Aston Villa 4 Norwich City 1 match report: Christian Benteke's moment of brilliance puts Chris Hughton back under pressure
All five goals in the match were scored in a thrilling first half
Monday 03 March 2014
With the rain teeming down, Norwich leading and the Holte End breaking out into groans, it felt like another of those afternoons was unfolding for Aston Villa.
What followed was a reminder of the importance of Christian Benteke to Paul Lambert’s side as a moment of brilliance from the big Belgian – equalising with an overhead kick – changed the mood entirely, sending confidence flooding through the home ranks and sparking a rush of four goals in 16 minutes that flattened Chris Hughton’s visitors.
Benteke may have struggled to reproduce last term’s scoring form, when he hit 23 goals in his debut campaign in England, yet his quickfire double after 25 and 27 minutes set Villa on their way to a first victory in five matches as Leandro Bacuna and Sébastien Bassong’s own goal settled the outcome before half-time.
It was Benteke’s equaliser that provided the defining moment. Ron Vlaar played a high, angled ball into the box, and the Belgian collected it on his chest before hooking a superb overhead volley past John Ruddy. When he then climbed above Bassong to head in Ashley Westwood’s corner, Villa – who had begun the day with the division’s second worst home record – were on their way to their biggest win of the campaign.
A delighted Lambert said of Benteke: “There is no doubt when he is at it, he is an absolute handful. He has got the ability to be a top player. He has a long way to go until he hits the heights but his two goals were fantastic.”
These teams had begun the day level on 28 points but Villa are now in 11th place, with 15th-placed Norwich the ones left peering nervously over their shoulder – they sit four points above third-bottom Sunderland, who have two games in hand.
It looked initially like the afternoon might be all about Wes Hoolahan, a player Villa tried to buy in the January transfer window. Norwich refused to sell to Lambert, their old manager, despite Hoolahan’s transfer request and it seemed Sod’s law that on his first start since New Year’s Day, he should take less than three minutes to put the visitors in front, playing his part in freeing Gary Hooper down the right and getting into the box to convert the ensuing cross.
Hoolahan’s muted reaction was something of a first – we have seen players not celebrating goals against their old clubs but not against teams they did not quite join.
He might have had a second goal after 35 minutes but was foiled first by a Brad Guzan save and then Fabian Delph on the rebound. Instead, Villa were soon out of sight. “For an away performance I don’t think we could have started any better but in a 15-minute period we couldn’t handle the power and pace that they had,” said Hughton.
This Villa team are at their best on the counter-attack and this was how their third goal arrived, Gabriel Agbonlahor surged forward before passing infield to Andreas Weimann who fed the overlapping Bacuna to curl a shot beyond Ruddy. It was four when Delph burst into the box and Bassong, under pressure from Agbonlahor, turned the resulting cross into his own goal.
“For me the third goal, the counter-attack, was fantastic but Christian’s first goal set the tone of what was going to happen, his goal was brilliant,” said Lambert, describing Villa’s football during that flurry of goals as being “as good as we have had”.
For Norwich it was quite the opposite. While their home form has been solid, this was their fifth successive away defeat. Hughton lost Robert Snodgrass with a wrist injury at half-time but the game was up by then. The fact a fire alarm later delayed his post-match press conference seemed a fitting ending to an afternoon which, for Norwich, leaves the warning lights flashing.
Aston Villa (4-3-1-2): Guzan 6: Bacuna 7, Vlaar 6, Baker 6, Bertrand 6; El Ahmadi 6, Westwood 6, Delph 7; Weimann 6 (Albrighton 82); Agbonlahor 8, Benteke 9 (Holt 82).
Substitutes not used: Steer (gk), Bennett, Clark, Sylla, Robinson.
Norwich (4-2-3-1): Ruddy 6; Martin 5, Yobo 6, Bassong 5, Olsson 6; Tettey 5 (Howson 80), Johnson 5; Snodgrass 5 (Pilkington 46, 5), Hoolahan 7, Redmond 5 (Elmander 63, 5); Hooper 6.
Substitutes not used: Bunn (gk), Whittaker, Becchio, Bennett.
Match rating: 7/10
Man of the match: Benteke
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