Belfast Telegraph

Canaries end on a high

Grant Holt and Simeon Jackson scored as Norwich beat Aston Villa 2-0 at Carrow Road to end their fine Barclays Premier League campaign on a high.

Many had expected Paul Lambert's Canaries to be battling at the wrong end of the table on their first return to the elite for six seasons. However, a string of industrious displays kept Lambert's hard-working side clear of danger well before this final day visit of Villa, who barring a monumental goals swing, were also secure of top-flight status.

First-half goals from leading scorer Holt and Jackson made for a party atmosphere in the Norfolk sunshine - where the several thousand Villa fans sent a loud and clear message they expected better from manager Alex McLeish next season.

It was a strong start by the home side, who had been outclassed in their last two matches here by Manchester City and Liverpool. After Holt was booked for failing to retreat at a free-kick, the Norwich captain fired the Canaries in front after eight minutes. James Collins bundled over Simeon Jackson, 25 yards out on the right.

Bradley Johnson floated the resulting free-kick into the Villa box, where Holt got up between two defenders at the far post, the ball cannoning off his shoulder and past Shay Given for a 15th Premier League goal.

The Villa goalkeeper was then let down by his static defence as Norwich went 2-0 up after 22 minutes. A long ball forward from right-back Kyle Naughton was headed back across his own six-yard box by Carlos Cuellar, straight into the path of Jackson. Given was out quickly but the diminutive Canada striker calmly slotted into an empty net.

Norwich had a strong shout for a penalty when Jackson's cross hit Cuellar's outstretched arm - but referee Martin Atkinson saw nothing untoward and waved play on. Villa showed little in way of attacking intent, with Norwich enjoying a spell of possession which just lacked a final telling pass.

The visitors finally sprung to life five minutes before the break as American defender Eric Lichaj strode to the edge of the Norwich penalty area and sent in a low shot which John Ruddy palmed around the post. Cuellar blocked Jonny Howson right on the left corner of the penalty area, with the referee giving a free-kick rather than pointing to the spot.

Villa made a change for the start of the second half as midfielder Chris Herd was replaced by Barry Bannan, and they soon began to dominate. Ruddy pushed Emile Heskey's low shot around the post before tipping over Stephen Ireland's 20-yard rising drive. But after 63 minutes, Jackson sent a low, 20-yard effort goalwards, which Given turned behind at full stretch.

Villa were unfortunate not to pull a goal back when Gabriel Agbonlahor cut in from the left and his shot was touched on to the inside of the far post by Ruddy, with Russell Martin hacking the loose ball clear. Norwich were still creating chances at the other end, where substitute Aaron Wilbraham blazed over before winger Elliott Bennett did the same.

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