Two, second-half strikes from Gabby Agbonlahor gave Aston Villa a crucial 2-1 win at Carrow Road and sent Norwich’s season spinning ever more downwards with dispute and division rife in the air.
Inevitably, it will add yet further gloss to ex-boss Paul Lambert, who has now twice returned to his former haunts and inflicted painful defeats on his former employers – and added further problems to the repute of his successor.
Of more immediate concern than the future of Chris Hughton is where the next couple of weeks may still lead on the basis of the fact that after today’s result it was Villa skipping across the 40-point finishing line and Norwich anxiously awaiting on events and results elsewhere.
Though their fate is still in their own hands. Victory at home to West Bromwich Albion will see them safe. Just.
Tellingly, Villa’s own survival has been based on a 6-1 win over Sunderland at the start of this week and a 2-1 win again today – eight goals in two matches. And whilst the 18-goal Christian Benteke was relatively quiet, Agbonlahor’s second-half performance – and the two goals to take him up to nine for the season – emphasises the difference goals make.
And the prized individuals that score them at this level.
Skipper Grant Holt did, at least, take his tally to six for the season with a coolly-taken 74th minute penalty that looked to have done enough to have at least earned Norwich a point and Hughton a share of the spoils against his Scottish nemesis.
But with 70 seconds of normal time remaining, so one simple ball into the inside right channel found Agbonlahor wrong-siding Sebastien Bassong and his finish back across Mark Bunn and into the far corner was sure and certain.
Before the end, Holt would have a near-free header that would drop a yard wide of the Villa goal after Bradley Guzan got nowhere near a deep cross from second-half substitute Kei Kamara.
Therein again lay a difference; one chance taken; another spurned. Such is the difference at key moments in any Premier League season.
News from elsewhere will do little to calm the restive mood.
Wigan’s 3-2 away win at West Bromwich Albion throws a big cat amongst those relegation pigeons and with a game in hand over the Canaries, the Latics could yet pull off another one of their miracle escape acts.
Sunderland, too, have a game in hand still; the only slight spot of relief came in events at Upton Park where Newcastle managed no more than a draw away at West Ham United.
The Magpies have an away trip to a care-free QPR to come before entertaining a Champions League chasing Arsenal on the final day of the season – the day that the Canaries head to Manchester City.
All of which points to that final home game of the season being a huge date in the diary.
In fairness, City didn’t play too badly in the opening period; possession was better; movement was OK. But, again, clear-cut chances were few and far between. Robert Snodgrass probably had the best from a 20-yard free kick only for his shot to lamely fall back off the wall.
After the break and it became the Agbonlahor show from the moment that he drifted into a central position and pinged in a smart, low effort off Bunn’s right upright from some 28-yards distant.
Hindsight will be a wonderful thing, but just how much John Ruddy’s thigh injury undid Hughton’s best-laid plans in terms of his side’s defensive resolution will be one to ponder over the summer. It was a soft strike to concede to – and in such a big contest, too.
Hughton’s decision to whip Wes Hoolahan off and replace him with the departing Kamara didn’t meet with universal approval – increasingly there will be a section of support for whom Lambert’s successor can do no right; just as the Scot did no wrong.
He did, at least, get some reward as a more direct City approach found the ever-wriggling Snodgrass earning a spot-kick down in the far corner – one in which the young Joe Bennett was lucky not to see his second yellow of the afternoon.
Holt’s conversion to level was both cool and convincing given what hung on that one strike of the ball, but Norwich’s relief proved short-lived as Lambert’s magic and Agbonlahor’s finish set the alarm bells ringing across Norfolk and beyond.
Cue some very pointed and poisonous post-mortems this evening. The messageboards won’t be pretty.