Villa boost survival hopes with vital win over Norwich
Aston Villa 2 Norwich 0
Aston Villa clinched just their third league win of the season to pile the relegation pressure on Norwich.
Joleon Lescott and Gabby Agbonlahor's first goal for 11 months sealed a 2-0 win, although Villa are still eight points from safety.
Remi Garde's side remain bottom of the Barclays Premier League but the Frenchman has at least given the strugglers fight.
The Canaries dropped into the relegation zone after Newcastle's 1-0 win against West Brom and Alex Neil's side are in serious trouble after six straight defeats in all competitions.
Villa are still likely to get relegated and, on this evidence, the Canaries will join them in the Sky Bet Championship next season.
Agbonlahor, leading the line with Jordan Ayew banned, gave Norwich an early warning when he stabbed wide after 10 minutes but the game struggled to ignite, despite the importance for both sides.
Norwich lacked the quality going forward and failed to keep possession well enough to threaten Villa.
Dieumerci Mbokani fired at Mark Bunn but it was a token effort during a poor first half which also saw Carles Gil fire a free kick widely over.
A turgid game was finally interrupted on the half hour when Sebastien Bassong wasted the Canaries' best effort.
The defender was left unmarked at the far post but could only head Russell Martin's cross into the ground and over.
In the context of the game it was a huge chance with both teams out of form and confidence but Villa grabbed a vital lead a minute before the break.
Mbokani needlessly brought down Micah Richards on the right and Lescott met Gil's free kick at the far post - after wrestling Mbokani away - with his header going in off Timm Klose.
It gave Villa belief and they got breathing space when Agbonlahor doubled their lead six minutes after the break.
The striker, whose last goal game in March 2015, beat the Norwich offside trap to Ashley Westwood's pass and - with Declan Rudd rashly rushing from goal - slid in from the edge of the box.
With the weight lifted, Villa relaxed and rarely looked like blowing their lead. Gary O'Neil poked Naismith's cross wide but pedestrian Norwich were easy pickings for Villa.
And with 20 minutes left Leandro Bacuna should have finished the game but blazed over with just Rudd to beat from eight yards.
It was a let off for demoralised Norwich and they tried to, finally, mount a recovery but first Jores Okore and then Gil cleared from Martin and Bassong with 10 minutes to go.
Villa were clearly nervous as the Canaries enjoyed possession at the end and almost grabbed a consolation with two minutes left.
Mbokani's drive hit Lescott and spun across goal only for the striker to be denied by a combination of Bunn and Richards as Villa held on.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
Former Villa man Stan Collymore (@StanCollymore): "Well done Villa boys! Ground it out against a team fighting too. All the fans want. Lets start reeling one or two in now".
Mark Bunn: 6 (out of 10)
Micah Richards: 7
Joleon Lescott: 7
Jores Okore: 7
Aly Cissokho: 6
Leandro Bacuna: 6
Ashley Westwood: 6
Idrissa Gana: 7
Jordan Veretout: 6
Carles Gil: 6
Gabby Agbonlahor: 7
Ciaran Clark: 6
Declan Rudd: 5
Timm Klose: 5
Sebastien Bassong: 5
Robbie Brady: 5
Youssouf Mulumbu: 5
Gary O'Neil: 5
Jonny Howson: 5
Wes Hoolahan: 5
Steven Naismith: 6
Dieumerci Mbokani: 5
Nathan Redmond: 5
Patrick Bamford: 5
Matt Jarvis: 5
Joleon Lescott: The defender's first-half header gave Villa the platform for a huge win - which at least lifts some of the gloom surrounding the club. It was a scrappy goal, going in off Timm Klose, but in a tense game it eased the tension for the hosts. They may still get relegated but Lescott gave them a little cheer against their drop rivals.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Gabby Agbonlahor ended his long wait for a goal to give Villa vital breathing space early in the second half. The striker had not scored since March 2015 but he finally netted to silence any Norwich recovery. Ashley Westwood played the striker through and, having beaten the offside trap, he rolled into an empty net after Declan Rudd unwisely rushed out.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
Norwich spent a reported £25million in the January transfer window but even their new signings failed to make an impact. Steven Naismith was willing but Klose struggled against the pace of Agbonlahor while Patrick Bamford could not shine after coming off the bench. The Canaries are paying the price for failing to invest in the summer and were wretched at Villa Park.
VIEW FROM THE DUGOUT
Manager Remi Garde has endured a tough start since arriving at Aston Villa in November but has slowly managed to improve them. He will take solace in the win even if it may just delay the inevitable with Villa still on course for the drop. Alex Neil cut a frustrated figure as his Canaries team never looked like recovering after they had conceded the first goal - and they look doomed.
WHO'S UP NEXT?
Aston Villa v Liverpool (Premier League, February 14)
Norwich v West Ham (Premier League, February 13)