REPORT: CITY 2-0 VILLAGOALS from Jonny Howson and Dieumerci Mbokani secured a crucial 2-0 win for Norwich City over struggling Aston Villa.
Villa were on the front foot in the first half but Howson's sweet volley from Nathan Redmond's cross put the Canaries ahead on 24 minutes.
Despite the visitors seeing most of the ball in the second half, they couldn't fashion any clearcut opportunities and Mbokani punished them with a header three minutes from time.
The win takes City to 20 points at the halfway stage of the Premier League season, and wrapped up a memorable 2015 in positive fashion at Carrow Road.
With the game coming just two days after City's Boxing Day loss at Tottenham, Alex Neil made four changes to his starting eleven.
Howson, Graham Dorrans and Wes Hoolahan all returned in midfield, while Mbokani led the Canaries' attack as Neil set his team up in a slightly different shape to this season's norm.
Robbie Brady reverted to full-back, with Martin Olsson dropping to the bench along with Vadis Odjidja and Cameron Jerome. Youssouf Mulumbu missed out on the matchday squad.
Villa hadn't won since the opening day of the season but had drawn their last two against Newcastle United and West Ham United. Jordan Ayew scored in both of those matches and started up front.
There was a fast pace to the first part of game, but it was the visitors who got the first shot away on four minutes through Leandro Bacuna, though Declan Rudd was comfortably behind it.
The Premier League basement club were the better side in the opening 20 minutes and they were thwarted by Rudd again when Ayew diverted Jordan Veretout's free-kick goalwards when free in the area.
On 24 minutes, however, City took the lead in exquisite fashion as Howson netted his third of the season.
Redmond was rewarded for his patience as he waited to deliver a chipped cross towards Mbokani, and Howson was waiting at the back-post to volley home left-footed when the delivery deflected in his direction.
The game remained open with City not afraid to commit men forward - even though that at times left them exposed to Villa's counter-attacks.
They could have put some distance between themselves and their visitors on 38 minutes however, but Dorrans turned his effort wide after meeting Redmond's corner despite being unmarked in the area.
Villa had successive corners towards the end of the half, but City held a vital advantage on the whistle for the break.
HALF-TIME: Norwich City 1-0 Aston Villa
After an end-to-end star to the second period, Howson could have bagged his and his team's second of the game on 56 minutes.
When Brad Guzan spilled Redmond's low drive, the ball trickled into Howson's path - but this time his finish was off target as he guided the ball narrowly wide.
Remi Garde brought on young winger Adama Traore in place of Scott Sinclair and Rudy Gestede for Leandro Bacuna, but despite having a lot of the ball they weren't troubling Rudd's goal.
City weren't retaining the ball as well as they can, but with ten minutes left on the clock, it looked likely that they would see the rest of the match out.
With just three minutes left on the clock, the home nerves were settled when Mbokani headed in a vital second.
Hoolahan was the architect, lofting a cross towards Mbokani, and he nodded the ball beyond Guzan to pocket three huge points for Neil's team.
FULL-TIME: Norwich City 2-0 Aston Villa
GOALS: Canaries: Jonny Howson (24), Dieumerci Mbokani (87)
NORWICH CITY: Rudd; Martin (c), Bennett, Bassong, Brady; Tettey, Howson, Dorrans (O'Neil 85), Hoolahan (Odjidja 88); Redmond, Mbokani (Jerome 88). Subs not used: Ruddy (GK), Whittaker, Lafferty, Olsson.
ASTON VILLA: Guzan; Hutton, Richards (c), Clark, Richardson; Bacuna (Gestede 69), Gana, Westwood, Veretout (Grealish 81), Sinclair (Traore 58), Ayew. Subs not used: Bunn (GK), Lescott, Gill, Lydon.
REFEREE: Graham Scott
GOLDEN GOAL TIMES: 23:30, 86:22