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Despite the club heading into the match on the back of a 17-match winless run in the Premier League, Villa began the game on the front foot, with Leandro Bacuna forcing a save out of Declan Rudd from outside the penalty area.
Villa remained in the ascendency throughout the early stages, and Jordan Ayew could, and perhaps should, have scored his sixth goal of the season, but his free header was kept out by Rudd.
The West Midlands outfit were soon made to regret failing to make their dominance count as Norwich took the lead through Howson, who volleyed home at the back post after meeting Nathan Redmond's deflected cross.
Just before half time, Norwich should have doubled their lead, but despite meeting Redmond's corner under little pressure, Graham Dorrans could only fire wide.
Villa's early momentum had all but evaporated and 11 minutes into the second half, Howson could have netted a second when reacting fastest after Brad Guzan had failed to hold on to a Redmond shot, but he sent the rebound wide.
Sebastien Bassong was the next Norwich player to go close, but his header went wide, while Redmond sent a speculative effort towards goal, only to see Guzan make a comfortable save.
At 1-0, Villa remained in the game, but with three minutes remaining, Norwich put the result beyond doubt as Wes Hoolahan crossed for Mbokani to head past Guzan and give the Canaries some breathing space above the relegation zone.