December 26, 2019 / 5:44 PM / 25 days ago

UPDATE 1-Soccer-Hourihane strikes as Villa edge Norwich in relegation battle

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BIRMINGHAM, Dec 26 (Reuters) - Aston Villa midfielder Conor Hourihane gave his side a 1-0 home win over Norwich City on Thursday to move them one step closer to safety in the Premier League.

The result lifted Villa to 18 points from 19 games — within a point of 17th-placed West Ham United — while Norwich dropped down to the bottom after fellow strugglers Watford came away from Sheffield United with a point.

“We’re a bit lost for words at the minute as we’re just not picking up the points,” Norwich full back Sam Byram told Amazon. “Villa are near us at the bottom and it’s disappointing we haven’t come back with the win.”

Byram nearly opened the scoring for the visitors in the 18th minute with a header from a corner only to see it come off the woodwork with Tom Heaton beaten and missed another free header in the second half which went inches wide of the far post.

Anwar El Ghazi had two good chances to put Villa ahead in the opening period, failing to sort out his feet when attempting a shot from Trezeguet’s header across the box before another first-time effort from Matt Target’s cross went wide.

Norwich constantly targeted Villa skipper Jack Grealish, who was their main outlet to move the ball forward, and the midfielder was fouled numerous times to prevent him from mounting attacks.

The visitors started the second half on the front foot with a string of corners but Villa stood strong to keep them at bay, with Alexander Tettey and Heaton denying goalbound shots on the line in quick succession.

Villa finally made the breakthrough when Grealish and substitute Hourihane combined in the box for the latter to sweep a left-footed strike past Tim Krul into the far corner.

Heaton kept his fourth clean sheet of the season, denying Norwich a late equaliser when he made a quick reaction save to stop Onel Hernandez’s half volley.

Norwich striker Teemu Pukki, who has nine goals and three assists this season, failed to get a shot on target and Heaton credited his back line for keeping the Finnish striker on a leash.

“Our two centre backs were fantastic,” Heaton said after Villa’s first win in six games. “Someone like Teemu Pukki is difficult to mark... This week we wanted to get the basics right with a clean sheet and give everyone a lift.” (Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Ed Osmond)

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