Now East Anglian nerves are jangling. Norwich seemed almost safe two months ago, but this defeat extended a wretched run of results that leaves them fretting for their Premier League future. They lie three points above third-from-bottom Wigan, who have a game in hand. Aston Villa, meanwhile, have gone in the space of a week from being the club most likely to be leapfrogged by Wigan to one that has reached the cherished 40-point mark. Villa's survival is not yet guaranteed but their prospects suddenly look a lot brighter.
Even though Villa had already won here in the Carling Cup this season and walloped Sunderland 6-1 on Monday there was a giddy exuberance among the Carrow Road crowd before kick-off. That was reflected in Norwich's opening as Chris Hughton's side sought an early goal to end a streak of just one win in eight matches. Villa were quickly subdued by the muscular pressing and snappy passing of their hosts.
It soon became clear, however, why only QPR and Stoke have scored fewer goals than Norwich in the league this season. For all the fine crossing of Anthony Pilkington and Robert Snodgrass and the wriggly runs of Wes Hoolahan Norwich struggled to create clear chances, with Grant Holt toiling to get on the end of deliveries. Mind you Norwich should have been awarded a penalty in the first half when Matthew Lowton blocked a Pilkington cross with his arms but referee, Kevin Friend, did not entertain the appeals. Other than that Lambert was sufficiently unperturbed in the first period – either by the threat from Norwich or the half-hearted booing of him from some home supporters – that he indulged the away fans's requests for waves. The visitors almost had cause to cheer just before half-time when a rare Villa counter-attack resulted in a Gabriel Agbonlahor cross deflecting off Jonny Howson and bouncing off the crossbar.
Christian Benteke had barely featured in the first half but could have put Villa in front in the 47th minute, but he shot weakly and Mark Bunn saved. The goalkeeper, though, was beaten seven minutes later when Agbonlahor ran from midfield and fired into the net from 20 yards. Andreas Weimann could have deepened Norwich dismay on the hour mark, but contrived to dab the ball over the bar from three yards after a cross by Agbonlahor. The striker might have scored a second himself five minutes later but dragged his shot wide from eight yards after sharp interplay with Benteke.
Norwich were not looking like equalising and Holt was badly in need of assistance up front. Hughton did introduce another striker in the 71st minute, but the fact that Kei Kamara came on at the expense of Hoolahan rather than a less creative player angered the home fans, who left Lambert alone to begin berating their current manager. Within two minutes Norwich drew level from the penalty spot when Holt sent Brad Guzan the wrong way after Joe Bennett had fouled Snodgrass. Holt lost possession in midfield in the 89th minute and was punished. Ashley Westwood threaded the ball through to Agbonlahor, who finished sharply from 16 yards.
"Everyone was saying that we were dead and buried but the character and mental strength we showed here was outstanding," Lambert said. "I don't know if we're safe but we have good footballers and we'll keeping going."
Hughton knows his side will need better performances to get points from their remaining matches, at home to West Brom next week and a last day trip to Manchester City. "We're in a battle," he said. "But it's still in our hands."