City See Off Poor Villa
Norwich edged away from the relegation zone as they beat a poor Aston Villa at Carrow Road. In a tense game that was short on quality for long periods of time, Jonny Howson's volley and Dieumerci Mbokani's header were the difference for the Canaries.
Alex Neil rang the changes again with Dorrans, Hoolahan, Howson and Mbokani coming in to the side that lost at Spurs on Boxing Day.
It was the visitors that started brightest and for the first 15 minutes, Villa showed some energy and verve in their approach play.
Declan Rudd was forced to save well, first from Bacuna and then from Ayew's diving header as Villa tried to get that all important first goal.
Norwich had lots of possession but I was concerned that Brad Guzan hadn't had a shot to save in the first 20 minutes. However, that was all put to rest in the 24th minute when Redmond's clipped cross found Howson unmarked at the far post. Jonny coolly volleyed the ball past Guzan with his left peg to open the scoring.
It was a lead that would separate the sides for almost an hour with neither side able to threaten their respective keepers too much.
With the clock running down, things took an unsavoury turn as Villa started to become more physical. Mbokani had been the victim of some heavy challenges all afternoon but he impresses me with how he just gets up and gets on with it.
Jack Grealish sparked a mass 'brawl' (I'll use the term loosely) when he was late on Nathan Redmond and sent the City winger clattering into the advertising hoardings. Russell Martin and Micah Richards both ended up being booked, while Grealish kept a low profile in the resulting melee and escaped any punishment.
With 87 minutes on the clock, the ball ran out of play for a Norwich goal kick and Jerome and Odjidja got ready to come on. They would obviously replace Mbokani and Hoolahan but they weren't quite ready as Declan got ready to take his kick. It was sent long and then played out to Hoolahan on the left. He surged forward and then played a delicious cross to Mbokani at the back stick. The big man headed powerfully past Guzan to seal the win.
As soon as the celebrating was over, the subs board went up and both Hoolahan and Mbokani were replaced. Both received a standing ovation as they walked off.
There was still time for Jordan Ayew's free kick to be well saved by Rudd at full stretch but it was too little too late and there wasn't time for the resulting corner to be taken as Mr Scott blew his whistle.
This was a vital win against a poor Villa side that have become the whipping boys of the league. Yes, it was short on quality with the two goals being the only real moments that could justly come into that category. Winning the game was the only thing that mattered and it eases pressure heading into the new year.
Villa meanwhile look to be a very poor side indeed and there were signs of internal problems with moments of arguing amongst themselves going on. They are on course to be 'the worst team ever' in Premier League history with Derby County (19pts) the current holders of that unwanted title.
The City fans sang 'There's only one Paul Lambert' at the Villa fans, knowing that he was the architect of most of their problems. Having said that, he bought Christian Benteke and Ron Vlaar and in Fabian Delph, he already had a leader.
Benteke's goals kept them up for two of his three seasons there and the loss of all three of those players mentioned above is proving too much. Tim Sherwood did little other than keep them up after Lambert's departure and bought poorly last summer.
However, I'm not too worried because unless they 'do a Leicester' I think they are now as good as finished. Defeat at Sunderland next Saturday would be another nail in the coffin.