First-half collapse costs Canaries at Villa ParkNORWICH City lost 4-1 to a Christian Benteke-inspired Aston Villa at Villa Park on Sunday afternoon.
The Belgian striker scored twice in a catastrophic period of 16 minutes for the Canaries in the first half that also included a strike from Leandro Bacuna and an own goal from Sebastien Bassong.
This came after City had taken the lead after just three minutes through Wes Hoolahan, but they were left shellshocked as the home team ran riot in the end cruise to victory.
Neither side threatened much in a dour second half, with the final result leaving Norwich in 15th place in the Premier League table with ten games left in the campaign.
Chris Hughton was forced into two changes to his starting line-up before kick-off, as Leroy Fer (hamstring) and Ricky van Wolfswinkel (knee) missed out – Hoolahan and Gary Hooper replaced them in the eleven.
Villa named three former Canaries in their squad - Ryan Bertrand started at left-back while Jed Steer and Grant Holt were named among the substitutes.
After just three minutes, City broke through and scored with their first attack – Hoolahan picked up the ball deep in the hosts’ half and played Hooper in on the edge of the box.
The striker got in past Villa’s backline and played a reverse ball back to Hoolahan, who finished with composure to get the Canaries off to a dream start.
The home crowd were agitated in the early exchanges at City’s ease in making inroads into their team’s final third – Nathan Redmond was next to test Brad Guzan with a low drive on 23 minutes.
With almost their first foray into the box, however, Villa equalised on 25 minutes in spectacular style.
Ron Vlaar’s hopeful ball into the box was brought down expertly by Benteke, and he followed it up with a masterful overhead kick that left Ruddy with no chance.
Two minutes later, Benteke scored again – Russell Martin’s miskick gifted Villa a corner which Ashley Westwood whipped into the six-yard box.
Their Belgian striker rose above City skipper Bassong and powered a header into the net, turning the game around and leaving a previously dormant home crowd on their feet.
Norwich rallied from the shock and almost drew level on 35 minutes as Hoolahan worked some space for himself before playing one-two with Hooper.
The Irishman’s first effort was saved by Guzan, and as he stretched to head the rebound towards goal, Fabian Delph cleared off the line.
It was to City’s cost as the home team raced up the other end to score their third – Andreas Weimann found himself in space and played in Bacuna in the box, curled his shot beyond Ruddy.
Three became four on 41 minutes as Delph was played in the box down the left, with his well-struck cross into the area bouncing off Bassong and into the net.
HALF-TIME: Aston Villa 4-1 Norwich City
Anthony Pilkington replaced Robert Snodgrass at half-time for City, but it was Villa who almost got the first goal of the second half five minutes in as Gabby Agbonlahor failed to make the most of a free header, flicking the ball straight at Ruddy.
Johan Elmander then replaced Nathan Redmond with half an hour left to play, and although City were playing better Villa were sitting comfortably on their three-goal advantage.
Few chances were being created by either side, with Elmander himself screwing a shot well wide of Guzan’s post on 75 minutes after being found by Pilkington.
Hooper broke the offside trap five minutes from the end but instead of advancing with the ball he decided to try and place his shot, with Guzan comfortably stretching down to his left to make the save.
FULL-TIME: Aston Villa 4-1 Norwich City
GOALS: Villans: Christian Benteke (25, 27), Leandro Bacuna (37), Sebastien Bassong OG (41) - Canaries: Wes Hoolahan (3)
ASTON VILLA: Guzan; Bacuna, Vlaar (c), Baker, Bertrand; Westwood, Delph, El Ahmadi; Weimann (Albrighton 81), Agbonlahor, Benteke (Holt 82). Subs not used: Steer (GK), J Bennett, Clark, Sylla, Robinson.
NORWICH CITY: Ruddy; Martin, Yobo, Bassong (c), Olsson; Tettey (Howson 80), Johnson; Snodgrass (Pilkington 45), Hoolahan, Redmond (Elmander 63); Hooper. Subs not used: Bunn (GK), Whittaker, Becchio, R Bennett.
REFEREE: Anthony Taylor