Norwich City 1, Aston Villa 2
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
A goal one minute from time from Aston Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor plunged Norwich City deeper into trouble in the Premier League as former boss Paul Lambert made another winning return to Carrow Road.
The Canaries looked as if they were going to collect a precious point when Grant Holt scored from the penalty spot on 74 minutes to cancel out Agbonlahor's first of the afternoon, a 25-yard drive that came 10 minutes after the break.
But the second Villa goal was a bitter blow for another noisy packed house, leaving Chris Hughton's team still in danger after third from bottom Wigan's 3-2 win at West Bromwich Albion.
City had been the better side in the opening half, when they had reasonable penalty claims rejected as Matt Lowton handled a cross by Anthony Pilkington.
Villa were bright from the restart, however, and Agbonlahor fired them ahead on 55 minutes to delight the big visiting contingent.
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The equaliser came when Joe Bennett, already booked in the first half, brought down Robert Snodgrass and referee Kevin Friend pointed to the spot.
Holt made no mistake and seemed to have secured a point until that late twist left City just three points clear of the bottom three with only two wins in 19 league games and third from bottom Wigan with a game in hand.
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City boss Hughton made three changes after the 1-0 defeat at Stoke. Javier Garrido was restored at left-back in place of Steven Whittaker, while Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington returned to the starting line-up at the expense of Alex Tettey and Kei Kamara.
There was still no place in the squad for England goalkeeper John Ruddy, while Kamara and Simeon Jackson were given the substitute striker roles, leaving Luciano Becchio out of the picture once again.
Villa boss Lambert named an unchanged side and the same seven substitutes afer the 6-1 home win over Sunderland on Monday night.
Before kick-off, midfielder Bradley Johnson was presented with the player of the month award for April.
City forced the first corner after little more than a minute when Snodgrass' cross was headed behind by Lowton. But as Snodgrass' kick came over, Bassong was penalised for a push on Benteke.
As Villa broke, Benteke caught Bassong with a late challenge at the expense of a free-kick, but escaped a caution.
A neat City move along the right ended with Pilkington's cross being cut out at the near post by Guzan.
City forced a second corner when Bennett cleared from Hoolahan's cross. This time, Vlaar was first to the kick by Snodgrass and his headed dropped into Guzan's hands.
A Villa break led by Agbonlahor came to nothing when a poor touch from Benteke sent the ball spinning out of play.
Norwich had begun brightly and another Snodgrass cross was just too strong as it passed the angle of crossbar and post.
A poor header by Bassong enabled Agbonlahor to get in a shot from 20 yards, which struck Bassong and went behind for a corner, Snodgrass heading clear from Westwood's kick.
There were penalty appeals after 12 minutes when a cross by Pilkington struck Lowton's raised arm but referee Friend was unimpressed.
Bunn was brought into action for the first time as he dived to his right to save from Weimann after a pass from Sylla.
Villa's Bennett earned the first yellow card on 17 minutes for wrestling Hoolahan to the floor.
But referee Friend was no friend of City and penalised Johnson for what appeared to be a clean header.
Bennett, already booked, was penalised after taking a handful of Holt's shirt, giving City a free-kick on the right, halfway into the Villa half. Ryan Bennett got on the end of the kick by Snodgrass but headed straight at Guzan.
Villa were forced into a change on 27 minutes when Lowton, who had been hobbling, made way for Lichaj.
Westwood was forced to concede a corner under pressure from Pilkington, but when it was taken short, Snodgrass was adjudged offside as he took a return pass from Hoolahan.
Bennett was lucky to escape a second yellow card when he pulled Snodgrass over on the edge of the Villa area, giving City a free-kick in a dangerous position. Snodgrass fired it into the wall but as the ball came back to him, he squeezed in a low shot that Guzan saved, diving to his left.
A rare Villa attack ended with Weimann's shot taking a deflection off Bassong and being smothered by Bunn at the near post.
Six minutes before the break, Pilkintgon swung in a cross from the right that was only just too high for Holt as Guzan jumped to gather.
Another fine Norwich move almost bore fruit when Garrido's cross from the left was met by Holt, who stooped to head just over the bar.
There was an escape for City on the stroke of half-time when a cross from Agbonlahor took a deflection off Garrido and bounced on top of the bar with Bunn scrambling across his goal.
• Half-time - Norwich City 0, Aston Villa 0
Benteke had a chance in the opening seconds of the second half as he flicked the ball over Ryan Bennett but his shot lacked power as Russell Martin did enough to put him off and Bunn was able to smother it.
Another effort by the big striker flew well wide but it was a busy start by Villa.
A foul by Hoolahan on Sylla gave Villa a free-kick 15 yards into the Norwich half, Holt clearing Westwood's kick for a corner.
But it came to nothing and Norwich broke quickly, Holt firing over from Howson's cross.
Delph was shown the yellow card for a foul on Snodgrass, but 10 minutes into the half, Villa took the lead through a spectacular goal by Agbonlahor.
Agbonlahor took possession just inside the Norwich half and skipped away from Pilkington and with City players backpedalling, he struck a powerful 25-yard drive that fizzed past Bunn into the bottom corner.
Johnson was booked for a foul on Agbonlahor, but City wasted a decent opportunity on the hour when Garrido crossed to the far post and with Russell Martin poised to head it, Hoolahan jumped in front and nodded it wide.
Snodgrass wasted another corner and, with City stretched, Weimann should have made it 2-0 when he poked the ball over from three yards out from a cross by Agbonlahor.
Delph then curled a shot over as the Canaries were caught wide open again.
Agbonlahor missed another opening when he rolled his shot wide after a one-two with Benteke and suddenly it was becoming too easy for Villa.
Benteke escaped with a yellow card after grabbing Bassong by the neck as referee Friend again took a lenient line.
Hughton sprang a surprise after 72 minutes when he took off Hoolahan and replaced him with Kamara, to a chorus of boos from the home crowd.
City were handed a way back into the game with only their second penalty of the league season when Bennett hauled down Snodgrass in the Villa area.
Bennett somehow escaped a second yellow card but after Villa had finished arguing, Holt stepped up to fire the spot-kick to Guzan's left for his sixth goal of the season.
With 12 minutes left, Villa replaced Sylla with Holman.
Elliott Bennett replaced Snodgrass with five minutes remaining as Hughton made his second change.
Holt fired wide as Kamara flicked on a free-kick by Garrido, with three minutes left.
There was a killer blow for City one minute from time, however, when Agbonlahor scored his second, getting past Bassong and tucking a low shot beyond Bunn from a pass by Westwood.
As the game entered stoppage time, Jackson was sent on in place of Garrido.
Holt headed agonisingly wide from a cross by Kamara as the seconds ticked away.
Ryan Bennett was booked for dissent in the last seconds.
• Norwich City: Bunn, Russell Martin, Ryan Bennett, Bassong, Garrido (Jackson, 90); Howson, Johnson; Snodgrass (Elliott Bennett, 86), Hoolahan (Kamara, 72), Pilkington; Holt. Subs: Camp, Whittaker, Barnett, Tettey.
• Aston Villa: Guzan; Lowton (Lichaj, 27), Vlaar, Baker, Joe Bennett; Westwood, Sylla (Holman, 78), Delph; Weimann, Benteke, Agbonlahor. Subs: Given, N'Zogbia, Bannan, Bent, Bowery.
• Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire)
• Attendance: 26,842
• Goals: City: Holt (pen, 74). Villa: Agbonlahor (55, 89)
• Bookings: City: Johnson (59), Ryan Bennett (90). Villa: Bennett (17), Delph (54), Benteke (68)