Michael Turner’s second-half header denied Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert a victory against Norwich as his former club left Villa Park with a deserved point.
But in the end Lambert will have been pleased to avoid defeat.
The hosts had gone ahead against the run of play through Christian Benteke’s composed first half strike but were holding on when the Canaries’ defender struck.
Norwich boss Chris Hughton will regret his side’s failure to capitalise on their monopoly of possession which was, in part, aided by Joe Bennett’s sending off for the home team in the 52nd minute.
Here, The FA’s Peter Glynn analyses Saturday’s game at Villa Park.
Much of the build-up to this game focused on the unresolved issues that have accompanied Paul Lambert’s complicated departure from Norwich City and his subsequent re-emergence at Villa Park.
Although both managers did their best to dilute the situation using the ‘it’s just another game’ line, there was always going to be an added significance, intensified due to two unconvincing starts to the league campaign.
Aside from the narrative of departure, the more relevant sub-plot was how two managers appointed within a week of each other have handled the process of re-shaping side’s in their own image.
Here, Lambert deployed a traditional 4-4-2 formation with Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor operating as his two centre-forwards.
In contrast, Hughton set-up the Canaries in a fluid attacking 4-2-3-1 formation.
With intelligent movement amongst their front four, the visitors regularly adopted a 4-2-4 with wide-men Anthony Pilkington and Elliott Bennett quick to join centre-forward Grant Holt. Support from behind came in the shape of the game’s outstanding performer, Wes Hoolahan.
Here’s a Future Game practice that encourages supporting runs from behind the ball
Supporting players in the final third (12-16 yrs)
It was in the basic strategies deployed by the two managers from which this game took shape.
With two rigid lines of four in midfield and defence – a set-up increasingly outdated at the top-level of the modern game – Aston Villa surrendered the operating space in front of their defence to Norwich.
With Holt’s robust running and link-up play demanding the attention of Villa’s two central-defenders and Pilkington and Bennett pinning back Villa’s full-backs, Hoolahan, roaming between midfield and defence, was free to link Norwich’s midfield and attack.
The diminutive Irishman, who has been with the Canaries since his move from Blackpool in 2008, soon began to wreak havoc in the pockets of space behind Holt.
His late runs from the target man’s flicks, ability to wriggle past tight markers and deceptive passing around Villa’s backline soon prised open opportunities for the visitors.
And Norwich were particularly effective when Hoolahan played quick give and go passes around the edge of the visitors’ box.
In the modern game it is often the responsibility of the defensive-midfielder to nullify such a threat.
But with Fabian Delph and Karim El Ahmadi matched up two versus two in midfield, Villa did not possess the cover in central areas to cope with the threat.
Hughton had won the numbers game and with Villa seemingly unwilling to adapt their shape in response, Norwich operated with much greater threat.
Hoolahan was free to drop off the front line, turn and link up play with his front-three. Brad Guzan, who made a number of crucial saves throughout the contest, had to deny Hoolahan on at least three occasions.
City’s threat was aided by clever movement in wide positions, with wingers Pilkington and Bennett moving inside to be closer to target-man Holt.
This gave Norwich a greater variety of targets in the box, but also the opportunity to switch the play to a forward-running full-back moving into the space vacated by the winger.
But Norwich were continually wasteful in their deliveries from wide areas and Hughton will be looking for improvement there.
In contrast, Villa’s front and wide-men adhered to a more structured approach with less interchanging of position. Agbonlahor, in particular, was unable to exploit his pace.
Yet given Norwich’s domination it was a surprise that Aston Villa took the lead.
Joe Bennett’s clipped ball was received by Agbonlahor who laid the ball off to Brett Holman on the left of Villa’s midfield.
The Australian’s cross found the run of the Benteke, who had darted away from the left-hand channel into the box and the Belgian international finished with poise.
The Future Game, The FA’s Technical Guide for Young Player Development, stresses the importance of regular and realistic shooting practice and the 21-year-old’s calm finish underlined the importance of accurate and decisive finishing inside the box.
The Future Game encourages coaches to put strikers into a variety of goalscoring scenarios – challenging players to shoot from different angles, reacting to a variety of deliveries and playing against different numbers of opposition.
Given goals ultimately win games, realistic shooting practises should be included in as many coaching sessions as possible.
Here’s a Future Game practice that works on finishing from inside the box:
Individual finishing (17-21 yrs)
Norwich’s equaliser, however, owed as much to opportunism as it did to good finishing.
Hoolahan was alive to receive a short corner from substitute, Robert Snodgrass, before accurately crossing onto the head of Turner.
This moment of quick-thinking and cunningness, while the opposition remained static, summed up the performance from the pocket-sized attacker.
It is little wonder then, that he has been catching the attention of Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni.
Villa had tried to suffocate Hoolahan’s magic in the second period, with Al Ahamadey and Delph getting much tighter to the Irishman who drew numerous fouls.
But Hoolahan relished the combat in tight spaces. Standing at 5ft 6" proved he proved it is not always size but cleverness that can help dominate a game.
When tightly marked, his low centre of gravity and fleet-footedness continually took him away from his marker.
When confronted with a one-on-one situation, Hoolahan delayed his movements as long as possible before using quick bursts to elude his marker.
The 30 year-old, who played for Shelbourne and Livingston before signing for Blackpool, could often be seen reminding slower thinking team-mates that he had an opportunity to receive a pass that they had not recognised.
There was one moment in the first-half in which he controlled a high-ball by flicking it over the onrushing Holman with a deft-flick. The Future Game encourages the development of the individualistic player and Hoolahan’s performance proved why.
The elusive forward offered a variety and craft to his play which was different to all others.
Here’s a Future Game practice that looks at the individual receiving, turning and finding space skills used expertly by Wes Hoolahan
Receiving, passing and finding space (8-11 yrs)
Both Lambert and Hughton have significant tasks in the months ahead to ensure their respective teams gain enough points to stave off an agonising conclusion to the campaign.
On this performance, Hughton’s task could be further complicated in a bid to hold on to his mercurial talent, Hoolahan.
Key points for grassroots coaches:
- How often do you consider changes to your formation in response to the opposition? Are your players comfortable playing in different formations and can they change shape during the game?
- Do you encourage players who are different – actively encouraging individualism?
- How realistic are your finishing practices? Ensure your players regularly practise shooting, recreating appropriate game-related scenarios.
The Future Game Tactics Column takes a weekly look at how the modern game is evolving, linking to practices from The FA's Future Game philosophy and providing advice and tips for grassroots coaches.
For more information about The FA’s Future Game philosophy click here.
To purchase any of The Future Game products, included the animated DVD-Rom practices featured in this article, click here.