Norwich suffered relegation back to the Championship as Dean Smith’s return to Aston Villa ended in a 2-0 Premier League defeat.
A 10th loss in 12 meant the yo-yo specialists made it four straight seasons which have ended in either promotion or relegation, a painful way for Smith to mark his return to the ground where he began the season in charge.
Defeat was down to goals from Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings, the second somewhat cruelly created by former Norwich man Emi Buendia, though the killer blows were applied 90 miles south at Vicarage Road where Burnley scored twice in four minutes late on to come from behind and beat Watford 2-1.
That left Norwich 13 points adrift of safety with four games left to play.
For Villa, this was a first win in five to lift them to 13th place, a timely win for Steven Gerrard given his side started the afternoon in 15th, only one higher than they were when Smith was sacked in November.
Smith, the boyhood Villa fan who earned promotion with the club, walked out to a loud reception as fans on all sides of Villa Park chanted his name, but his mission here was to frustrate a Villa side who had lost four on the bounce before last weekend’s goalless draw with Leicester.
For much of the first half it worked and it took almost 20 minutes for Villa to build any sustained pressure.
Lucas Digne, back sooner than expected from injury, crossed for Matty Cash who could not get clean contact under pressure from Brandon Williams.
Then Jacob Ramsey, who signed a five-year contract this week, drove forward before squaring for Philippe Coutinho, whose shot was charged down.
Tim Krul, making his 150th appearance for Norwich, then had to make a fine save to push Leon Bailey’s curling effort on to the crossbar.
But Norwich regrouped and shut down many of the spaces Villa had been exploiting, and soon began to edge forward themselves.
Milot Rashica brought a flamboyant save from Emiliano Martinez with a shot from the edge of the area before Williams hit a low drive which was much more straightforward for the Argentinian.
Villa’s frustrations were growing and Bella the mascot – clearly uninspired – took a lie down in the corner of the stadium, but she was back on her feet four minutes before the break.
Ings came on to replace the injured Bailey and with his first touch, sent a long ball forward for Watkins.
The striker ran at goal, leaving Brandon Williams on the floor before striking a shot which found the net with the help of a deflection off Sam Byram.
Villa carried the upper hand into the second half. Ings swapped passes with Watkins before Byram got a crucial touch to turn his shot wide, and from the resulting corner it was Ings again, heading against the post before Tim Iroegbanum – who was handed his first Premier League start – sent the rebound over.
Norwich had no choice but to push forward, though a rare attack fizzled out when Teemu Pukki surprisingly passed up a shooting chance, laying the ball off for Pierre Lees-Melou to hit a tame shot at Martinez.
With his side struggling to kill off Norwich, Gerrard withdrew Coutinho, now six games without a goal or assist in the league, 15 minutes from time and sent on Buendia, the £38million summer signing who was Norwich’s player of the season last term.
And inevitably the Argentina international would play a key role in the final blow, first setting up Ramsey for a shot which was blocked before creating the space for Ings to apply the final touch.
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