Aston Villa gave their slim Premier League survival hopes a huge boost with a 2-0 home win against relegation rivals Norwich City.
Remi Garde’s side had only won twice in the league this season prior to Saturday’s clash at Villa Park, but goals from Joleon Lescott and Gabby Agbonlahor in a six-minute spell either side of half-time earned the bottom side a vital three points, although Villa remain eight points adrift of safety.
Villa took the lead just prior to the interval when Lescott got above Dieumerci Mbokani to head home, with a deflection off Timm Klose diverting the ball though Declan Rudd’s legs.
It was 2-0 up after 51 minutes when Agbonlahor ran on to a pinpoint throughball from Jordan Veretout to net his first goal since March.
Sebastien Bassong and Gary O’Neil had Norwich’s best chances and Lescott and Jores Okore cleared shots off the line, but the visitors slumped to a sixth successive defeat to drop into the bottom three by virtue of Newcastle United beating West Brom.
Alex Neil made four changes from Norwich’s 3-0 loss to Tottenham on Tuesday, with O’Neil returning from a three-match ban, while Garde recalled Ashley Westwood in place of the suspended Jordan Ayew.
With heavy rain making conditions tricky at Villa Park, the hosts had the first sight of goal after 10 minutes. Leandro Bacuna found space on the right and fired in a low cross, but Agbonlahor could only divert the ball wide.
Mbokani tested Mark Bunn after 19 minutes with a fierce drive and the Villa goalkeeper parried the 20-yard powerful effort away to safety, before Steven Naismith dragged a shot just wide.
Norwich were well on top and Bassong should have given them the lead, but he headed Russell Martin’s cross into the ground and over the crossbar after Idrissa Gueye had given possession away cheaply in midfield.
Robbie Brady’s 20-yard effort was comfortably dealt with by Bunn after 34 minutes as both teams struggled to create clear openings, but Villa took the lead out of nothing on the stroke of half-time.
Lescott shook off his marker Mbokani at the back post and headed in Carles Gil’s free-kick, via a touch off Klose, to score Villa’s first Premier League goal in a first half in 10 matches.
Agbonlahor hit a shot straight at Rudd after 50 minutes, but the striker beat the Norwich goalkeeper moments later to double Villa’s lead.
Veretout slipped a throughball in behind the Norwich back line and Agbonlahor raced on to the pass to slot in his first Premier League goal of the season, though Rudd made the finish simple by committing early.
O’Neil could have grabbed a goal back after 62 minutes, but shot wide after great work by Naismith, before Bacuna fired over from 10 yards.
Okore and Lescott made key goalline clearances, but, despite Norwich’s late pressure, Villa held on to secure a priceless victory that could prove to be a turning point in their survival battle.
Key Opta stats:
– Gabriel Agbonlahor has now scored in 11 successive Premier League seasons for Aston Villa.
– Norwich City are the only Premier League side yet to keep a clean sheet on the road this season.
– Aston Villa are unbeaten in four home league games (W2 D2) for the first time since January 2015 (a run of five games)
– Norwich are winless in their last seven competitive away games against Aston Villa (D3 L4).
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