Honours even in old pals reunion

Norwich City and their supporters travelled to Villa Park on Saturday for a much anticipated reunion with former manager Paul Lambert and his backroom staff.

The match finished 1-1. One could argue that City had by far the better of the play, created the better chances, and should have won, especially after Villa had a player sent off. But 1-1 it finished, and both sides will be disappointed, albeit for different reasons. Villa will be worried that despite dismissing their previous manager Alex McLeish and ushering in the so called “Lambert revolution”, they are not playing well and have made their worst start to a season for 43 years. Norwich will be rueing that for the fourth time this season they have not taken three points from a game they should have won, and are finding it difficult to score goals.

Unsurprisingly, City retained the same starting eleven who did so well against Arsenal last week. Before the kick off there was much discussion in the press and on the messageboards of the reception that Lambert would receive from the travelling Canary fans, following his acrimonious departure from Carrow Road in the summer and the subsequent revelations, claims, and counter claims about the real cause and circumstances of his departure. Contrary to some peoples’ expectations, he received neither abuse nor bile. The Norwich fans concentrated their efforts on supporting their team and current manager, and ignored any past issues, real or otherwise, pertaining to their former manager.

Nobody in my hearing uttered the J word, and there was a dearth of pieces of silver. The Norwich fans even joined in the traditional round of applause in the 19th minute for Stilian Petrov. And Delia was captured on camera planting a kiss on the cheek of former Villa owner “Deadly” Doug Ellis. So everything in the garden, on the terraces, and in the boardroom was rosy.

Maybe both teams and their fans were more interested in winning much needed points for the current campaign than in raking up issues from the past. Hoolahan had a chance to open the scoring early in the first half, but Villa keeper Guzan was quick off his line to save well. City might have had a penalty when Vlaar appeared to foul Elliot Bennett in the box. But after 27 minutes Villa took the lead with their first real attack. Benteke managed to find space between the two City centre backs and shot past Ruddy from (Joe) Bennett’s centre.

Ryan Bennett replaced Russell Martin at half-time, so for a while there were three Bennetts on the pitch, which was confusing. But not for long. After 52 minutes Villa’s Joe Bennett received a second yellow card for fouling Elliott Bennett, and was sent off. “Gordon Bennett” remarked the MOTD commentator, even more confusingly. The sending off seemed to galvanise Norwich, and Hoolahan (twice) and Holt both went close only to be denied by excellent goalkeeping from Guzan.

Hughton racked up the pressure by substituting Morison for Johnson and Snodgrass for Elliott Bennett. City’s incessant attacking finally paid off in the 72nd minute. Snodgrass took a corner short, Hoolahan crossed, and Turner’s glancing header beat Guzan. Herd, who had already been booked, was fortunate not to receive a second yellow and subsequent red card when he appeared to stamp on Hoolahan’s foot. Norwich continued to have the better of the play and Snodgrass went close at the death but his shot landed on top of the net.

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The Canaries could not turn their superiority into a second goal and had to be content with just the one point, and dreams of what might have been. Even Messrs Hansen, Lineker and Lawrenson sang our praises on MOTD.

This week we have two home games. Spurs visit the Fine City on Wednesday in the Capitol One Cup, and on Saturday we host Stoke City in the Premier League. These games are important. If Norwich can continue their good form of late into those games, and if we can turn our good performances into goals, then our season can really take off in a big way. Watch this space and OTBC!