Norwich City vs. Aston Villa: Final score 0-1, Guzan and Kozak settle an intriguing battle

Jamie McDonald

Aston Villa won a narrow victory in an exciting game against Norwich City thanks to Libor Kozak's goal, with Brad Guzan saving a penalty in the process.

Aston Villa and Norwich, two counter-attacking sides, could have played out a tame, dull affair or an exciting end-to-end affair. Despite what the scoreline would suggest, it was the latter, and the visitors went close to scoring in the opening minutes through Andreas Weimann, who curled the ball against the post from the edge of the area after some fine approach play.

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There was drama at the other end shortly afterwards as Ciaran Clark was harshly penalised after the ball struck his arm in the area, but Brad Guzan lived up to his exceptional record at saving penalties by denying Robert Snodgrass from the spot, somehow keeping the scores level.

Villa suffered a blow shortly afterwards as Christian Benteke pulled up with a groin injury and was forced, despite reluctance from manager and player, to come off, replaced by Libor Kozak. The former Lazio forward wasted no time in introducing himself in hugely idiosyncratic style, however, immediately missing a sitter after being set clean through, before Gabriel Agbonlahor managed to force the ball back into the area, taking advantage of some slack defending from Sebastian Bassong to tee it up once more for the Czech, who made no mistake at the second time of asking.

Norwich's team, comprising a fistful of excellent players backed up by an assortment of also-rans, were in bold contrast to the ability spread more widely over Villa's side. There was a noticeable gulf between the two sides, a noteworthy element in a period when mid-table appears so congested: the visitors' superior touch, passing, invention, and indeed the more mental qualities such as concentration and even desire were increasingly apparent as the game wore on.

Yet as the second half wore on, Norwich began to gain the upper hand, only a series of poor crosses preventing them from finding the net after creating several opportunities (bizarrely, two from pinpoint through-balls by Russell Martin, of all sources.) Chris Hughton responded by introducing Gary Hooper into the fray, which immediately lifted the Carrow Road crowd.

Hooper's impact was not immediate, as it was the final ball that the hosts were lacking, but he appeared to be certain to register his first goal in the Premier League after meeting Javier Garrido's cross from close range, but Guzan was once again the hero for Villa after pulling off an incredible save to keep his side's clean sheet intact.

Norwich City: Ruddy, Martin, Bassong (R Bennett - 38' ), Turner, Garrido, Snodgrass, Howson, Fer, Redmond (Pilkington - 63'), van Wolfswinkel, Elmander (Hooper - 63' )

Aston Villa: Guzan, Vlaar, Clark, Bacuna, Luna, El Ahmadi, Weimann, Delph, Tonev (Sylla - 77' ), Agbonlahor (Helenius - 61' ), Benteke (Kozak - 28' )

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