Three goals in 13, heart-breaking minutes from Villa substitute Andreas Weiman and the bustling Belgian Christian Benteke ensured that ex-City chief Paul Lambert enjoyed the last laugh at Carrow Road tonight as Norwich’s proud, unbeaten run of late ended in a right gutter – a 4-1 home defeat in their Capital One Cup quarter-final clash with the visiting Midlanders.
In the cold light of day – once the heat and the fury starts to subside overnight – on the balance of play and chances created, the 43-year-old Scot and his new employers deserved their place in the last four.
Having gone a goal up via Steve Morison in the 19th minute, City found themselves pegged back two minutes later via a Brett Holman strike.
Thereafter, Norwich failed to find the finish to match the occasion.
Villa, however, did. Twice in the space of five minutes from Weiman and once more – this time in stunning style – from Benteke, deep into injury time as the knife was twisted that much deeper.
The irony will not be lost on Lambert that Weiman only arrived on the pitch as a result of Darren Bent’s 34th minute exit; both in Norfolk and within that Villa dressing room, one fiery Glaswegian will feel wholly vindicated tonight.
For his successor Chris Hughton, 11 games unbeaten at this level remained one ask too many. Before tonight only Barcelona of the top five European leagues had matched that record. It hasn’t been a bad autumn, even if it all came crashing down on the night of Lambert’s return.
The purists might claim that Hughton failed to field his strongest starting XI tonight with Marc Tierney understudying Javier Garrido at left-back, while Leon Barnett came in alongside Sebastien Bassong at the heart of the City back four ahead of Michael Turner on the bench.
Russell Martin returned to his favoured position at right-back courtesy of Steven Whittaker’s hip knock – hardly weakening that flank.
That said, Norwich’s run of late has been built on some obdurate defending; gone had been the days when they shipped four at home.
As telling given the dearth of a second, decisive finish from the hosts, were events up top where Morison replaced Wes Hoolahan alongside skipper Grant Holt; albeit Wesley’s worrisome groin had been trailed by the manager beforehand, so the change was hardly a bolt from the blue.
Interestingly – for those that note these things – it all ensured that seven players brought to Norfolk under the Scot’s reign started against their former mentor.
For Villa, Lambert opted to play both Benteke and Bent from the start – a plan that ended after only 34 minutes as the latter was withdrawn from the fray. Relations with the Villa chief are unlikely to improve on that brief outing.
By then, of course, the two sides were locked square at one apiece; Morison’s simple dinked finish off a Holt invite giving the home side the lead for just two minutes before Holman levelled with a decent, 21st minute finish from the edge of the box.
It was, in fairness, all that Villa deserved as they continued to test City keeper Mark Bunn; Shay Given enjoyed the quieter opening period. Advantage Lambert at the interval, in the battle of managerial wits and repute.
Events initially began to even themselves up after the break as both Morison and Holt gunned for Given’s goal; albeit with efforts that were more high than handsome. Twice in a minute Morison caught sight of the Villa goal; twice the finish eluded him.
Benteke would finish in the 52nd minute only for the ‘goal’ to be ruled offside. Given the temperature at which the Carrow Road pot had long been boiling, such moments would merely add to the mayhem.
Given’s nervy night did not prevent him denying Holt a finish off a 75th minute corner with a fine, reaction stop as the contest bubbled away.
It was also, as the minutes ticked on, all shaping up for someone to step up to the plate as the hero of the hour. Bunn claimed that honour in the 2-1 home win over Spurs that set up tonight’s last eight appearance.
Whether his name was on the Capital One Cup remained in the lap of the footballing gods.
Until the 79th minute it was. Cue Bent’s replacement. Cue Mr Weimann. Cue Mr Benteke.
Heart-break lay straight ahead.