Norwich City’s survival chances was dealt a stunning blow after Aston Villa came from behind with a blistering first half performance to win 4-1 at Villa Park.
Paul Lambert’s men went behind three minutes in to the game thanks to Wes Hoolahan, but a 17 minute quadruple stunned Chris Hughton’s Norwich and sent home fans into raptures. Christian Benteke returned to form with two goals, whilst Leandro Bacuna’s goal and a Sebastian Bassong own goal meant Villa scored four in a first half for the second time in Premier League history, with the other time against Wimbledon in 1995.
The loss leaves Norwich four points ahead of 18th placed Sunderland, but the Black Cats have two games in hand, and with Norwich’s last four games coming against Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea, the Canaries will see the defeat as a huge disappointment. On the other hand, this win lifts Villa up to eleventh place and seven points ahead of the relegation zone.
Hughton made two changes from his side’s 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur last week with Gary Hooper and Hoolahan coming in and the two players worked together to give Norwich the perfect start. Hooper chased a through ball down the wing, carried the ball into the box and cut back for Hoolahan, who slid to fire the ball past Brad Guzan and give the away side the opener. Hoolahan, who was close to joining Villa in January, gave a muted celebration which is a sign of his desire to re-join Paul Lambert at the Midlands side.
Norwich’s good start continued in the first ten minutes as Hooper found space on the right again, but his cross was overhit and too high for former Birmingham City man Nathan Redmond, who received jeers from the home crowd all game. Villa soon came back into the game, and were level when Benteke showed his talent and scored an incredible goal.
Ron Vlaar lifted a hopeful cross into the box where Benteke controlled brilliantly on his chance and managed to twist and volley in one motion, and the ball flew past John Ruddy into the back of the net. It was a piece of magic from Benteke, and it changed the momentum for the whole game. It got even better for Villa and the Belgian striker just two minutes later. Ashley Westwood swung in the corner towards the near post where Benteke was unmarked, and he nodded his free header home to give Villa the lead and they never looked back.
Norwich’s bad few minutes could have been a lot worse when Alex Tettey challenged Vlaar with a high foot and collided with the Dutchman. The referee handed out a booking, but could have quite easily sent Tettey off which the Villa fans were calling for. The game could have been so different when, with the score at 2-1, Hoolahan linked up with Hooper again but Guzan pulled off an amazing double save and Norwich would rue that missed chance when Villa went up the other end to get their third.
Gabriel Agbonlahor led the counter attack, skipping past two men before he found Andreas Weimann. Weimann had Bacuna overlapping him and found the full-back who cut inside on his left and bent the ball in off the far post, giving Villa a 3-1 lead. The joy wasn’t finished for the home fans though, as it took only four minutes to get Villa’s fourth goal of the game. Fabian Delph made a superb midfield run before crossing low into Agbonlahor, who put the pressure on Bassong and the ball looped into the net from the boot of the defender.
Anthony Pilkington came on at the break for Norwich, but made no impact as Villa continued to make chances. Agbonlahor got on the end of Delph’s cross but could only direct his header into the grateful arms of Ruddy. The away side started to get a bit of possession and finally a chance came 20 minutes into the second half. Johan Elmander was found well by Russell Martin, but the big Swede cut his shot horribly wide of the goal.
That was the catalyst for a Villa charge, and they could have had a penalty. Agbonlahor’s shot hit the arm of Martin, but the defender did have his back to it so the referee waved away the claims. The game fell away and Villa cruised to the win, leaving Norwich in tatters and Hughton under pressure.