Norwich striker Grant Holt too hot to handle as Alex McLeish's Aston Villa future looks grim
Norwich City 2 Aston Villa 0
Monday 14 May 2012
Fans of both teams joined in a chorus of "You're getting sacked in the morning" to Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish as his season ended with a whimper, while Norwich City's Paul Lambert was hailed a hero by the home supporters.
On the day summer seemed to break out in East Anglia, the Canaries sang in celebration of a team that has surpassed the most optimistic expectations less than three years after kicking off a League One season with a 7-1 home defeat by Colchester United.
That game was the Norwich debut of a lower-league journeyman striker named Grant Holt, now transmuted into the Premier League's top-scoring Englishman after Wayne Rooney and the subject of England speculation; and it was the most persuasive of job applications for visiting manager Lambert, who was soon to build the Norwich side which yesterday looked far more than four league places better than a woeful Villa.
Holt, named yesterday inevitably as his club's player of the season, enhanced his reputation as an old-fashioned centre-forward when he bundled in the opening goal with his chest after eight minutes. And it was the panic he caused the Villa centre-backs that brought about the second Norwich goal after 21 minutes, James Collins beating Holt in the air only to head the ball straight to Simeon Jackson, who scored.
At the day's start Villa were not quite mathematically safe from the threat of relegation – which would have given McLeish the curious distinction of taking both Villa and Birmingham City down in successive years – though the accumulated odds of Queen's Park Rangers winning at Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers achieving a goal swing of 17 in their favour must have been of an order comprehensible only to quantum physicists. That they survived was thanks in large part to the continuing excellence of goalkeeper Shay Given, four of whose seven saves yesterday were breathtaking.
His opposite number John Ruddy, the other Norwich player considered an England possible, did well when he tipped a second-half shot from Gabriel Agbonlahor on to a post.
On a carnival day of good-natured taunting between the two sets of fans, the saddest was the lampooning of the former England forward Emile Heskey on the occasion of his Villa farewell. "If Heskey scores, we're on the pitch," sang the Villa fans, the home crowd promptly joining in. Unlike McLeish's dismissal, it never looked like happening.
Norwich: RUDDY, NAUGHTON, R BENNETT, R MARTIN, LAPPIN, E BENNETT, HOWSON, B JOHNSON, HOOLAHAN, HOLT, JACKSON
Villa: GIVEN, LICHAJ, COLLINS, DUNNE, CUELLAR, WARNOCK, HERD, CLARK, IRELAND, HESKEY, AGBONLAHOR
Scorers. Norwich: Holt 8, Jackson 21
Substitutes: Norwich Morison (Holt, 68), Wilbraham (Jackson, 68), Crofts (Howson, 76). Aston Villa Bannan (Herd, h-t), Gardner (Cuellar, 66), Baker (Warnock, 81).
Booked: Norwich Holt . Aston Villa Clark, Ireland.
Man of the match Howson. Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Norwich 55% Aston Villa 45%.
Attempts on target: Norwich 12 Aston Villa 5.
Referee M Atkinson (W Yorkshire). Attendance 26,803.
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