flick released Hooper to race behind the flat-footed Villa backline. Alex Tettey then accepted an open invitation from the hesitant Villa midfield to slip in Hooper again but his heavy cross evaded Nathan Redmond.
Bassong’s defensive instincts cut out a potentially dangerous cross from Andreas Weimann with Villa desperately trying to up the pace in front of a restless home crowd but Norwich’s threat on the counter carved out a half-chance for Russell Martin who dragged wide from 20 yards.
Martin was then a touch fortunate to escape punishment for a clear shirt-pull on Benteke inside the Canaries’ penalty area which took place on the blindside of the assistant referee. Hoolahan continued to dictate much of City’s best work in the final third with one perfect pass inviting Redmond to test Brad Guzan from the edge of the area.
Villa needed a spark from somewhere and Benteke provided it in the 25th minute with a stunning overhead kick that flew into Ruddy’s top right-hand corner after the Belgian held off Joseph Yobo to control Ron Vlaar’s raking crossfield pass.
Benteke powered Villa in front barely two minutes later when he towered above Bassong to crash home Westwood’s corner five yards out with the hosts’ now in full flow.
Tettey earned the game’s first caution for a mistimed lunge that caught Nathan Baker chest-high. Norwich were now struggling to cope with Villa’s powerful forward surges until Hoolahan wriggled free to fire at Guzan who kicked away with his legs before the Irishman’s diving follow up header was scrambled behind by Karim El Ahmadi.
But City were undone from the resulting corner when Agbonlahor and Weimann led a rapier counter before rolling in the overlapping Bacuna who slotted past Ruddy into his far corner from 12 yards.
Norwich’s afternoon went from bad to worse when Ryan Bertrand picked out Delph’s run in behind and the former Leeds’ midfielder’s cutback was diverted into his own net by the luckless Bassong inside his own six yard box under pressure from Agbonlahor.
Anthony Pilkington replaced Snodgrass at the interval with the Scot earning a caution for a wild lunge on Bertrand in the closing seconds of the opening period as the visitors’ frustrations threatened to boil over.
Pilkington was involved straight from the kick off but Bacuna got back in time to take the sting out of his first-time shot.
Agbonlahor rose unmarked 12 yards out in the 50th minute but could only head Delph’s cross at Ruddy with Bassong and Yobo holding their own personal inquest.
City appeared vulnerable again from a corner in the 59th minute when Vlaar rose above his marker but Ruddy gathered. Johan Elmander replaced Redmond just past the hour mark with the home crowd mocking the teenager for his previous affiliation to their local rivals, Birmingham City, as he made his exit.
Villa continued to toy with Hughton’s side and Benteke was given time and space to pick out the on-rushing Weimann who clubbed high into the Holte End under no pressure from Norwich’s retreating backline.
Bradley Johnson and Hoolahan worked a position of promise on the edge of the home penalty area in the 70th minute but a heavy final touch allowed Vlaar to thump clear.
Elmander then hooked wide five minutes later to sarcastic applause from the away support after Johnson and Pilkington had freed Martin. Agbonlahor dismissively knocked Tettey to the ground before unleashing a strike that struck Martin on the upper body, although referee Taylor waved away home penalty appeals.
Benteke left to a thunderous ovation in the 81st minute to be replaced by Holt, who was similarly acclaimed by the visiting fans. Hooper spurned a late consolation chance five minutes from the end when he raced clear but Guzan parried his low guided right-footed effort from 20 yards.
• Aston Villa: Guzan, Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Bertrand, Westwood, Delph, El Ahmadi, Weimann (Albrighton 81), Benteke (Holt 82), Agbonlahor. Subs (not used): Steer, Sylla, Clark, Bennett, Robinson.
• Goals: Benteke (25, 27), Bacuna (37), Bassong og (41).
• Norwich: Ruddy; Martin, Yobo, Bassong, Olsson, Tettey (Howson 80), Johnson, Snodgrass (Pilkington 45), Hoolahan, Redmond (Elmander 63), Hooper. Subs (not used): Bunn, Whittaker, Becchio, R Bennett.
• Bookings: Tettey (foul on Baker, 30); Snodgrass (foul on Bertrand); Elmander (foul on Westwood, 88).
• Goal: Hoolahan (3)
• Added on time: 2 minutes / 2 minutes
• Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire)
• Attendance: 30,303