A battling performance at Carrow Road on Saturday provided a vital win for Aston Villa, ending a disappointing run of three successive Premier League defeats. The game also produced the club’s first clean sheet since December 2012, mainly due to goalkeeper Brad Guzan’s excellent contribution.
A combination of poor Norwich finishing and some good luck – always required in the circumstances – helped to keep Villa’s lead intact, but two fine saves from Guzan ensured that Villa took the three points from a highly entertaining affair, lifting them to mid-table before the tough-looking games coming up in the weeks ahead.
Guzan’s first major save came after just five minutes, shortly after Andreas Weimann had seen a shot come back off the post. Ciaran Clark was adjudged to have handled inside the penalty area, but the American stopper was equal to Robert Snodgrass’ resulting spot-kick, diving to his left to push it away.
The penalty incident came during an extended spell of Norwich pressure, with the home side often looking threatening on the right flank with Snodgrass regularly causing problems for left-back Antonio Luna, a pattern that continued into the second-half.
At the same time Villa looked capable of scoring, with Gabriel Agbonlahor, their best outfield player on the day, appearing particularly menacing. He set up a chance for Christian Benteke which was deflected wide, before he provided the assist for the goal that decided the match as Libor Kozak scored his first goal in English football.
The Czech striker was on the pitch because of groin injury sustained by Benteke shortly before the half-hour mark. Villa hope their talisman will not be out for long, but Kozak proved an able replacement, turning in Agbonlahor’s low cross minutes after coming on after initially seeing an effort saved by John Ruddy.
From then on, it was largely a backs-to-the-wall job from Paul Lambert’s men, as the defence showed admirable resilience against a Norwich attack that often looked dangerous. It was Guzan’s superb reflexes late on however that allowed Villa to cling on to victory, as the 29-year-old’s acrobatic one-handed parry denied Norwich’s Gary Hooper from a debut goal.
That Lambert was hailing Guzan as one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League following the game was testament to his performances over the past year. After four seasons as understudy to Brad Friedel and Shay Given he has hardly put a foot wrong since being given a chance to prove himself during the early weeks of last season.
Guzan has consistently impressed with several eye-catching displays. Without him, Villa would possibly be playing Championship football this season, and such was his form, he beat Benteke to last season’s Player of the Year award, despite presiding over one of the league’s worst defensive records.
Saturday’s target was to avoid defeat, which was imperative. That Villa won was a welcome bonus, and it further proves that Lambert’s team are much better suited to playing away from home at present. Unfortunately for Lambert, he cannot play at Norwich every week, and the quest for home success begins with a Capital One Cup tie against Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday.
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