A Joyous Start to the Year in Norwich

Waiting for a ball into the box

I was up bright and early for the trip to Norwich, questioning my sanity after the last two games.  There were no direct trains from London, so I had to travel to Cambridge to pick up a train to Norwich.  At Wymondham, I saw some of the East Anglian Hornets boarding the train.  Then, suddenly, Glenn was standing next to me as he made his way down the carriage.  He hadn’t seen me when he stepped in and, when he did, greeted me by offering me a beer.  I decided to wait until we got to the pub, so he gave the bottle to a street cleaner that he met in the car park.  We arrived in the first pub of the day soon after 11:30.  There were already a few Norfolk ‘Orns present including Colin who had achieved the impressive feat of getting thrown out of a Wetherspoons at 9:20am for wearing a top with a Watford badge on it.  We were joined in the pub by our SLO, Chris, who chatted with us for a while before making his way to the ground to meet up with the away stewards. 

Davis and Kalu in position for a throw from Ngakia

We then moved on to another pub, where we kept up the Norfolk ‘Orns tradition of drinking sambuca shots.  I left for the ground while I was still able to walk and was accompanied by Russ and Albie Barker, who were a little concerned about the game as Albie had to go back to a school full of Norwich fans the next day.  Although, it has to be said, that the Norwich fans were no more confident than we were.  As my bag was being searched at the turnstiles, the steward saw my book and asked, ”Is that a Roddy Doyle?”  It was, so we had a quick chat about my choice of reading matter.

Team news was that there were three changes from Swansea with Sierralta, Kalu and Morris, who was making his full league debut, coming in for Troost-Ekong, Asprilla and Dele-Bashiru.  So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Cathcart, Sierralta, Kabasele; Morris, Bacuna, Gaspar, Ngakia; Sarr, Davis, Kalu.  Pre-match the fans in the concourse were chanting “We’ve got no midfield.”

Bacuna lines up a free kick

The home side had an early shout for a penalty when Sargent went down in the box, but the referee waved play on.  Ngakia then earned an early booking for a foul on McCallum.  The resultant free kick was met by a punch from Bachmann.  The first chance for the Hornets came after a good passing move which finished with Gaspar finding Davis, who broke into the box and unleashed a shot that was blocked by Gunn in the Norwich goal.  Then Ngakia fed Davis who curled a shot from the edge of the area just wide of the target.  It had been a decent start by the Hornets and the travelling fans regaled them with a chant of “sexy football.”  Then Davis broke into the box and pulled the ball back for Sarr whose shot was blocked.  The first booking for the home side went to Gibbs for a foul on Kalu.  The Hornets threatened again as Ngakia found Kalu on the edge of the box, he turned and shot wide of the target.  That was his last involvement in the game as he picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Bayo.  There was despair in the away end as a deep cross was headed home by Hanley, but despair turned to relief when we saw that the flag was up for offside.  The Hornets had a great chance to take the lead when Ngakia received a lovely cross-field ball from Cathcart and released Bayo who advanced and crossed for Sarr whose downward header was just wide of the near post.  The next caution of the game went to Hanley for a foul on Sarr.  There was 7 minutes of added time at the end of the half.  The home side had a chance to open the scoring when a through ball from Gibbs found Sargent in the box, but Bachmann blocked the shot.  At the other end, Sarr played the ball out to Morris, whose cross was caught under the crossbar.  So, we went into the break goalless, but it had been a much better performance than of late.

Gaspar about to take a free kick

The first incident of note in the second half was a booking for Morris for a nasty foul on Aarons.  The resultant free-kick was blocked and led to a superb counterattack by the Hornets, Morris crossed for Gaspar who headed the ball back to Bayo whose shot was blocked on the line by Gunn, Davis tried to follow-up but again it was blocked.  Then, from a corner, Gaspar’s delivery was met by the head of Bayo, but it was an easy catch for Gunn.  The Hornets’ injury woes continued when Davis went down with what looked like a hamstring injury and was replaced by Asprilla.  The travelling Hornets updated their pre-match song to “We’ve got no one left.”  Sierralta was booked for a foul on Pukki as he tried to stop him breaking forward.  The home side had a great chance to take the lead when Nuñez hit a shot from distance that flew wide of the far post.  Norwich were having their best spell of the game and threatened again when Sargent ran on to a through ball, Bachmann came out to meet him, the Norwich man put his shot over the bar and the players collided, leading to a lengthy break while Bachmann received treatment.  During the break in play the home side made their first change bringing Omobamidele on for Aarons.  As Bachmann prepared for the restart, the ball rolled into the Watford goal to cheers from the home fans, and a shudder from me. 

Celebrating the goal

The Hornets attacked again as Ngakia went on another decent run and crossed for Gaspar whose effort was blocked.  At the other end, Idah tried a shot from distance that flew wide of the far post.  Then Pukki broke forward and crossed for Sara whose shot flew wide but had been close enough that some fans behind the goal started celebrating.  In the build-up to that chance Kabasele had gone down with an injury and was replaced by Troost-Ekong whose appearance was greeted by boos from some among the away fans.  Then Sarr broke forward before playing the ball back to Asprilla whose shot was high and wide.  The Hornets took the lead on 86 minutes, Asprilla played a gorgeous ball to release Sarr who broke downfield and rode a tackle before squaring for Bayo who found the net and sent the travelling Hornets into a wild celebration.  The home side had a great chance to equalise with a shot from Nuñez that was deflected just wide.  Then, from a corner, Pukki had a shot that was just wide of the target.  Having scored so late, we didn’t think that we would have too long to hang on until the fourth official indicated that there was 9 minutes of added time.  Norwich had a great chance to salvage a point when Sara won a free-kick in a dangerous position.  He took it himself and his effort was close, bouncing off the far post.  The final whistle went to much merriment in the away end.  After the last couple of games, it was so lovely seeing the players celebrating with beaming smiles and shirts being thrown into the crowd.

Cathcart on the ball

It was a happy band who reassembled at the pub for the post-match celebrations.  When I arrived, Bilić was doing his post-match interview on the TV, it was so lovely to see him smile.  He has to take a lot of credit for getting a team out and performing, but the players have to take their plaudits as well.  Davis had a superb game, working hard and getting into dangerous positions and creating several chances.  It was such a shame that he succumbed to injury.  Sarr was liveliest he has been since his return from Qatar and his run to create the goal reminded us all how good he can be.  Morris had a great game, creating a number of chances from wing-back.  Also, Ngakia who has had a couple of poor games, put in a much better showing.  The makeshift midfield of Gaspar and Bacuna, also did really well.  After the awful games around Christmas, it was great to come back with a hard-working, entertaining performance from players who were working as a team.

It was also great to have a fun day out.  The Norfolk ‘Orns always make sure that trips to Carrow Road are enjoyable, whatever the result, but it was lovely to know that they would all have bragging rights at work/school tomorrow.

The added injuries mean that we are down to bare bones, so we will hope for some new arrivals and returns from injury before the next league game.  But that is a worry for another day.  I will be smiling for the rest of the week after that terrific day out.

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