Tuesday 12 December 2017

Lambert fury at Bennett red

Aston Villa 1
Norwich City 1

Joe Lovejoy

Two poor teams were both in need of a win, neither got it, and of the embattled managers Paul Lambert is under greatest pressure after presiding over Aston Villa's worst start to a season for 43 years.

Much was expected of Lambert when he quit Norwich to take over at Villa Park in June, but supporters are becoming increasingly restless after enduring a decline that has brought one victory in the last 19 league games, and they made their displeasure loudly apparent with a storm of booing at the final whistle. The manager may be confident that they will stay up but the fans are much less sanguine after this latest disappointment.

In mitigation, Villa would probably have had their second win of the season but for the 52nd-minute dismissal of Joe Bennett, for his second yellow card. At that stage they were leading through Christian Benteke but, reduced to 10 men, they conceded Michael Turner's late, headed equaliser.

For Lambert, in particular, it was a strange occasion -- a fixture in which a manager was more popular with the away fans than his own. At Norwich he took a team newly relegated to the third tier to successive promotions, then to a mid-table finish in the Premier League before quitting in acrimonious circumstances for Villa. The two clubs are still wrangling over compensation for the managerial transfer.

Belgian international striker Benteke opened the scoring when Brett Holman's centre from the left caught the Norwich centre-halves poorly positioned, leaving Benteke with time and space near the penalty spot from where he curled his shot into the left-hand corner of John Ruddy's net.

The balance changed when Bennett was sent off seven minutes into the second half. Down to 10 men, Villa withdrew Gabby Agbonlahor in favour of a defender, Eric Lichaj, and went into backs-to-the-wall mode.

Brad Guzan saved at point-blank range from Wes Hoolahan in what, after 64 minutes, was only Norwich's second attempt on target. The tide had changed now, though, and Grant Holt was only denied by Guzan's well-timed dash from his line. The equaliser was always coming, and Turner headed it home in the 79th minute after a corner taken short by Robert Snodgrass was crossed accurately by Hoolahan.

Chris Hughton saw it as another "positive result" after last week's first win. "In this league, results are so hard to come by and to get four points from the last two games I'm delighted," he said.

"The sending off changed the game, it was an even contest before that," said Lambert. Asked about the possibility of relegation, he said: "We'll be all right." Why? "I've just got that belief. The lads will raise the bar. They're a young group, but they'll learn."


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