Despite being a tricky fixture on paper against an in-form Norwich team, after James Chester opened the scoring, it seemed Dean Smith was going to register back-to-back wins and get Villa slap bang into the Championship promotion picture.
While missing the industry of John McGinn, Villa still managed to make life difficult for the home team, who struggled to get into any groove during the first half.
Unfortunately, Villa’s goal, a Chester header that deflected off a Norwich defender, was the first and last shot-on-target Villa would register during the game. If Tammy Abraham’s shot that followed, had hit the net instead of the post, Smith may have got his first away win of the season.
The story of the game after that was simple, Norwich doubled Villa’s shots-on-target and both went in.
Smith has been given the tough starting task of having his first three games for Villa coming in the space of a six-day period, but at least he’ll get to know his team quickly.
With Villa sitting in 16th place in the league table, Smith has now to navigate the tricky juxtaposition of trying to restyle the way the team plays, whilst also picking up enough points to keep them in touching distance for promotion.
Hopefully, his team can come strong in the final half of the season, when the players will have grown into his methods.
Aston Villa Player Ratings
Orjan Nyland – 5
Alarmingly Nyland is like Dracula when it comes to crosses and is something that is going to hinder Villa going forward, unless it’s addressed.
On Norwich’s second goal, not for the first time this season, he got caught flat-footed with a shot. Of course, other Villa players were also at fault for the goals, but it does raise the question who are these goalkeeping scouts that seemed to rate him?
Currently, the goalkeeping position is Villa’s achilles heel and may even cost them promotion. It’s as simple as that.
Alan Hutton – 6
Despite his cult status with some sections of fans, it’s no surprise that Hutton has been omnipresent during seven years of Villa’s under achievement and decay. That said, if every player had his effort, then we wouldn’t be in this mess.
At the moment, you can understand his inclusion, as the backline is lacking in a bit of grit and determination. Hutton’s positioning and marking have always been suspect, with his role in the equaliser a case in point. Maybe once Chester and Tuanzebe have developed a better understanding, it maybe time for Bree to get a run?
Neil Taylor – 6
Had a bit of a mixed bag of an evening. Gave away the ball cheaply a few times and having the lowest pass completion of any Villa defender highlights that. Still, he needs games.
James Chester – 6.5
Popped up again to get on the score sheet (he’s scored more goals at Villa than he did at Hull City, in two-thirds of the games), but struggled against Rhodes and got suckered on the winner. Still, he won more aerial clearances than any other Villa player and is the main man in the defence.
Axel Tuanzebe – 7
Looked more comfortable and was tidy with the ball. Starting to show signs of the benefits of having a run in the position.
Glen Whelan – 6
Had the second highest amount of touches of any Villa player and managed to have the tidiest completion rate of any Villa starter, which tells the story of him keeping things ticking over and simple. Lacked the energy of McGinn, which became more apparent in the second half
Ahmed Elmohamady – 6
Again was pushed higher up and got back when needed. He’s seeing less of the ball than he does at right-back, but the higher press is key to Smith’s plans. When he is higher up and Villa attack, having a more unpredictable winger like Bolasie (if he ever gets 100% fit) maybe a better option though.
Conor Hourihane – 6
Whizzed in a perfect corner for the opening goal and had a couple of shots. Hourihane always offers the possibility to impact a game, but doesn’t seem to be a player that can boss the midfield.
Jack Grealish – 6
It was the same story with Grealish – won a lot of fouls, because he tends to get swarmed before he can get into areas to hurt the opposition. The sight of him dribbling into traffic is increasingly common. Also, some of his dead ball deliveries, continuing on from the Swansea game, were under par (and under hit). The main issue at the moment though is a lack of decisiveness in his end product.
Albert Adomah – 6
Villa seemed to carry more threat when he was on the pitch, prior to him going off injured. He’s still lacking in a bit of form though.
Tammy Abraham – 7
The game certainly swung in Norwich’s favour when Abraham went off with a head injury. He was always busy and kept the Norwich defence occupied. If his shot that hit the post had gone in, it probably would have been game, set and match, Villa.
Off The Bench
Scot Hogan (52) – 5
A welcome return for Hogan to the Villa side, but he failed to have the same impact in the game as Abraham, whom he replaced.
Finally, we get to roll out the ‘Hogan Touch Count’ monitor for the first time this season and the readings aren’t great.
How did he do?
Incredibly, despite playing almost 40 minutes, Hogan only touched the ball four times! Yes, four times.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Smith incorporates Hogan henceforth in the team.
Jonathan Kodjia (80) – 6
Only on for 10 minutes and didn’t really threaten much, although managed more touches (6) than Hogan.
Anwar El Ghazi (49) – 5
Was largely disappointing and failed to really get into the game, and wasn’t too tidy with his ball management .
Manager Rating – 6
Dean Smith’s attempt at breaking his winless away hoodoo this season was looking promising, until he suffered the double blow of injuries to both Abraham and Adomah.
The resulting substitutions were forced on the Villa Head Coach and Rhodes scored his brace for Norwich soon after them.
Also, for such a game against an in-form Norwich, the suspended John McGinn was also a big miss for Smith.
That said, Villa’s work was largely undone by slack defending and keeping.
While the next game coming so soon on the Friday is a pain in terms of recovery, Smith will no doubt welcome the chance to make tweaks and see how his players respond.