Captain Alan Hutton walked out at the front of a squad with no Mings, McGinn, or Grealish. Visiting Norwich knew a point would guarantee them the spot on the top of the Championship table. Momentum would be nice — no injuries or red cards vital.
Norwich began the game on top putting a shot just wide of the net. The attack came down Villa’s right side and the pull back pass found Stiepermann in loads of space but his shot was not on the frame. And thankfully Neil Taylor didn’t try to get a touch to the shot and risk an own goal.
Norwich’s pressure continued until they broke the deadlock after seven minutes. A free kick cross was cleared by Lansbury (who gave away the foul to begin the attack). On the second attack McLean’s pass to Onel Hernandez opened up the Villa defense on the right side. The ball was put across the six and Pukki added to his goal tally with a quality run and finish.
Dead rubber or not it was all Norwich for the opening 13 minutes. Then Aston Villa were given a free kick down the left after Hourihane was stepped on. The Irishman stepped up and delivered a low and hard cross into the box. Jonathan Kodjia was the first to the ball and got just enough connection to send it past the keeper — and put the match back on level terms.
The goal may be the most important outcome of the match. If Kodjia is confident he is a game changer off the bench — and a quality option if Tammy’s shoulder doesn’t heal enough.
Andre Green — another man likely to be a sub in the playoff run — could have easily put Villa in the lead following a cross from Hutton that found its way through the masses. But the shot was directly at the defender — and the keeper was right behind him. Someone said it on Twitter — if he scuffs it a bit it is a goal.
The chances kept coming for Kodjia to score. From a Hourihane corner JK looked like he headed a chance over the bar. The replay should Norwich had the last touch despite a goal kick being given. Kodjia and Adomah worked some excellent play down the right and a lucky bounce found Kodjia inside the box — but Tim Krul was in the right place and kept the score even.
At halftime I asked the Villa Twitter universe for their starting lineups for next Saturday. Some tough choices ahead for Dean Smith. Whelan v Hourihane? Adomah, Green or Kodjia on the wing? Check out the blogs Twitter for some of the team sheet ideas.
Second half began with Norwich on top. They come out of the gates with a huge amount of energy. Villa saw off three corners in a row and some more attacking moves besides that. Then Aston Villa grew into the match — but could not break down the defense.
It was Lewis who very nearly (and probably should have) put Norwich in the lead. But after some really nice short passes, Lewis sent the ball wide of the target — so the match remained even with 25 mins to go.
The visitors did not relent. Jed Steer was called into action and did very well to get down to his right for a save.
With 20 minutes to go Keinan Davis came on for Jonathan Kodjia. And the home crowded cheered for the Academy graduate hoping to see him find the back of the net.
Davis played well right away holding the ball up and creating a few attacking opportunities. In the final stretch Henry Lansbury came off and can be happy with his performance. There was some rust but the midfielder played well and certainly has an excellent eye for a pass. The long lost Bjarnason entered the pitch.
In the final five minutes — Norwich finally found the Championship clinching goal. Lewis opened up the right side of Villa’s defense. Dribbled right through — made an excellent pass to Vrancic as Hause dropped off. Vrancic made no mistake with the finish.
Aston Villa 1-2 Norwich. Vrancic 86. pic.twitter.com/JlwTzqQmxF— avfchistory (@avfchistory) May 5, 2019
And so the unbeaten run comes to an end — as does the 2018/19 campaign.
Villa can be proud of the effort with a weakened team against the strongest side of the league winners. Today was all about getting ready for next week. I don’t think the confidence will drop.
It is West Brom on Saturday and Tuesday. The nerves are already there.
Up the Villa.