Norwich City staring into the abyss after late Premier League heartache

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Mark Thompson/Getty ImagesThe sense of angst was evident on the face of Chris Hughton after Villa's late winner.

Norwich City's fans use to hero-worship Paul Lambert. They are now sick of the sight of him after Aston Villa clambered over the Canaries in the Premier League survival race.

Gabriel Agbonlahor struck a priceless 89th minute winner in a 2-1 win that elevates Norwich's final home game next weekend against West Brom to epic proportions. Grant Holt's penalty had cancelled out the former England striker's fearsome 25-yard strike 10 minutes after the interval, but it was Villa voices who provided the joyous soundtrack at the final whistle.

- Hughes: Villa celebrate happy 40th
- Match report: Norwich City 1-2 Aston Villa

Chris Hughton's men gave every ounce of effort and energy but that alone is not going to be enough preserve their top-flight status. News of Wigan's win at the Baggies merely compounded the agonies felt by the majority of those who trooped dejectedly away from a sun-kissed Carrow Road.

The brutal reality is this game hinged on what seasoned Norwich followers have known and feared all season. City's collective discipline and defensive resolve has masked an alarming deficiency in attacking potency. Villa would appear to offer the inverse conundrum; potency going forward that looks to have carried Villa to safety despite an alarmingly inexperienced backline.

Joe Bennett was again a weak link after his sending off in the corresponding fixture. Robert Snodgrass coaxed a damaging challenge inside the Villa penalty area - leaving Holt to do the rest. It was a superb testament to the home captain's character after fluffing his only other penalty chance this season against Southampton.

How the Canaries could do with those two additional points now; or turned the goalless affairs at Carrow Road against Newcastle and Fulham into wins. Hindsight merely jabs a painful finger at Hughton and his squad.

The irony here was Norwich managed to subdue the predatory instincts of Christian Benteke but they simply had no answer to Agbonlahor. The wide man's pace and intelligent movement unhinged the Canaries after the hosts had undeniably shaded the opening period without seriously testing Guzan. Agbonlahor was given licence to roam with Jonny Howson unwilling or seemingly unable to range alongside before the Villa boyhood fan unleashed a swinging hit that deceived Mark Bunn. It bore an uncanny resemblance to the concession against Reading at Carrow Road last time out. Then it merely triggered a nervous finale before Norwich prevailed; there was no encore here. Only fresh pain and angst.

Holt bravely levelled but Agbonlahor ranged onto Ashley Westwood's through ball to hold off Sebastien Bassong and rifle low across Bunn. Lambert was unable to contain himself with a double fist pump salute after greeting Villa's opener with a rare show of reserve. You could hardly blame him. For so many reasons this win must feel like a defining moment after his struggles in the Midlands. Norwich still have two chances left to ensure Lambert does not now become synonymous in the darkest chapter of their recent history.

ESPN Conversations