Match: Aston Villa v Norwich City
Date: Sunday 5th May 2019
Competition: Sky Bet Championship
Venue: Villa Park
Pukki 7, Vrancic 86
Steer; Hutton, Tuanzebe, Hause, Taylor; Whelan, Hourihane, Lansbury (Bjarnason 80); Adomah, Kodjia (Davis 72), Green. Unused subs: Kalinic, Jedinak, El Ghazi, Elphick, Elmohamady.
Story in brief
Villa’s unbeaten 12-match Championship run came to an end as Norwich City clinched the title.
Jonathan Kodjia cancelled out Teemu Pukki’s early goal with a fine equaliser, but the Canaries were chirping when Mario Vrancic hit a late winner.
Even so, Dean Smith’s men gave a good account of themselves on a day the manager rested a number of key players in readiness for the Play-Offs.
Despite a lively start by the visitors, culminating in leading scorer Pukki opening the scoring, Villa gradually grew into the game and were deservedly level when Conor Hourihane delivered a menacing low free-kick from the left and Kodjia’s deft flick carried the ball past keeper Tim Krul and into the far corner.
There could have been more goals, too, Andre Green’s drive hitting a defender after skipper Alan Hutton had set up the opening, Kodjia heading just over and Hourihane sending a rising angled shot only just off target.
Glenn Whelan also fired narrowly over, although there was a scare in first-half stoppage time when Emiliano Buendia hit the bar from 25 yards, and again when Jamal Lewis burst through the home defence, only to shoot wide from a good position.
Jed Steer also made a fine fingertip save against his former club, but Villa always looked dangerous and Albert Adomah almost put them ahead with a low shot which Krul scooped away for a corner.
But Vrancic’s low shot four minutes from the end meant a first Villa defeat since the middle of February.
Top gun Tammy
There was a lovely touch at half-time when Tammy Abraham was presented with a special recognition award by CEO Christian Purslow to mark his achievement in scoring 25 league goals this season.
Despite not making his debut until mid-September, the on-loan Chelsea striker has equalled a feat last achieved by Andy Gray in 1976/77.
Had he played the full season, Abraham might well have surpassed Tony Hateley’s 27-goal league haul in 1965/66 – and possibly even Gerry Hitchens’ 29-goal total in 1960/61.
Lap of honour
We have long since called it a Lap of Appreciation, understandably so in view of those occasions when managers and players have walked around the pitch at the end of disappointing campaigns.
But the appearance of Dean Smith and his men after the Norwich match could justifiably have been described as a Lap of Honour, just like these things used to be.
The team were quite rightly saluted from all sides of Villa Park by supporters wanting to display just how much they have enjoyed Villa’s surge from the lower half of the table to the Play-Offs over the past couple of months.
And the claret-and-blue faithful also sportingly applauded Norwich’s players as they were presented with the Championship trophy.
The regular season is over, now we face the nerve-jangling business of the Championship Play-Offs for the second year running.
Dean Smith’s side will be aiming to go one better than their 2018 counterparts, who reached Wembley only to miss to Fulham in the battle for the third promotion place.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, we must resolve a local issue, with neighbours West Bromwich Albion here next Saturday (12.30pm) for the first leg of the semi-final.