We went to Villa Park for Sean's birthday and like last year the game was marred by Villa having to play a large part of the match with 10 men after Joe Bennett was sent off for a second bookable offence.
A lot of pundits who probably watch about 3 minutes of highlights of the games have been knocking Villa, yes you Alan Hansen, and the worst Premier League start by the club ever is raising a few eyebrows. Paul Lambert has remained upbeat, although on the face of it there doesn't seem much to be upbeat about. That said I still think that some positives can be taken from the game, which ended in a 1-1 draw and that's not just me wearing claret and blue tinted glasses, things are definitely not as bas as under Mc.Leish last season or as depressing as the final days of Deadly Doug and David O'Leary.
Villa played well in the first half and although Norwich were still in the game and threatening at half time, the stats show that Villa dominated and created a lot more than the Canaries. Mark Albrighton looked lively, Brett Holman looked ready to die for the club and Christian Benteke scored a great goal on 26 minutes to show why Villa paid 6 million quid for him and why Darren Bent is finding it hard to get back in the team. Gabby Agbonlahor is still finding it hard to score, but he put plenty of pressure on the Norwich forwards and a fitter referee might have spotted the amount of manhandling of him the Norwich defenders did. Brad Guzan in goals is making the number 1 shirt his own and Ron Vlaar looked great in the centre of a makeshift defence.
To be fair though there is obviously room for improvement or the Villa wouldn't be in the position that they are now. Yep, the defence was hit by injuries and Villa were clearly missing Ciaran Clarke and Richard Dunne, but the full backs look a little green behind the gills. Matt Lowton didn't really do much and Joe Bennett's naivety led to him picking up two cheap yellow cards, which ultimately cost Villa the three points. As I said Albrighton and Holman really put themselves on the line for the club, but Delph still seems a bit lost and El-Ahmadi tries to be a bit too clever. It's also quite a lightweight midfield and a Petrov or Reo-Coker type of player is needed to add a bit of grit to the creativity.
As I have said though Villa dominated for the first period and Albrighton came close in the opening exchanges of the second half, but then on 54 minutes Joe Bennett got sent off and the dynamics of the game changed. After this Norwich bombarded Villa and although Ron Vlaar defended well and Guzan pulled off save after save, Norwich finally scored through Michael Turner with 10 minutes left. Villa dropped 2 much needed points and with the two Manchester clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea coming up it's going to be a difficult time for Villa. Like Paul Lambert I think that they aren't far off finding some form, but a bit more grit and experience is needed in defence and central midfield. If they can start picking up points from the lesser teams and strengthen in these two areas, everything should be OK.