Aston Villa 3, Norwich City 2
17:11 05 November 2011
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The double act of Darren Bent and Gabriel Agbonlahor proved too hot to handle as Aston Villa condemned Norwich City to only their second defeat in seven Premier League games.
The Canaries scored first and last through Anthony Pilkington and Steve Morison as they started and finished strongly in a lively encounter at Villa Park, but in between Paul Lambert’s men were undone by Villa’s pace and by their own defensive errors.
Pilkington curled in a superb free-kick to give City the lead in the 25th minute, but Villa were level five minutes later when England striker Bent tucked home a cross by the ever-dangerous Gabriel Agbonlahor with the defence caught napping, for the first of his two goals.
It was Agbonlahor who made it 2-1 three minutes into the second half, beating John Ruddy to an awful backpass by Leon Barnett to score from a tight angle, and Bent gave Villa a two-goal cushion after 62 minutes when he scored from another Agbonlahor cross.
The Canaries reduced the arrears and set up an exciting finish when Steve Morison headed in a cross from skipper Grant Holt but they were unable to snatch a point coming from behind for the third game in a row.
There were five yellow cards for Norwich, who also lost midfielder Bradley Johnson during the first half with a bang on the head.
Holt earned a recall to the starting line-up after coming off the bench to score the equaliser in two successive games, with midfielder David Fox the unlucky man to miss out, reverting to the bench. Holt also regained the captain’s armband from Wes Hoolahan.
It was the first change in seven matches but that swap apart, City retained the same side and substitutes from the 3-3 draw against Blackburn at Carrow Road.
Villa were also unchanged after the 2-2 draw at Sunderland, but there was a change on the bench where Jermaine Jenas was included for the first time after arriving from Tottenham in August on a season-long loan, his debut delayed by injury problems.
City threatened first in the second minute when Pilkington broke on the left and found Morison, whose shot was blocked by an outstretched leg.
Villa hit back and Heskey and Bent combined to set up N’Zogbia, whose shot was deflected out for a corner by Tierney. Petrov’s flag-kick drifted through to Herd, but he failed to make telling contact and Ruddy gathered the ball on his line.
It was a lively start and Pilkington had a powerful shot beaten away by Given and, after the Canaries had wasted a corner, Bennett tested Given from long range with a stinging drive the ’keeper failed to hold.
A foul by Johnson on Herd gave Villa a free-kick on the left in the ninth minute, but Petrov curled the kick straight into Ruddy’s arms.
Bennett and Pilkington had swapped flanks with only 10 minutes gone and City continued to look bright. Johnson’s free-kick was splendidly brought down by Morison, who again forced Given into action with a shot on the turn.
Collins wasted a promising Villa move by firing wide from long range, then it was Norwich on the offensive again, Pilkington’s cross whistling across the Villa penalty area but not finding a touch.
A clash of heads between N’Zogbia and Johnson left both men needing attention, with the City man appearing to come off worse, and there was a delay before the two players returned to the action together.
Villa could certainly have gone ahead after 18 minutes when a free-kick from the right was helped on by Heskey and Agbonlahor, leaving Russell Martin a little flat-footed as the ball looped over his head to Bent, with just Ruddy to beat, but the ’keeper made a splendid point-blank save from the England striker.
Tierney came to City’s rescue with a vital interception from Bent’s low cross after N’Zogbia had muscled out Hoolahan and sent the striker away on the right.
A foul by Hutton on Holt gave the Canaries a free-kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the Villa area – and it produced the opening goal.
Pilkington took it right-footed and curled a glorious shot beyond Given’s outstretched left hand and into the top corner for his fourth goal of the season.
Villa threatened an equaliser when Agbonlahor escaped the attention of Naughton and whistled a centre across the six-yard box but Bent was unable to connect.
The goal duly arrived on the half-hour, however, with a repeat of the same move as Agbonlahor’s speed on the left flank left Naughton trailing and he squeezed a cross between Russell Martin and Ruddy at the near post for Bent to touch home.
It was a controversial effort, however, as City protested about what appeared to be a handball by Warnock, cutting out Bennett’s forward ball on the halfway line with his hands raised, in the build-up to the goal.
Two minutes later, it was N’Zogbia whipping in a cross from the left that Bent was just unable to connect with as Villa looked for a second.
Holt was hobbling at this stage and there was a further problem when Tierney went down under challenge from N’Zogbia and the Villa man was booked.
With 10 minutes to go to half-time, Johnson, still struggling after that clash of heads, had to make way for Crofts in City’s first change.
The physios were busy again after Collins caught the back of Holt’s head and both men needed attention.
City were under pressure again when a poor header by Russell Martin and a stray pass from Bennett enabled Petrov to cross from the right and Ruddy had to be alert at his near post to cut out the cross.
A free-kick by Pilkington, played short to Bennett, enabled the winger to float a cross towards the far post where Collins just got in a clearing header as Holt waited.
Crofts was booked in first-half stoppage time for a trip on Petrov, and Barnett followed him with a yellow card for tugging back Agbonlahor.
Half-time: Aston Villa 1, Norwich City 1.
Bent had the ball in the net two minutes after the restart, from Hutton’s pass, but the flag was up for offside.
Within seconds, however, it really was 2-1 as Agbonlahor cashed in on a bad error by Barnett to put his side ahead.
Barnett attempted to turn the ball back to Ruddy from tight on the Norwich right, but only succeeded in setting up Agbonlahor one-on-one against the ’keeper. Ruddy,
unsuccessfully, tried to whip the ball off the Villa man’s toe as Agbonlahor won the block tackle and slid the ball home from a narrow angle.
Villa had their tails up and Naughton had to slide in at the near post to stop Heskey adding a third.
Naughton did well again to block a shot from N’Zogbia after the midfielder set off on a twisting run.
Hutton was forced to concede a corner from Hoolahan’s cross as Norwich hit back, and Barnett missed a good opportunity when he put a free header wide from Bennett’s kick.
City showed more urgency and, on the hour, Holt played in Morison and his low shot forced Given to dive to his right to save.
There was potentially a killer blow after 62 minutes, however, as Bent scored his second of the afternoon. City struggled to keep Villa out on the left side of the defence and when Agbonlahor swung in a cross from the right, Bent arrived in the six-yard box to knock it home.
Lambert immediately replaced Bennett with Fox, his second change of the afternoon.
Midway through the half, Villa introduced Jenas for his debut in place of Heskey, and he was quickly into the action, sending Agbonlahor away on the left for a cross that Russell Martin cut out at the near post as he and Ruddy both went for the same ball.
Pilkington squeezed in a shot from the edge of the area as City tried to find a way back but it lacked the power to trouble Given.
Hutton fired over the top for Villa with an over-ambitious effort, but the home side looked comfortable by now.
Pilkington was booked for dissent with 15 minutes to go and then there was a double change as Jackson replaced Hoolahan and Villa skipper Petrov made way for Ireland.
Suddenly City were thrown a lifeline, however, as Morison headed his third goal of the season. It came in the 77th minute as Holt did superbly wide on the left, cutting in on his right foot and curling the perfect cross to the far post for Morison to head home.
Hutton might have made it 4-2 when he burst into the City box but fired across the face of the goal.
With three minutes left, N’Zogbia raced away in a counter-attack from a Norwich corner, but Tierney got back superbly to rob the Villa man.
City were finishing strongly and Holt headed just wide from a cross by Crofts as they pegged Villa back.
As four minutes of stoppage time were announced, Holt was shown the yellow card for a trip on Agbonlahor.
Aston Villa – Given; Hutton, Collins, Dunne, Warnock; N’Zogbia, Petrov (Ireland, 76 min), Herd, Heskey (Jenas, 67 min); Bent, Agbonlahor. Subs (not used): Guzan, Clark, Cuellar, Delph, Albrighton.
Norwich City – Ruddy; Naughton, Barnett, Russell Martin, Tierney; Bradley Johnson (Crofts, 35 min); Bennett (Fox, 63 min), Pilkington; Hoolahan (Jackson, 76 min); Morison, Holt. Subs (not used): Rudd, De Laet, Surman, Wilbraham.
Referee – Kevin Friend.
Attendance – 35,290.
Goals – Villa: Bent (30 min, 62 min), Agbonlahor (48 min). City: Pilkington (25 min), Morison (77 min).
Bookings – Villa: N’Zogbia (34 min). City: Hoolahan (33 min), Crofts (45 min), Barnett (45 min), Pilkington (75 min), Holt (90 min).
Podcast - Aston Villa 3, Norwich City 2