In contrast to the blazing sunshine of Sunday, I arrived in Norwich on a very muggy afternoon. I had a quick wander around the town and then headed for the pre-match pub to meet up with our much depleted party and the Norfolk ‘Orns. The pre-match beers in the sunshine, were very enjoyable and we had the added pleasure of cheering the team bus as it passed on its way to the ground. I must admit that, of the three teams still under threat, Norwich were my first choice for the drop, but I did have to feel sorry for the bloke in the pub who was begging Watford fans for mercy.
When we reached the turnstiles, we encountered a sniffer dog. I know that it is a no-no, but the hound was so adorable that I asked the handler whether I could pet it. She asked me, in return, if I would do her a favour and give the dog something to find. She explained that, when the dogs don’t find anything for a while, they get a bit bored and she wanted to make sure that her charge was still paying attention. So I was given a scent to put in my pocket and asked to come back in again. Once I was assured that this plant would not lead to my arrest, I did as she asked and, sure enough, the hound leapt up at me, identified the scent and was suitably rewarded and I got a doggy cuddle.
Team news was only the one change with Nyom coming in at right back and Prödl making way for Cathcart in the centre of defence. So the starting line-up was Gomes, Anya, Cathcart, Britos, Nyom, Jurado, Watson, Suarez, Abdi, Deeney and Ighalo. It was not a selection to quell the doubts of those calling for Quique’s head.
The travelling Watford fans started goading their counterparts early on with chants of “We are staying up.” And the game started rather well for the visitors as Troy had an early shot from distance that the Norwich keeper, Ruddy, just kept out. We took the lead on 11 minutes as a long ball from Britos was headed down by Deeney to Ighalo, Ruddy smothered his shot, but the ball broke to Deeney who finished into the empty net. At this stage, it looked as though Norwich could be in for a comprehensive defeat to send them down. That couldn’t have been further from the truth as, a couple of minutes later, an innocuous looking Norwich attack finished with Redmond exchanging passes with Naismith before scoring through the legs of Gomes. The home fans started singing “The Great Escape” at this point. Unbelievably, the home side were 2-1 up soon afterwards as Watford failed to clear the ball allowing Redmond to hit the post and the rebound was buried by Mbokani. Watford tried to hit back with a ball into the box that was gathered by Ruddy with Deeney challenging. There was an immediate counter attack which finished with a shot from Redmond that flew just wide. More lax defending from Watford allowed Redmond to hit the post again, on this occasion the follow-up from Olsson was kept out by a smart save from Gomes. At this point, there were boos ringing out in the away end.
Watford gifted Norwich a third in the 37th minute as Watson gave the ball away, Jurado failed to tackle when given the chance and Nyom slipped allowing the ball to run through to Hoolahan, whose cross looked unlikely to trouble the defence until Cathcart intervened to power it past Gomes. You’d have thought that the Watford team had a bet on Norwich to stay up. But, soon after the goal, it became apparent that that was out of their hands as a chant of “1-0 to the Sunderland” went up in the away end indicating Sunderland’s breakthrough against Everton. This was followed by “We are Premier League”. Hmm, not on the evidence of tonight’s showing. Watford attacked again as Watson crossed for Deeney but his shot was saved by Ruddy, and the flag was up anyway. The travelling Hornets continued to console themselves by goading the opposition. This time with “Burton Albion on a Tuesday night,” which sounded rather appealing to me. Norwich had a couple more chances before half time. First Hoolahan played a through ball to Naismith whose shot was saved by Gomes. Then the Watford keeper was called into action again to stop a long range shot from Hoolahan. The half time whistle went to boos from the away end. I never boo my team, but this was one occasion when I had sympathy with those who did.
At half time, I went to chat with Don. You know that things are not going well when even Don can’t find anything positive to say. Although he did manage a complaint about the ref, so I knew he was OK. Our summary of the first half was that the majority of the Watford players were on the beach.
Flores made a change at half time bringing Aké on for Nyom. There was a bright start to the second period as Anya played a ball down the wing to Deeney who cut back for Igahlo to score his fifteenth league goal of the season, which was also his first in the league since January. The Watford fans greeted the strike with, “We’re gonna win 4-3.” Flores made his second substitution to loud cheers as Jurado made way for Berghuis. Norwich nearly did us a favour as a long ball from Abdi was headed back towards Ighalo by Deeney and Bennett’s attempt to clear flew just over the bar. As it happened, it wouldn’t have counted as he was deemed to have been fouled by the Nigerian. Norwich scored their fourth just before the hour mark as Redmond played a through ball to Mbokani, who dinked it over Gomes. The Norwich fans were doing an impressive job of supporting their team despite knowing that Sunderland were three goals up against Everton, so their fate was sealed. Watford attempted to hit back as Berghuis found Abdi but the shot was just wide of the far post. Watson was booked for a frustrated tackle on Naismith and, soon after, made way for Guedioura. While Norwich’s first change saw Brady coming on for Hoolahan. The home fans continued their impressive support with a chant of “One Alex Neil”.
An extended period of possession for the Hornets finished with Abdi exchanging passes with Berghuis before hitting a volley straight at Ruddy. I thought that Norwich should have been awarded a penalty as Naismith was tripped in the box, but the referee waved play on. Soon after, the Scotsman was replaced by Odjidja-Ofoe and Jarvis came on for the excellent Redmond. Late in the game, Aké was booked for a stupid tackle on Mbokani. There was a great chance for Watford to strike back after Abdi was fouled on the edge of the box. But the ball was placed considerably further back for the free kick and Guedioura hit it into Row Z, summing up the evening. A cross into the Norwich box was met by the head of Anya but he could only direct it back to Ruddy. Then Deeney had one last chance to cut the deficit with a shot from outside the area that Ruddy spilled towards the goal, but managed to recover. In the last minute I, again, thought that we had conceded a penalty, but the trip was outside the area and the free kick was straight into the Watford wall. It was a relief when the final whistle went.
I usually take defeats in my stride and try to take positives from any game. But my patience ran out last night. The dedicated souls who travelled to Norwich took time off work, spent a lot of money on travel, tickets and, in many cases, hotels and were rewarded with an abject performance from a bunch of lads who looked like they were on holiday. I can take being beaten by a better team, but not such a sub-par performance from players who are so much better than that. I was so irate that, as Britos came over to offer his shirt to a fan I found myself shouting “It’s your pay packet you should be giving us, not your shirt”. To be fair, the young girl who went home with the shirt was very happy indeed. The most shocking aspect of the evening was the performance of the defence, which has been excellent for most of the season, but played like clowns on the evening. Even Gomes had a very rare off day. Deeney was the only player to come out of the game with any credit. I’m sure I will calm down by Sunday and, of course, I will be at Vicarage Road to support the lads in the last game of what has been a very successful season. I just hope they end on a high.