Capital One Cup A happy return for Paul Lambert coincided with a miserable one for Darren Bent. As the Aston Villa manager went back to Carrow Road for the first time since departing for Aston Villa in the summer, he gave Bent his first start in 10 weeks, only for the striker to suffer a hamstring injury in the first half before his replacement, Andreas Weimann, scored two goals to effectively settle the tie and see Villa into the last four.
With Norwich going into the game on a 10-match unbeaten run and four places above Villa in the Premier League, the home crowd questioned the wisdom of Lambert's decision to defect after three triumphant years at Norwich, greeting their former idol with pointed chants of "How green is your grass, Paul Lambert?".
It looked like they would have ample opportunity to taunt the Scot further when Steve Morison shot Norwich into the lead in the 19th minute but Villa equalised almost immediately and Lambert had the last laugh thanks to three second-half goals.
As vibrant as Villa were, a delightfully rambunctious tie might have had a different ending if Norwich had been as clinical as the visitors. Lambert's departure from Norwich was acrimonious and the validity of it is still the subject of a dispute between the manager and his former employers, with a verdict pending from the League Managers' Association.
Lambert, however, said he took no extra satisfaction from beating his old club. "I had three great years here and I've got nothing but praise for the club, the only sad thing was the way it ended," he said. Lambert also praised his new team, who produced what was possibly their best performance of the season.
Playing in the 3-5-2 formation that the manager introduced three matches ago, Villa showed a slickness that augurs well for the rest of the season. Bent's role in the club's future remains in doubt, however, as the striker was recalled from his mysterious exile to make his first start since 22 September. He spurned a chance to open the scoring in the third minute, shooting straight at Mark Bunn when clean through. He then looked lively until being forced off in the 35th minute with a hamstring injury. "I thought he looked sharp until then and it was blow," said Lambert. The injury will be assessed later on Wednesday.
Morison had given Norwich the lead when he raced on to a long ball and guided it past the advancing Shay Given from the edge of the box. The raucous home crowd squawked with joy but no hungry cat has ever silenced canaries as quickly as Brett Holman then did, equalising within two minutes with a snapshot from 20 yards.
Bunn made a remarkable triple save in 25rd minute to deny first Mathew Lowton, Christian Benteke and Bent. Norwich then threatened to blow them away at the start of the second. Morison headed over after a fine move down the right involving Russell Martin and Robert Snodgrass and in the 48th minute he missed again, clipping over the bar after being put through by a wonderful pass from Grant Holt.
Given produced a stupendous one-handed save from a Holt header in the 77th minute. Two minutes laterWeimann shot Villa in front. Eric Lichaj hurtled down the left and delivered a low cross that the Austrian sidefooted into the net from eight yards.
Five minutes from full-time Weimann scored from similar distance after an unselfish pass from Benteke. The Belgian then took his reward in stoppage time when he blasted into the net from 20 yards to crown a fine Villa victory.
"I thought we were excellent," said a jubilant Lambert. "Andreas is a natural finisher with a great work ethic. I had only left him out to give him a rest."
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