Norwich (0), Aston Villa (2) – Villa Outclass Norwich

It was a typical cold damp December evening at Carrow Road when our Villans came onto the field to face their former manager Dean Smith looking a little uncomfortable as his former players warmed up.  He had a lot to feel uncomfortable about.

He must have been concerned about the difference in caliber he had inherited compared to Villa’s squad: no world-class goalie like Emi Martinez, no towering presence such as Tyrone Mings, no Brazilian samba-style moves like Douglas Luiz puts out.  His only star is the very humble Teemu Pukki who has been bereft since his side-kick Emi Buendia was tempted away to our Villa during the preseason.

To add to his woes, Dean found himself with Grant Hanley, Ben Gibson, Andrew Omobamidele, Mathias Normann, and Milot Rashica on the injured list.  Worse still, his excellent loanee from Schalke, Ozan Kabak, was slated to start while still not 100%.

Meanwhile, Steven Gerrard, had the luxury of replacing an injured defensive stalwart, Marvelous Nakamba, with Emi Buendia, a selection he likely would have made on the basis of the former Norwich player offering more assistance to our offensive game.

From the kick-off, Gerrard must have been reassured when John McGinn showed his teammates what to do, almost catching Norwich’s goalie, Tim Krul, off the line with a long-range effort. Norwich would have been behind in the 8th minute, if Krul had not got back in time to push the ball over the bar.

Norwich eventually settled into the game and looked sharp when they worked a cross from the right wing that Kenny McLean was waiting for in the penalty area.  The Scottish international was perfectly positioned and poised to hit a bullet of a volley that appeared destined for Martinez’s left corner if not for Matty Cash anticipating and blocking the shot for a corner.  Naturally, Mings headed the corner clear.

Villa slowly began to increase the pressure and Cash was very direct down the wing giving young Brandon Williams a tough time.  McGinn was a buzzsaw around the Norwich penalty area, adding to their woes by making it all but impossible to clear their lines.

Around the 20th minute, the pressure led to a ball rebounding to Ramsey whose blast from the edge of the area was charged down, ending up with Matt Targett and it was his turn to volley, but he was high and wide.

Then in the 32nd minute, some very sharp passing on the right wing with Buendia, pulling the strings, almost led to a one-on-one for Cash with the Norwich goalie only for Buendia’s final defense-splitting pass being a touch heavy.  Cash gave it a run, but Krul was off the line to gather as Buendia shook his head in frustration.

Within two minutes, that mistake became a non-issue as Ramsey and Luiz converged on Billy Gilmour on the right wing.  From behind Luiz managed to get his foot around youngster, and poked the ball free for Ramsey.

There was not a moment of hesitation.  Jacob looked up as he carried the ball away from Gilmour and, before any yellow shirt could close in, he slid the ball ahead to Watkins backing into his mark at the halfway line.  Ollie one-touched it back to Jacob who was heading into the inside-left seam that was open.  Gibson and Aarons retreated in tandem until they reached the penalty area.  That was a huge mistake.

Ramsey, still carrying the ball, at full speed, veered to the left and let fly with a drive that flew over Tim Krul’s shoulder before the goalie could raise his arm.  Ramsey doubled his tally of Premier League goals, both outstanding (his first was against Arsenal).  Norwich 0, Aston Villa 1 in the 34th minute.

Our Villans gained an uptick in self-confidence – almost swagger.  First, McGinn attempted a direct shot from a corner kick on the right that had Krul scrambling to push the ball over at the back post.  Then, Targett backed-up under a cross-field Gilmour pass and calmy nodded it back to Martinez.

Luiz calmly conceded a corner when he was off-balance and was rewarded by Martinez catching the corner kick as if it was a practice routine.  To make matters worse, Kabak had to call it a night just before halftime to avoid further aggravating his injury.

Come the second half, Young repeated his propensity for sloppy pass-backs.  This time McLean was ready, and it was momentarily one-on-one with Martinez except the Scot slipped and the ball ran out for a goal kick.

At 60 minutes, Gerrard substituted Ings for Young with two objectives.  First, was to get that important second goal and, secondly, to see whether Ings and Watkins could improve their performance as a dual threat.

That change had little impact.  However, when Gerrard brought on Chukwuemeka for Buendia, the impact was almost immediate.  The Argentinian must have sensed that might happen and been frustrated that, for all his endeavors he had no goals, no assists, and not even a close call.  Within two minutes his 18-year-old replacement had dribbled effortlessly to the goal line and laid over a pass for Ollie Watkins to tap the ball into the empty net. Norwich 0, Aston Villa 2.

Next time, expect Carney Chukwuemeka to either start or get a significant amount of time off the bench!

Krul, Kabak (Byram 46′), Aarons, Williams, Gibson, Sørensen, McLean, Gilmour, Pukki, Cantwell (Idah 61′), Placheta (Dowell 75′)

Subs: Byram, Mumba, Giannoulis, Dickson-Peters, Gunn, Dowell, Tomkinson, Rowe, Idah

Aston Villa: Martinez, Konsa, Cash, Mings, Targett, Douglas Luiz, Jacob Ramsey, McGinn (Tuanzebe 88′), Young (Ings 60′), Watkins, Buendía (Carney Chukwuemeka 83′)

Subs: Archer, Philogene-Bidace, Ings, Marschall, Iroegbunam, Trézéguet, Tuanzebe, Carney Chukwuemeka, Hause

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