Attendance: 33 184
A cool 27th minute finish from Belgium giant Benteke should have been enough to inspire an Aston Villa side to their first home league win since September 15th. However, this was Villa’s most insipid, error ridden outing of the campaign so far, made worse by Joe Bennett’s dismissal for a second yellow card in the 54th minute.
It was the Canaries who started brightly though, driven forward by creative wide man Hoolahan, who showed touch, technique and penetration all afternoon, in what was an inspired individual performance. Indeed, it was Hoolahan who should have opened the scoring when he was put through by a neat pass from Holt but found himself bested by the exceptional Guzan, who would prove to be heroic between the Villa sticks all afternoon.
Villa’s goal came against the run of play and was taken well. Holman, having sucked Turner and Bassong out of position with some teasing left sided play, allowed Benteke to be found with a quick ball to the centre. Having failed to finish off good chances in his last two games there was no way the Belgium was going to miss again. Ruddy could only watch as he was sent the wrong way by a composed Benteke.
Villa briefly threatened to build on their goal with a brief period of settled play, though individual errors, indecisiveness and a lack of vision through the middle continued to plague their forward momentum, with Delph, Ahmadi or Ireland lacking the forward drive or creativity to feed Villa’s attacking play. With the physically dominant Holt leading the Canary front line, Norwich forced themselves back into the game. It was left to Dutch International Vlaar to keep him in check. Overall, Ron Vlaar put in the sort of performance that made Martin Laursen such a legend in these parts. The Villa captain cleared, headed, tackled and brought the ball out from the back with skill and composure throughout the game, though he finds himself behind a Villa midfield who are struggling to understand how to play a simple through ball.
Benteke continued to shine, showing good holding play, work rate and a hunger for the ball. This continued into the start of the second half when the Belgian found himself on the end of a far post effort, though the Norwich keeper was able to meet the ball at the foot of the post denying the Villa striker a near second goal.
The game then changed in Norwich’s favour when Joe Bennett showed inexperience in blocking of Elliot Bennett’s run down the right. Referee Phil Dowd, perhaps the most despised official ever to grace the Villa Park pitch, promptly reached for a second yellow and his red card, dispatching the young left back to the home dressing room. Despite tactical substitution’s from Lambert the inevitable onslaught followed. Neither, Bent, Weimann or Lichaj or the team’s tactical reshuffle could prevent the Norwich charge. Bent seemed particular inept, perhaps justifying on this appearance why new boy Benteke is now above him in the rankings.
If not for the majestic Guzan, Norwich would and should have won this game. Instead they were to leave Villa park with a point after Michael Turner headed the Canaries level from a Robert Snodgrass corner.
Set pieces continue to be a thorn in Villa’s side. Despite some solid, encouraging work from Lowton, Vlaar and the deputising Herd, Villa reacted far too slowly as a unit too a Norwich short corner, the latter catching Villa off guard. Albrighton, who had a poor afternoon, marked by inaccurate crossing and passing, decided to abandon his role as the man on the far post only to watch as Turner headed the ball down into the corner. For all Villa’s good work at the back, they were undone for the second game in a row by yet more poor set piece work. This must be addressed if Villa are to progress. It is simply not good enough to switch of like this after defending so well throughout.
However, the all to familiar pattern of toothless, sideways midfield play, with its miserable creative gaps, continue to thwart Villa, a team who have promising players at the back and international calibre players going forward. Today though they could not even claim that their play was tidy, sharp and well drilled. The errors were all to obvious, exposing a team with seven new first team players who all have a way to go in their understanding of what it means to play together at this level. The communication and reading of the game is just not there as yet even if there are signs that it is developing. A note of caution though: The Barclays Premier League is no proving ground and is far too unforgiving of these sort of errors.
Man of the match: Guzan
Room for improvement: Albrighton