Aston Villa (2) vs Norwich (0) – A Solid Win at Home

The fixture against Norwich was a significant one in that it moved our Villans into 13th place and ahead of five teams and the 18th position (the last drop slot) in the Premier League with five games to play and games in hand over four of those teams on our heels. 

The win certainly helps team morale going into Turf Moor to play the rejuvenated Burnley under new manager Mike Jackson who have won three and tied one of their last four games.

In terms of morale, the big story about the Norwich fixture was that it was a crowd pleaser in which every Villa player came away with something positive.  It is a very rare occurrence in a soccer game for all players from a team to come away feeling a job well-done.

Starting with Emi Martinez, who has looked somewhat uneasy of late and who has given up early goals that might have been saved, our goalie looked solid throughout and made a powerful drive by Rashica look like chump change.

The backline of Cash, Chambers, Mings, and Digne, played well as a unit and never looked threatened, with Mings having one of his most imposing games all season, with zero errors.

The inclusion of 18-year-old Iroegbunam, while justified on his prior substitute form, was still a shock, but he maintained the composure that he has shown in his cameo roles.  In fact, he excelled.  He read the game remarkably well and, from the 4th minute where he cut off a potential Canary break down the left with a perfectly timed and clean slide-tackle, he barely committed a single error of judgment.

He helped to coalesce the midfield and enhanced the performances of McGinn and Ramsey by his presence.  He had the speed, the skill, and the tackling competence to free up his compadres to press forward.

That John, our Scottish international, and Jacob could impose themselves in support of the offense without it ever appearing that we were exposed, was a confidence builder for the whole team.

Unlike Douglas Luiz, Tim Iroegbunam never looked rattled, and never tackled out of desperation – his yellow card was the result of getting suckered by Billy Gilmour into a rash, though not dirty, tackle – a lesson to learn.

Gerrard recognized that Tim, already an England Under-19 international, was feeling the effects of his debut appearance around the 70th minute and protected him from a possible late game mistake that could have ruined the occasion.  It also allowed Douglas Luiz to come on with fresh legs and push the game over the finish line, a process the Brazilian completed comfortably.

The front threesome that was on the field for the two Villa goals, Coutinho, Ings, and Watkins, operated as well as any attacking trio they have fielded all season.

Of course, our Villans looked the part against Southampton at Villa Park and, again at home, for the first half of the Spurs game.  The Norwich performance was on a par with those. Against the Canaries, it probably helped that Danny Ings did not come on until the 40th minute.  By that time, his sidekicks and Leon Bailey, who he replaced, had done a lot of pressing and probing.  In fact, the Norwich defense was reaching a level of comfort at what Villa was throwing out them and the Ings factor changed the configuration and the strategy, but more about that later.

In terms of player satisfaction, of the three, only Phillippe Coutinho was the only one not smiling ear to ear at the final whistle.  That was because he was withdrawn after 76 minutes. The team was holding a slim 1-0 lead, and he had played a very strenuous and physical game.  Certainly, the Villa fans signaled their appreciation of a classy professional who gave 100% every minute and was instrumental in almost every attack. 

His replacement, Emi Buendia, was lively enough in his fifteen minutes and came within a whisker of scoring and contributed to the Ings goal.

For Watkins, it might easily have been his best overall performance as a Villan.  He did everything.  His hustle created numerous chances for himself and others.  He scored and could easily have added a couple more and he was an important part of his team’s dead ball defense.

Danny Ings probably looked the most satisfied player at the final whistle. When he was brought on to replace an injured Leon Bailey five minutes before halftime, the team was running out of ideas.  Within a minute of joining the fray, he received a quick pass from Ramsey deep on the left touchline and noted that his teammate, Ollie, was standing at the halfway line between Byram and Williams.

It was his pass that released Watkins for the all-important opening goal.  For the rest of the game, he combined with Coutinho and Watkins to keep the Canaries on the backfoot and, to settle the nerves, added the well-earned second goal in injury time.  A job well done.

Even the injured Bailey could find solace in his 40 minutes of Premier League play.  He was lively and ambitious and not reticent about chasing defenders down.  Most significantly, he fashioned the best shot of the game that Krul did brilliantly to dive to his top righthand corner to fingertip over the bar.  It was the kind of effort that brought him to the Premier League and, most times, will result in goals – something for him to savor and add to his self-confidence.

As for Dean Smith and the Canaries, they will take away from the game that returned them back to the Championship League (winning their last four games will still not get them above 18th place) that they played toe-to-toe with a Villa team with lots of international talent and wealthy owners.

Meanwhile, under an unusually sunny Birmingham sun the game started with the intensity that was to be expected with so much still on the line at kick-off.   Perhaps due to Dean Smith and Steven Gerrard, the intensity bubbled but never turned nasty. 

Villa fans would have been encouraged to see Lucas Digne start, recovered from a shoulder injury, and able to add to the offensive threat he brings as well as his solid defensive credentials, and the promising Iroegbunam heralding a younger, more exciting, squad.

Those fans would likely have been relieved to see the more reliable Chambers in for the erratic, if talented, Konsa.  That Bailey kept his place would have been welcomed by most fans on the basis that he deserves more of an opportunity to show the form that flashed before his early season injury.

With Iroegbunam fitting in well, Villa quickly asserted their dominance and looked likelier to score though most attacks ended with little to show for the attractive build-up.  Coutinho was more noticeable in his pressing role with Norwich managing to maintain their composure and play out of defense while Gilmour, Normann, and Pukki holding their own throughout the field.

By the time Bailey had to leave the game, the sides were basically neutralizing each other, and the prospect of another Leicester-type 0-0 result was developing.

As soon as Danny Ings came that changed.  Watkins might be the best in the Premier League at running onto through balls, something that Ings knows well.  From deep in his own half, Ings’ pass easily traveled 50 yards in the air and, as it descended 10 yards outside the Norwich penalty area, Watkins had a bead on it and headed it on towards the box.  In the process, Williams who had kept with the pace had to adjust to Watkin’s nod-on that had gone over his head. 

Young Brandon, a loanee from Man U, attempted to gather his bearings only to stumble and the speedy, and strong, Watkins left him sprawling.  Still, Byram had caught up and had the angle.  No problem, Ollie was running at pace, he lent to the left and went to his right to round center back.  Byram slid to block the shot but it was so powerful that it barely deflected off the defender’s knee, enough to rise over Krul’s right arm and into the roof of the net.  Another brilliant goal by our striker.  Aston Villa 1, Norwich 0, in the 41st minute.  Ings had an assist and had been on the field for less than one minute.

That lead could have easily been erased by halftime, but for two excellent defensive plays.  First, from a well-earned Norwich corner, Hanley rose and headed back across the goal for Williams to run onto.  His header, from 6-yards, coincided with Cash responding with his raised foot and the ball went safely over the bar.  The referee judged that the head went down more than the foot rose and no foul was called.

Then, with Norwich almost breaking through, Iroegbunam fended of two Canaries recovered possession and coolly fed Mings who initiated a Villa counterattack.

The second half started with purpose and Hanley was well positioned at the far post for a corner only for Watkins to intercede.  For good measure, it was Ings’s head that cleared the next Canary corner.

Back on offense, a delightful give and go with Watkins, had Ings one-on-one with Krul only for Byram to get a toe to the ball and concede a corner.  From that corner, it was Ings rising imperiously and slamming a header into the far post with Krul rooted to the spot.  The ball came right back into play but too fast for Iroegbunam to set and he lashed the rebound over the bar.

That was in the 52nd minute and Villa continued to press for the decisive second, but the Canaries stayed solid while never appearing likely to break down the Villa defense.

Finally, in injury time Villa’s twin strikers bookended the well-deserved second goal.  It was Watkins’ relentless deep pressing that gave them possession.  Poor Brandon Williams was once more the goat.  As he cut across the field in front of his penalty area, Ollie tracked him and slid in to nick the ball for a grateful Buendia to turn with and race towards goal.  Ramsey made himself available to his left and when the Argentinian found him the ball was dispatched over Krul’s left shoulder.  The Norwich keeper, a former Dutch international, is still quick enough to get a had instantly in the way.

Unfortunately for the goalie it came right back out and Buendia tussled with Hanley while Ings joined in.  As soon as the ball broke free, Ings swiveled with it and blasted it into the corner of the net despite Krul’s best efforts to block.  Aston Villa 2, Norwich 0 at 90 minutes plus 3. 

A satisfying end to an entertaining well-played game.

Aston Villa: Martinez, Chambers, Cash, Digne, Mings, Bailey (Ings 40′), McGinn, Ramsey, Coutinho (Buendía 76′), Iroegbunam (Luiz 73′), Watkins.

Unused Subs: Olsen, Chukwuemeka, Traoré, Young, Konsa, Nakamba.

ston Villa: Martinez, Chambers, Cash, Digne, Mings, Bailey (Ings 40′) Norwich: Krul, Hanley, Williams, Aarons, Byram, Dowell, Lees-Melou (Sargent 67′) (Rupp 81′), Rashica (Rowe 78′), Normann, Gilmour, Pukki.

Unused Subs: Gunn, Tzolis, Placheta, Gibson, Giannoulis, Sørensen. , McGinn, Ramsey, Coutinho (Buendía 76′), Iroegbunam (Luiz 73′),

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *