Goals aplenty but again defence is Achilles heel
Just as in the home game against Blackburn Rovers, there were thrills, spills, and goals aplenty when Norwich City visited Villa Park on Saturday.
The game was entertaining to watch and the Canaries scored two excellent goals. But once again Paul Lambert will have been disappointed that defensive mistakes proved costly.
And headline writers will be disappointed that Grant Holt did not score at the Holte end of the ground, which may or may not have been named in his honour.
Not many teams will come to Villa Park and score two such good goals against Villa’s uncompromising defence. Hutton, Collins, Dunne, and Warnock were strong rather than subtle. And behind them Shay Given in goal was in superb form. Playing regular first team football has brought him back to his best.
Before the match City fans had been wondering whether the Canaries would be starting with Morison up front or whether Captain Holt would be recalled instead. Lambert confounded most of us by starting with both strikers and supporting them with Bennett and Pilkington on either flank. Wes and Johnson therefore formed a two man midfield until the latter was injured and replaced by Crofts.
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City had the better of the early exchanges and dominated for the first half hour. They took a deserved lead after 25 minutes when, after Holt had been fouled, Pilkington curled a superb free-kick from the edge of the box around the defence and into the top right hand corner of the goal. It was a goal of which Beckham would have been proud, straight out of the Barcelona coaching manual. The anoraks amongst you will be aware too that it was also the 300th goal scored in the Premier League this season.
Unfortunately the lead lasted only 5 minutes. Agbonlahor had been troubling the City defence all afternoon, and from his run and cross Darren Bent (much maligned for his Ipswich connections by the travelling Norwich fans), scored.
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Villa then began to dominate for the last 15 minutes of the first half and just after half-time they took the lead with a goal that was both comical and catastrophic for the Canaries. Barnett won the ball on the edge of his own area but hesitated with the ball at his feet. With the benefit of hindsight he should have kicked it out of danger, out for a corner, into Row Z or even out of the ground. Instead he tried a pass to his own keeper. The pass was too weak, Ruddy was not expecting it and could not make up ground in time, and Agbonlahor took advantage of the indecision to nip in and score.
Agbonlahor it was again who broke Norwich hearts just after the hour mark when his cross from the right allowed that man Bent to beat Barnett and score Villa’s third.
The third goal even woke up Villa’s somnolent support, who had until then been comprehensively outsung by the Norwich City fans, singing on their own. But under Lambert, Norwich are renowned for their late late shows and in the 77th minute Holt turned provider and chipped over the perfect centre for Morison to plant his header firmly into the net.
Norwich pressed for the equaliser but Villa held on to win 3-2. The Canaries battled, but there was to be no repeat of the last minute equaliser as happened against Blackburn.
There is now a break from Premier League football due to the international matches. Time for the players, management, and fans to put their feet up, pause, and reflect. City have now played 11 games, nearly one third of their Premiership programme. We can be proud of the points we have amassed and the position we currently occupy in the Premier League table.
No team has outclassed us or thrashed us by a hatful of goals. We can be proud of our team spirit and the never say die attitude of the players. The Norwich fans have supported their team superbly, at home and away. Lambert has a good idea of his best team, and has the personnel to offer a number of tactical options.
City have shown that they can score goals and accumulate points at this level. We have been unlucky with injuries to central defenders. After learning the hard way in our first few matches, our players seem to have taken on board that with so much at stake in the Premier League, referees have a propensity to wave red cards and award penalty kicks for misdemeanours committed in the box.
Now they have to learn that at this level, defensive errors are usually punished. Once the injured central defenders are all fit again, and Lambert has decided on his preferred formation, I expect Culverhouse to organise extra training sessions so that whoever plays in defence learns not to make simple errors which can cost so many points.
The fightback against Blackburn was superb. And Lady Luck was on our side that day. But it would have been better not to have given away three goals at home in the first instance. And some other teams might not be so accommodating as to allow us to score twice in the last eight minutes.
The beginning of November is too soon to think about which players to try to bring in during the January transfer window. Before then we have a feast of mouth-wateringly exciting games to contemplate. Bring on the Arsenal, the Rangers, Manchester City, Newcastle, Everton, Wolves, Spurs, and Fulham. Let us garner as many points as we can from these fixtures so that we can really look forward to a prosperous and happy 2012. And remember that to do so we MUST cut out those defensive errors.