After what was sure to be a Merry Christmas for all around the midlands came Boxing Day and the football with it. Aston Villa welcomed fellow former Championship team Norwich City for the holiday fixture. The hope was that coming into the game Dean Smith would back a starting eleven that would provide more than the effort from last fixture against Southampton. The changes in the side were the inclusion of Nakamba on for McGinn, the reintroduction of Konsa to the Center Half position, Elmo taking a start at Right Back, and Trezeguet’s return to the starting eleven.
The opening 10 minutes of the game set the pace for what was to come, high attacking football by both sides but little end product. Both sides were looking to get at each other while employing the high press and counter attacking strategy. Norwich had the early chances on the day with passes to Cantwell slicing through the box. Heaton wasn’t beaten by these early chances and looked quite composed.
Villa started to ask serious questions of the Norwich defense during the 14th minute as Elmohamady and Grealish both placed dangerous crosses in to the box which placed the ball squarely at Trezeguet’s feet. The Egyptian was able to get a shot off but the attempt was deflected wide for a corner which was ultimately wasted.
Norwich then countered with Pukki looking to be in on goal but a fantastic individual effort by Konsa halted the Finnish international. Thus began the period of the game in which Konsa and Hause made their presence felt. Each had well taken individual efforts and marshaled the potentially dangerous Norwich attack away.
From a Villa perspective, the most meaningful action of the half came from the play of El Ghazi. During the a Villa attack which produced a chance for Elmohamady to cross in, the Egyptian found his fellow countryman in the box who headed the chance down for El Ghazi who simply couldn’t find his feet within the 6 yard box. Later in the half an opportunity was being worked down the left wing for Villa and El Ghazi made a run in on the defense which was served well. Yet the dutch winger put the chance wide of the target.
The first half came to a close as the cycle of possession for either side led to counter attacks for their opponent simply ran out of time and the referee’s whistle blew
45’ Villa 0-0 Norwich
The second half began with Norwich as the main attacking force which manifested in a opportunities from the dead ball. The most important of which came off of the space given by a Targett missed tackle. The corner which was given led to a stunning goal line clearance from Douglas Luiz as the Brazilian truly laid out for the benefit of the club. On the corner which Luiz conceded when saving the goal, Norwich went right back at it and put a ball in to the near post which Heaton barely got to, but saved nonetheless. The heroics of both players changed the game. The attempts woke up the Villa side and brought some confidence to the players.
Grealish attempted to drag the Villa offense to a score soon after as he dribbled through the Norwich defense and forced a save from Krul. The effort was neat from the top of the box and forced a good save but still hadn’t broken the dead lock. The Villa Captain got reinforcements in the form of Conor Hourihane in place of Marvelous Nakamba.
Immediately the Villa attack improved namely with the link up play between Wesley and the left side of midfield. Trezeguet, Hourihane, and Wesley moved the ball really well through the Norwich defense but the final ball still was missing from the Trio. Notably, Trezeguet was able to put a headed effort on goal but Norwich and Krul stood resolute.
The 64th minute allowed for the most important move of the game. The left side continued to make waves through the Norwich midfield and defense as Grealish was able to pick up the ball outside of the 18 yard box due to hard work by Wesley. The Villa Captain then sliced through the defense while playing the one-two with Hourihane. The Norwich defense clamped down on to Grealish and the Captain coolly played it to a waiting Hourihane who put it by the Norwich keeper cleanly.
64’ Villa 1-0 Norwich
The Norwich response to the goal was lacking and the Canaries could only muster long shots and dead ball crosses. The Villa looked galvanized by the goal though and the quality increased noticeably.
At the 81st minute things began looking a bit rocky as confusion on a Cantwell injury provided Norwich with space to put in cross after cross after a quickly taken free kick. The attacking from end to end continued as each side looked to get one to change the outlook of the game. Norwich was able to fashion an opportunity during this end to end attacking by way of Max Aarons’ dribbling. Aarons was able to get the better of Targett and put a cross into the waiting Norwich attack. Alexander Tettey took a shot at point blank range but Heaton responded with an incredible reflex save to keep his clean sheet.
From then on the Villa showcased their late game management as they attempted to see the remaining time out. In the 86th minute, Jota came on for Trezeguet, and in the 2nd minute of extra time Lansbury came on in place of El Ghazi. This made for a much more narrow side, the compactness served well though as Norwich pinned their ears back and attempted to come away with a draw. The time was well managed though as even the ball boys took their sweet time doing their job. This combined with the players efforts sucked the oxygen out of the game and Villa came away with all three points.
FT. Villa 1-0