Another week meant another televised game, although I am not sure that the world was begging to see Watford take on Norwich in a bottom of the table clash. I left work at lunchtime for the short walk to Liverpool Street and arrived in Norwich mid-afternoon. The Norfolk ‘Orns were starting their pub crawl for Amy’s birthday eve rather early, but our party had sensibly decided to meet up with them on the last leg of their tour.
The last time we were in Norwich, I seem to recall it was a lovely evening and we sat outside the pub. No chance of that on this occasion. The walk to the pub was longer than I remembered but, on arrival, I was pleased to find Pete already there. The beer menu was interesting. There were lots of ciders, but the dry offerings were all a bit strong for me, so I went for a pint of blonde bitter. I was briefly distracted by the rhubarb and custard sour beer. I was very surprised to hear that it was selling rather well. I really should have asked for a taste.
Paul had just asked where the Norfolk ‘Orns were when the pub door opened, and Glenn appeared followed by a large number of his compatriots. The peace was shattered. They were all very merry already, but had not yet moved on to their traditional sambuca. When that appears, you know that it is getting very messy. I was introduced to one of the Norfolk crowd that I hadn’t met before. Graham had been an apprentice groundsman working under Les Simmons in the early days of the Elton John/GT era. He had some interesting stories of his encounters with those three great men. He then started talking about the Norwich fans that they had met earlier in the afternoon and how little confidence they had in their team. He surmised that we would win the game, based on the fact that our fans were more confident. I have to say that I wasn’t convinced as my confidence was very low based on my experiences following the Hornets so far this season.
While in the pub, somebody told me that the child of a friend had chatted to (referee) Andre Marriner in the ground. I heard “in the Crown” and wondered what on earth the ref was doing in the pub before the game, although that would explain some of the refereeing decisions that we have seen this season.
Team news was that Quique had made three changes from the Chelsea game with Holebas, Hughes and the very welcome return of Capoue in place of Masina, Gray and Chalobah. So, the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Kabasele, Dawson; Holebas, Doucouré, Capoue, Janmaat; Hughes; Pereyra, Deulofeu. Even better news was that Deeney was on the bench. We have missed him terribly.
We set off in good time to get to the ground for the 8pm kick-off. But, having only had a toastie in the pub, Pete and I decided to get a pie in the ground, so were cutting it fine as we headed for our seats. The steps into the stand were blocked as people had stopped to listen to the Last Post. Once the minute’s silence was over, we were able to move but, when I emerged into the stand, the game had already kicked off. As I climbed the steps to my seat, the crowd reaction around me indicated that we were attacking. I turned around in time to see Deulofeu bursting into the box and finishing past Krul, so celebrated that goal by leaping up and down in the gangway. An early goal was just what we needed to settle our nerves. We continued positively and another run from Deulofeu resulted in a corner. The delivery from Holebas was met by the head of Janmaat whose effort just cleared the bar.
Pereyra then played a lovely cross-field ball to Holebas who tried a shot from distance which was blocked. Watford had a great chance to grab a second in the 12th minute as a cross from Janmaat found Deulofeu in the box, but his shot was wide of the target. The first real threat from Norwich came as Hernández broke forward before cutting the ball back to Pukki, but Cathcart was on hand to make the block. Then Stiepermann played a dangerous through ball to Hernández, but Foster was out to smother the shot. Watford had a great chance to increase their lead when the ball broke to Hughes who advanced and shot, but his effort was just wide of the target. Then Pereyra found himself in a great position but wouldn’t attempt a shot. Doucouré was more adventurous, but his shot was deflected into the arms of Krul. Norwich looked sure to level the score when McLean crossed for Hernández but the shot, from point blank range, was saved by Foster, although the flag was up so it wouldn’t have counted anyway. Watford were forced to make a substitution due to injury yet again, this time it was Pereyra who could not continue and made way for Gray. Andre almost made an immediate impact as he got on the end of a cross from Hughes, turned and shot but it was deflected wide. At the other end, a cross from Hernández was met by the head of McLean, but it was an easy save for Foster. The Hornets threatened again as Holebas played the ball back to Capoue who hit a lovely shot, but it was wide of the target. At the other end, Pukki cut the ball back to Buendía whose shot was dreadful, flying high and wide of the target. The home side had a decent chance to draw level just before half time as the ball was flicked to Pukki but the volley was straight at Foster, so the half time whistle went with the Hornets in the lead.
Doucouré had the first chance of the second half with a shot from the edge of the area that was deflected over the bar. The first booking of the game went to Kabasele who was cautioned for pulling back Hernández. The Hornets scored a second after 52 minutes. Deulofeu advanced down the left, his first attempt at a cross was blocked, the second was gorgeous and dropped for Gray who volleyed home. Suddenly it felt much more comfortable. The first substitution came on the hour as the home side decided to ring the changes, Buendía and Stiepermann were replaced by Cantwell and Drmic. The home side had a chance to pull a goal back soon after when Lewis tried a shot from distance that was pushed around the post by Foster. The resultant corner was met by a Watford head and the danger was over. My heart sank as Kabasele saw a second yellow card for a silly push on Drmic. He was on his way to the dressing room before the referee had the card out of his pocket. It was an unnecessary foul and we would now have to play 25 minutes with 10 men. The home side reacted positively to having an extra man on the field and we heard the Norwich fans, who are usually very vocal, for the first time during the evening. There was a very harsh booking for Hughes who was cautioned for colliding with an opponent as he won a header.
Flores then made a tactical substitution. Having lost Kabasele, he sacrificed Deulofeu for Mariappa. Norwich had a great chance to get a goal back as McLean unleashed a powerful shot from the edge of the box, but it was met with a great save from Foster. Norwich youngster, Cantwell, then broke into the box but his shot was blocked. My nerves were tested when a cross into the Watford box was turned wide of the target by Janmaat. From my angle, it looked as though he was going to turn the ball into his own net, but he knew what he was doing. Cantwell’s corner was met by Lewis whose shot was high and wide. With 10 minutes to go, Norwich made their final substitution bringing Vrancic on for Lewis. Watford should have ensured the win when Hughes played a cross-field ball to Gray, but Andre had too much time to think about his shot and lifted it over the target. With five minutes remaining of normal time, a frustrated Vrancic was booked for a nasty foul on Capoue in the Watford box. Watford’s final change came with 2 minutes left on the clock as Holebas made way for Masina. By this point the Watford fans, who had been in good voice all evening, were particularly confident and a chant of “We’re gonna win the league” rang out in the away end. As 5 minutes of time was added, I had everything crossed that we would keep a clean sheet. Thankfully the only event of note in added time was Masina getting booked for a foul on Aarons. The final whistle went to great celebrations in the away end and joyful chants of “We’re not bottom any more.”
There were smiles and hugs and celebrations among the Watford fans. We have waited far too long for that victory and it was well deserved. While the game was not a classic, once Watford took the lead we looked comfortable. Deulofeu can be very frustrating, but he took his goal brilliantly and his assist for Gray’s goal was a thing of beauty (very reminiscent of the goal against Wolves in the cup semi-final). It was wonderful to see Capoue back in the team and his presence in the midfield allowed Doucouré to put in his best performance for some time. The defence was solid, and the lads did very well to keep their shape and organisation with only 10 men on the pitch. With Capoue and Deeney both returning to fitness, the future is looking a lot brighter and we can go into the international break feeling much more positive about our prospects for the season.
Richard was staying at the hotel attached to the ground, so we all went there for a post-match celebratory glass or two of Malbec. When the Norwich fans who had been drowning their sorrows at the next table disappeared, they were replaced by a group of youngsters who clearly were not football fans. When they were joined by an older guy, we realised that they were media types who had been working on the various broadcasts of the match as the older guy was Pat Nevin. Now I have had a crush on Pat Nevin for decades, so came over all unnecessary at being in such close proximity, but I knew I wouldn’t have the nerve to speak to him. We sat there for an hour or so trying not to stare (and failing miserably). As we prepared to leave, Richard took the plunge and said hello to Pat. The rest of us took a deep breath before joining him and were treated to a good twenty minutes of Pat chatting with us about Watford (too good to go down), meeting Elton John, being a footballer in the days when someone like him was considered to be a weirdo (I’m not a weirdo, they are weirdos), his friendship with John Peel. He was absolutely delightful company, so warm and interesting. He told us that he has just completed writing an autobiography (the first of three volumes). That promises to be a fascinating read and will definitely be on a birthday/Christmas list in the near future.
We have had some tough trips this season, but Friday night in Norwich had 2 goals, 3 points, a clean sheet, great company and a hug from Pat Nevin to finish it off. What could be better?