It might be the season for Ugly Christmas jumpers, but it was also a timely and decidedly ugly Villa win too.
This was a vital 3 points, massive in fact, but it was another sub-par display. Whilst Smith will undoubtedly be delighted with the victory, his opposite number Daniel Farke must be baffled as to how his Norwich side left Villa Park within nothing.
We have Tom Heaton to thank for a number of smart stops in goal (6 in all) as well as a resilient display from a new look centre half pairing in Ezri Konsa and Kortney Hause.
Douglas Luiz and Marvellous Nakamba were over-run in midfield and though providing an energetic display, our Brazilian striker Wesley is now eleven games without a league goal.
The first-half saw our recent frailty play out before us.
Norwich moved the ball well and we appeared to be chasing shadows. Wasteful in possession and without an obvious out-ball, we looked at risk defensively and impotent going forward.
A warning came along with a stroke of luck, with a downward header looping onto the bar for Heaton to reclaim.
It was a half in which we failed to work the goalkeeper once too.
The second half looked to be playing out similarly with Nakamba struggling to get into the game, El Ghazi anonymous and Targett getting routinely bypassed. Up front our wastefulness continued, either failing to seize upon the chances we could fashion nor being capable of beating the first man with a cross when the opportunity presented.
We had Douglas Luiz to thank with a superb last ditch goal-line stop. The young Brazilian captain somehow fashioned a clearance over the bar with Norwich looking certain to take the lead. This was a key moment of salvation.
Kortney Hause then went close, heading narrowly wide with a far post header. He put in a fine defensive display, but this type of chance simply must break the back of the net.
With Nakamba withdrawn in favour of Irishman Hourihane, we finally appeared to have some life and menace from midfield.
After good play from the outstanding Grealish, Hourihane unleashed a fierced curling effort beyond Krul in the Norwich goal.
It was a a fine goal for a player strangely omitted by Smith given our lack of threat going forward and our need to win.
A win is a win.
— Villa Underground (@avfc_vilr) December 26, 2019
Norwich did their best to ruin Christmas, forcing Heaton into a diving late save, but this was to be our day.
Whilst it’s easy to over-analyse a winning performance, this was not a display that was easy on the eye. A win is a win, but Villa will need to iron out some of the glaring deficiencies with sterner tests of our Premier League status on the horizon.
It would also be deluded to ignore the fact that had it not been for Heaton and some stoic defending from Hause/Konsa then this result could quite easily have gone the other way.
There are certainly a number within the ranks who appear to be at the bottom of a trough in terms of form. Smith needs to work some magic and quickly re-find their peaks, especially with both Mings and McGinn confirmed injury absentees.
We simply need more from El Ghazi. An end product from Trezeguet. How do we intend to deploy Nakamba/Luiz? How are we unable to utilise Hourihane’s threat from the start?
Then there are the elephant’s in the room. We cannot continue to expect Heaton to make outstanding last ditch saves. The team cannot be routinely carried by Grealish. Finally, for all of Wesley’s endeavour, where are the goals coming from?
Victory over Norwich is massive, but we must now completely focus our energy upon improving and beating Watford.
Jack Grealish was our Man Of The Match – read how each Villa player fared in our 1-0 win over Norwich