Last week’s loss to Newcastle United saw a cloud descend over B6 and fans looked to today’s trip to Norwich, where the team’s record under Lambert is impressive, in the hope of sunnier skies – and the boys in claret and blue did not disappoint.
With just two minutes played, the first chance of the game fell to the visiting Villans as Agbonlahor fed Weimann, allowing the Austrian to shrug off a challenge and strike a volley that Ruddy did well to save.
As the home side struggled to find their feet, Villa piled on the pressure: Weimann received a good pass from Agbonlahor and curled the ball goalwards, only for it to come off the far post before Benteke miscued from the rebound.
The bright start looked set to be cancelled out as referee Chris Foy awarded the Canaries a penalty in the sixth minute after Clark handled the ball in the area.
Given all the talk about big bad van Wolfswinkel, his decision to chest the ball rather than head it was a strange one, wasting a good chance set up for him by Redmond.
Chris Hughton’s side began to put the visitors under pressure but Agbonlahor continued to look lively and did well to pass to Benteke, who lined up a shot from the edge of the area that Turner deflected behind.
A Villa corner followed and Captain Concrete shot just wide.
Just before the break, Benteke went to ground in the wake of what seemed like a fairly ordinary challenge from Bassong. Having limped off, the Belgian beast jogged back on but was clearly in pain and was replaced by new signing Kozak.
The new man wasted no time: he rushed straight into action, forcing a superb save from Ruddy then finding the net moments later.
The away end rejoiced, inventing a new song on the hop.
As the second half got underway, it was the hosts who threatened as Ryan Bennett headed wide from Snodgrass’s free kick.
Agbonlahor, who had shone for parts of the first half, went off the boil, possibly having had a knock, and was replaced around the hour mark by Helenius.
Hughton then made a double substitution, replacing Elmander and Redmond with Hooper and Pilkington. Having greeted Hooper’s arrival with cheering, the home fans then struck up a chorus of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ as Redmond made way for Pilkington.
As Norwich searched for an equaliser, Lambert replaced Tonev, who had enjoyed limited success on the right, with Sylla.
The home side battled on, with Snodgrass and Martin’s link-up play reaping rewards. Martin was given too much space and his ferocious shot cannoned off Clark, thankfully going just over the bar.
With the clock ticking down, van Wolfswinkel’s shot from the edge of the area gave rise to some desperate defending, eventually going behind for a corner.
Chris Foy added five minutes of injury time and the 1,400 travelling fans risked personal injury as they chomped on nails and fingers.
Unmarked five yards out, it seemed inevitable that former Celtic man Hooper would score but Guzan was the hero once more as he made a world-class save to secure that elusive clean sheet and ensure that all three points were Villa’s.