City boss Chris Hughton admitted that he was disappointed that the Canaries did head home to Norfolk with all three points this afternoon after Norwich added to Paul Lambert’s current discomforts with a 1-1 draw at Villa Park.
The visitors were certainly good value for at least a point and in terms of clear-cut chances could – should – have maybe gone on to claim all three points. Particularly once Joe Bennett had seen yellow twice as namesake Elliott caused him all manner of problems.
It left Villa with 40 minutes to defend their 1-0 lead; some 11 minutes from the end of normal time Michael Turner nodded Norwich level off an inviting Wes Hoolahan cross.
Either side of that crucial strike, Grant Holt had a clear one-on-one with the keeper; Ryan Bennett blazed over in injury time; Robert Snodgrass got just too much on a little flick.
But four points from Arsenal (h) and Villa (a) is hardly a poor return and starts to make amends for the four points that went AWOL at home to QPR and West Ham United and had one or two wringing their hands anxiously as to whether the Canary board had made the right appointment this summer.
This afternoon Hughton can probably claim victory in the battle of managerial wits – Lambert’s troops weren’t wanting in terms of resolution, but they were second best in many areas of the park. John Ruddy barely had a save of note to make.
“In terms of clear-cut chances they had one – with the goalscorer [Christian Benteke] – and it was a soft goal from our point of view,” the Canary chief told the BBC afterwards.
“And we had two, really good opportunities. But ball in the final third; crosses – we got [both] in far more than they did.
“So, yes, disappointed that we didn’t get all three points today.”
He – like Lambert – was swift to praise Villa’s resolution after going a man down. As it is, the Midlands side are still in the midst of their worst start to a league season in 43 years. Norwich (h) would have been viewed as one of their ‘banker’ three pointers – irrespective of the additional ‘flavour’ that the whole Lambert saga of late brought to the day.
Not that it appeared to raise the temperature much within Villa Park; the first-half at least was played out in something less than a cauldron of noise – even if it improved after the break when the home side found their backs firmly pinned to the wall as Norwich pressed them deep into their own penalty area once Bennett had disappeared.
“I have to say, Villa defended well,” said Hughton. “But we needed them to be clearer chances. We probably let ourselves down a bit with that final ball; that final delivery we were just over-hitting at times. But we kept pushing and kept pushing.”
Hughton was clearly less than impressed with the ‘lapse of concentration’ that gave Benteke all the time and space any 21-year-old would need to pick his spot; both goalscorer Turner and the usually imperious Sebastien Bassong had been drawn out of position as Bennett found the Villa striker unmarked on virtually the penalty spot.
“We defended really well for the remainder of the game – and we have been defending well,” added the City chief, with the last two games doing much to repair Turner’s bruised reputation. He certainly celebrated his goal with a passion.
Norwich, he felt, had been boosted by that Gunners’ result. Tonight they sit 16th; dropping one place on the back of Wigan’s home success over West Ham United.
It still remains a far cry from ten days ago when everyone was peering downwards and wondering whether or not Hughton was indeed the man to fill Lambert’s boots. For now, such doubts have been put aside. Norwich look a different beast – even if Holt missed out on grabbing his fourth goal in as many games.
“If beating a team with the quality of an Arsenal at home doesn’t give you confidence, then nothing will,” said the Canary boss.
“And we came here in a confident mood. Not to sit behind the ball and look for the break, but to come here and look for all three points. We needed to push hard to get back into the game and I then felt that we were going to go on and win it. But it wasn’t to be.”