Villa Deny Dominant Canaries
This was the first of two matches that every City fan has been looking forward to. The departure of Paul Lambert left a bitter taste for many fans and the desire to put one over our old sensei continues to be very strong indeed.
It was no surprise that Chris Hughton fielded an unchanged eleven to that which defeated Arsenal last week.
That team and formation worked so well that it would be folly to try to change it, especially as the opposition this week were, shall we say, a little less threatening.
It was City that made all the early running and had sustained spells of pressure that unfortunately didn`t result in a goal.
The best of these chances fell to Wes Hoolahan, who was put clean through in the 23rd minute after a superb ball from Holt. With just Guzan to beat, Wes tried to give him the eyes and put it to his left. He was being a little too clever as the goal was gaping to the keeper`s right.
Guzan got an outstretched toe to it and the ball and the chance were gone.
By contrast, Villa had created nothing up until this point that threatened John Ruddy`s goal.
Norwich should`ve had a stone wall penalty as well when Elliot Bennett was too quick for Ron Vlaar chasing a long ball. The Villa centre back used his leg and arm to shove Bennett over. It was clear, no doubt and not given.
Then on 27 minutes with their first meaningful attack of the game, Agbonlahor held the ball up on the edge of the City box. He laid it off to the left and the ball was crossed low into the area.
Michael Turner had been marking Benteke and for some reason left him. Benteke drifted free and controlled the ball just ten yards out. His next touch deftly placed the ball past Ruddy giving him no chance and coming totally against the run of play to give Villa the lead.
Lambert pumped his fist up in the air and celebrated the goal. This was the first thing he`d seen that was positive from his side. Previous to that he was mostly throwing his water bottle on the floor in disgust.
There followed a little spell of Villa pressure but this didn`t unduly trouble the Canaries and at half time it was one nil to the home side.
Russell Martin was replaced at the start of the second half by Ryan Bennett. Martin had taken a knock right at the end of the first 45 and was unable to continue.
The second period was less than ten minutes old when referee Phil Dowd showed a second yellow card to Joe Bennett and sent him off.
In the first half, the young Villa left back had ruthlessly scythed Elliot Bennett down to earn his first yellow. He showed his inexperience when he tugged the same player as he was chasing a through ball.
This prompted a change from Lambert with Agbonlahor being replaced by Lichaj as Villa tried to compensate for the loss of Bennett.
This also totally shifted the emphasis towards City and thirty odd minutes of Norwich pressure then began.
With Wes Hoolahan having a terrific game and pulling all the strings, City went looking for the equaliser.
Wes had another chance that Guzman was equal to but the best chance of all fell to Holt who had a one on one with Guzman.
Holt struggled and battled with Delph for the ball. He may not be quicker than Delph but he showed he was a lot stronger and shrugged off the youngster to gain a straight run at goal.
His shot was low and too close to Guzman who saved with his outstretched foot (again). In the build up, Villa should arguably have been done to nine men when Chris Herd cynically caught Hoolahan and then the ball ran through to Holt. Herd was on his knees when Phil Dowd ran past him and the Villa centre back knew he was potentially in trouble. Having already been booked and having seen Joe Bennett dismissed for a much lesser misdemeanour he would`ve been mightily relieved that Dowd ignored it - poor refereeing again.
The pressure increased and City pressed and pressed. Tettey and Johnson were very good in midfield and constantly broke up Villa`s attempts at going forward and sent the ball back in to the danger areas.
Pilkington and Bennett were a constant threat and the overlaps of Garrido and to a lesser extent Ryan Bennett were also something Villa struggled to deal with.
Cross after cross came into the Villa area but the defence, in particular Guzman and Vlaar managed to keep the Canaries at bay.
Snodgrass replaced Elliot Bennett and Morison replaced Johnson as Hughton went for it. Norwich finally got their equaliser on 79 minutes when Snodgrass took a corner short to Hoolahan.
Wes looked up and sent a teasing cross into the Villa box. Michael Turner showed great movement and flicked the ball in off a post to make the score 1-1.
Chris Hughton, usually so calm on the touchline, pumped his own fists and shouted "******* GET IN." I think he enjoyed that as much as the rest of us.
It was no less than City deserved and Turner will have been pleased to have atoned for his first half error. With ten minutes to go it was kitchen sink time and Norwich were camped in the Villa last third but couldn`t score. It finished as a draw.
A draw was actually slightly disappointing from a City point of view. I would`ve taken a draw before the start of play but having seen the state of Villa, I have to say that even with 11 men I would still be confident we`d get something from the game.
Norwich had the best chances - Villa only created one (due to Turner switching off) and scored. If this game had finished 1-3, Villa couldn`t have complained.
Villa were very poor. They played with two banks of four behind Gabby and Benteke while City`s flexible 4-5-1 caused them all sorts of trouble.
Their tormentor in chief was Wes Hoolahan - his first touch was nearly always perfect and his influence on the game was terrific. The understanding that he has with Holt seems telepathic at times and has flourished over the last three years that they have played together - and it showed here again.
Wes was named man of the match and rightly so. The emergence of Alex Tettey as a midfield enforcer is also worth mentioning. His athleticism, strength and ability are going to be a great asset for us and apparently he`s not 100% match fit yet!
Bassong, Elliot Bennett, Garrido, Johnson, Turner (apart from his lapse) all had good games. Ruddy had very little to do and Holt, despite not scoring showed that he has definitely "still got it."
So despite feeling disappointed and I know that a lot of City fans left Villa Park feeling like that, any point away from home is a good point. We have to be happier with the outcome than our opposite numbers.
This is now Villa`s worst start for 43 years(!) and although Lambert still has a good level of support from his fans it is hard to say much positive about the team that he fielded today.
They have sold all their best players over the last few years and it wasn`t long ago that they had 5 or 6 players in the England squad - they currently have nobody that is remotely close. Their £24m man, Darren Bent doesn`t do enough work for Lambert`s liking and has been stripped of the captaincy as he continues to warm the bench - it looks like he`s on his way out.
Lambert is known in these parts as something of a miracle worker - he looks like he`s going to have to pull another rabbit out of the hat to get this Villa team up the league.