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18:36 5th November 2011


CITY eventually lost out by the odd goal in five after an exciting and incident-packed Barclays Premier League clash away to Aston Villa.

Roared on by the 3,000-strong Yellow Army contingent inside Villa Park, the Canaries took the lead in spectacular fashion when Anthony Pilkington's free-kick arrowed into the top corner on 25 minutes.

But a Villa side boosted by an excellent display from Gabby Agbonlahor hit back within minutes, when his low cross was side-footed home by his fellow England international Darren Bent. Replays appeared to suggest Stephen Warnock may have handled in the build-up to the go, but City appeals were ignored by referee Kevin Friend.

All-square at the break and with a foothold in the match, City suffered a hammer blow within minutes of the restart as Leon Barnett's weak backpass left John Ruddy exposed and Agbonlahor beat him to the ball to slot home from an angle.

There appeared to be no way back when Agbonlahor was given too much time by the defence and whipped in another telling low cross, for Bent to slot home his second of the game.

But Grant Holt's pinpoint cross to the far post was headed home by Steve Morison to set up a tense finale, as Norwich battled in vain to come back from 3-1 down for the second consecutive week.

After the game Paul Lambert said: "I thought it was stop-start. We got off to a great start through a wonder-goal from Pilkington but then we lost a goal back to Aston Villa, who as I said before, are a really good side.

The crowd they've got here drives them on as well. The disappointing one was the second goal, especially so soon after half-time. When you're away from home and you've got a foothold in the game, then you go and make an error.

"But they're a good side. Look at the players they've got and the money they've spent. But we gave them a fright and I'm pretty sure if we keep that spirit and the way we've been playing, then we'll be ok."

Lambert made his first change to the starting line-up in seven games with Grant Holt replacing David Fox in the starting eleven, meaning the Canaries started in a 4-4-2 diamond formation.

It was a game that saw the City boss in charge of his 100th league match for the Club and pitting his wits against his former manager Alex McLeish, who he played under at Motherwell in the mid-1990s. Villa were unchanged from their 2-2 draw with Sunderland last weekend - former Spurs' midfielder Jermaine Jenas made his first appearance of the season on the bench.

It was a bright start fom the Canaries and in the second minute the visitors made a good break down the left resulting in Pilkington putting in a low ball to Morison, but Richard Dunne managed to stick his leg out to deny the Welshman a shot on target.

Two minutes later and it was the home side on the attack - Tierney forced to block N'Zobia's shot as he managed to wriggle through into the City area. It was proving an open few moments with Shay Given then forced to parry efforts from both Pilkington and Bennett in quick succession.

On 11 minutes Steve Morison collected Bradley Johnson's free-kick and on the turn deep in Villa's area hit a low shot, which Given again had to deal with to prevent City taking the advantage.

But a stoppage due to a clash of heads between Johnson and N'Zogbia just took the sting out of City's early momentum and the home side regained some composure.

Villa had a great chance on 19 minutes when Agbonlahor flicked on Heskey's header over the City defence and ready to pounce was Bent, but with just Ruddy to beat City's number one pulled off a great save to deny the former Ipswich striker.

But midway through the half the Canaries did take the lead. Grant Holt was fouled around 22 yards out and Pilkington stepped up to take the set-piece and curled a cracker past Given into the top corner.

On 28 minutes Villa's front two looked to combine, Agbonlahor doing well on the left and putting in a good ball for Bent, but the England striker just couldn't get to it and it whizzed across the box and out to safety for a City throw-in.

But unfortunately it was a warning of what was to come, when just a moment later the two combined in a carbon copy move to score the equaliser.

It gave Villa some renewed confidence and City were now on the back foot with Villa streaming down the left - N'Zogba narrowly missed finding Bent with a great cross on 33 minutes.

Ten minutes before the break the Canaries made their first substitution when Andrew Crofts replaced Bradley Johnson, still groggy after a head-clash, in midfield.

It was proving a competitive encounter with James Collins and Holt also clashing heads with five minutes of the half to go, requiring the Welsh defender to wear a head bandage.

Crofts was booked for a foul on Petrov who was breaking through the centre, but Ruddy comfortably collected the free-kick. And two minutes into stoppage time Leon Barnett became the second Canary to enter the referee's notebook after a challenge on Agbonlahor.

Half-time: Aston Villa 1, Norwich City 1

Villa started the first half as they had ended the first on the front foot and four minutes in they took the lead, unfortunately through a City defensive error. Under pressure Barnett under-hit a backpass towards his goalkeeper, which Agbonlahor raced to connect with and the England striker just managed to nip the ball away from Ruddy and placed it into an empty net.

On 55 minutes Hoolahan showed some good footwork but just couldn't quite unlock the Villa defence and McLeish's side took possession and narrowly missed extending their lead, this time Heskey denied by a late block.

Four minutes later Barnett looked to redeem his earlier error, rising to meet Bennett's corner kick, but his header just whistled past the far post.

Holt and Morison then combined well to release the Wales international but his diagnol shot was a comfortable save for Given.

But Villa's forwards were proving lively and the Agbonlahor and Bent combination saw them extend their lead just after the hour, Bent latching on to his team-mate's cross to claim his second of the match.

On 63 minutes David Fox came on for Elliott Bennett in midfield and shortly after Jermaine Jenas came on to make his Villa debut.

City were finding it hard to get hold of the ball but made another change on 76 minutes when Simeon Jackson replaced Hoolahan.

And just a minute later City had renewed hope when they pulled a goal back. Grant Holt showed strength down the left and put in a great ball for Morison to head home at the far post.

With the Canaries pushing forward Villa were looking to catch them on the break with Agbonlahor and N'Zogbia continuing to cause problems.

However, as usual City were not going to give it up and continued to put Villa under pressure winning two corners - one of which rebounded out to Russell Martin whose shot was blocked by Dunne and with a shout of hand ball referee Kevin Friend waved play on.

Final score:
Aston Villa 3, Norwich City 2

Given, Hutton, Wanock, Dunne, Collins, Bent, N'Zogbia, Agbonlahor, Heskey (Jenas 67), Petrov (c) (Ireland 76), Herd. Subs not used: Guzan, Albrighton, Delph, Clark, Cuellar.
Ruddy, R. Martin, Johnson (Crofts 35), Morison, Holt (c), Pilkington, Hoolahan (Jackson 76), Bennett (Fox 63), Barnett, Tierney, Naughton. Subs not used: Rudd, Surman, Wilbraham, De Laet.

35, 29

    Data provided by Press Association


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