Both sides opened the fixture by leading a moment of remembrance for the recently departed Ray Wilkins, an English football legend, and of course a former Aston Villa coach.
The first chance of the game fell to Norwich, who were unable to capitalise after Birkir Bjarnason gave away a free kick a few metres from the Aston Villa penalty area. James Maddison slipped as he took it and the ball flew over the wall, over the goal and into the stands. Maddison had a chance moments later on a Norwich break after Ahmed Elmohamady’s misplaced pass, but his shot from far out broke straight against the concrete chest of John Terry.
Villa’s first big chance in the opening stages came as Jack Grealish opened up the field with a trickling pass along the flank for Scott Hogan, who tried to find Conor Hourihane in the box, but the ball could only get away from the charging Irishman.
Hogan came close again as the clock ticked on in the first half after Birkir Bjarnason picked out a rushing Elmohamady, who found Hogan with a cross, but the Villa striker could only strike the ball against Norwich’s goalkeeper, Angus Gunn. Shortly after, Conor Hourihane’s shot was blocked by a sliding Timm Klose, Norwich’s main man at clearing the lines this season. This would end up being Villa’s best chance of the first-half
Villa’s lack of depth in the centre-back position was tested after Mario Vrančić followed through a challenge with John Terry that left the former Chelsea man floored after Vrančić’s studs connected with Terry’s ankle. Terry carried on, but dropped to the floor moments later. The blood pressure of Villans worldwide rose after Mile Jedinak was spotted ready to replace JT at the back with an early substitution, but the defender was able to continue after a short conversation with Villa’s physio.
Following another Norwich break, Villa would be glad that their captain could continue the game. James Chester at the back was dragged out of position to the right, leaving Terry to deal with the Murphy and Srbeny, and after James Maddison pinged in a ball to the pair of them in the centre of Villa’s box, Terry came up with something slightly short of a biblical miracle as he managed to clear the ball surrounded by Norwich attackers, while off-balance, with it bouncing in the face of Sam Johnstone’s goal.
Villa were unlocked on the stroke of half-time. Norwich advanced in an attack that tested the limits of the first-half clock with Josh Murphy carefully stroking the ball around the flank of the Villa box. Murphy was allowed to walk along with the football, edging ever closer to a central position before wrapping his boot around the ball, clairvoyantly guiding it up and over Villa’s back four, against the top corner of the post and past the outstretched arms of Sam Johnstone from some angle, and from some distance back. Think accuracy in the manner of Luke Skywalker’s proton torpedoes hitting the exhaust port of the Death Star without his guidance technology.
What a bloody lovely hit that is from Murphy. https://t.co/LPfYeMqf8d— The Short Pass (@theshortpass) April 7, 2018
The back-four of Villa struggled shortly after after Murphy popped up once more to play the football over the top for Dennis Srbeny, who charged past John Terry into the Villa box, but was blocked by the standing body of James Chester as the Carrow Road crowd screamed for a penalty. The ball, however, was nowhere near Srbeny who had lost it in his clash with Terry, and thus no foul was awarded.
After Murphy’s goal, the first-half whistle was somewhat of a mercy for Aston Villa, who entered the second-half with the pressure of the world on their shoulders.
The pressure? It would only increase. Josh Murphy once again found the beating of Ahmed Elmohamady in a footrace on the right, before picking out Harrison Reed in the Villa penalty area, Reed lifted the ball over Villa’s ‘offside trap’ to pick out Dennis Srbeny in acres of space, and the German found it all too easy to slot home. Srbeny? He was being played onside by Elmohamady on the right. It’s safe to say that it wasn’t at all a game to remember for Villa’s fullbacks.
Steve Bruce’s reaction to the scoreline was to introduce the hulking presences of both Lewis Grabban and Jonathan Kodjia to the proceedings in place of Robert Snodgrass and Albert Adomah, and while the change failed to ignite the match, it was Kodjia who helped bring Villa back into the game, with the promotion hunters finding a goal through a half-chance as Jonathan Kodjia crawled into the Norwich box, picking out Jack Grealish lurking on the edge with a deft touch.
Grealish followed up the Ivorian’s pass with another one, with the net of Angus Gunn the intended destination, and the Englishman’s soft effort rolled through the crowded box past the Norwich goalkeeper. The Villa attacker celebrated by paying tribute to Ray Wilkins - but Villa’s joy was nothing if not short-lived.
Norwich’s third came from James Maddison, who was dictated all the way by the magnificent Josh Murphy, who burst past James Chester and John Terry before putting it on a plate for Norwich’s young star.
Further chances seemed to defy a Villa team frustratingly unable to solidly connect with passes and crosses, with the ball slicing off of Kodjia’s boot or Grabban’s head a number of times as the match ticked on towards a close, and with every half-chance that Villa spoiled, Norwich waited to counter through Maddison and Murphy, who found acres of space due to Villa’s roving fullbacks playing a high line.
Following Norwich’s third, Aston Villa simply fell apart and it can be considered some gift that Norwich struggled to add yet another goal - they did have their chances to do just that. Instead of chances, Villa simply collected bookings and broiled in frustration, unable to do anything and acting as simple docile training side for a rampant Norwich City.
Next up, Aston Villa will face Cardiff City, in a match that would have meant a lot more had the Villans turned up for today’s match. As for the result? “That’s the Championship for you.”