Match Report: Norwich City 0-2 Watford
By Kevin Affleck
Blimey, doesn't that feel good?
Those three points, those long-awaited and much-needed three points finally arrived at the 12th time of asking this evening to breath renewed life into the belief there is a way out of this predicament.
As ever, there was nothing whatsoever straight forward about the win achieved at Carrow Road. It was never going to be, was it? Let's be honest.
The team lost its playmaker after a third of the game, had to play 25 minutes plus injury time after Christian Kabasele was sent off and Norwich threw absolutely everything at the Hornets in what was a lively atmosphere in East Anglia. But, by hook or by crook and with a fair degree of spirt, the Hornets stood firm to protect the lead given to them inside two minutes by Gerard Deulofeu and doubled seven minutes after half-time by Andre Gray. It wasn't the prettiest but who cares? You don't get any extra points for artistic merit. It was all about winning, however it was achieved and now the confidence should, slowly but surely, start to flow.
The win validated what Quique Sánchez Flores is trying to achieve and confirmed that everything, as the Head Coach keeps pointing out, starts with a solid base, a platform on which to build. If you keep the back door shut, which they have done now in three of the last five games, then this team has players of high enough calibre to nick at least one at the other end.
It wasn't a night for heroes, not here and not in a game of this significance. It was all about the collective and an all-for-one mentality. Nearly everyone ran their socks off here and it's a good job there is an international break as most of this lot will need a rest. If it requires individual performances to be picked out then Craig Dawson was a rock at the heart of the defence; Will Hughes was a pest in midfield and quickened the game up when the team needed it and slowed it down on other occasions while Daryl Janmaat played the right wing-back role to a tee. He will have been shattered after this one. You also need your 'keeper to be a reliable last line of defence on nights like this and Ben Foster never really looked like ever being beaten.
Keeping the goals out has not really been a massive problem of late, it's been scoring them has been the issue. The goal everybody craved, the early one Sánchez Flores went to bed dreaming about arrived after 76 seconds. Deulofeu loves a game against a newly-promoted side on a Friday night (hat-trick at Cardiff, anyone?) and he was at it again here. He pick-pocketed Emiliano Buendia, advanced down the right, cut in on his left foot and then guided on into the bottom corner. It was an exercise in how to silence the home crowd and gave this team something to hang their hat on, a cause to rally round.
It wasn't pretty thereafter. In fact, at times it was grotesque. It was all hands to the pump as Sánchez Flores was happy to cede possession (58 per cent of it in the first half) and play on the break. It meant there were a few hairy moments defensively. Kabasele made several last-ditch tackles, including an unusual one in combination with José Holebas; Craig Cathcart made three in quick succession; Dawson got in a crucial toe and even Deulofeu was forced to hoof one in the stand.
Foster made some saves that fell into the routine category for a 'keeper of his calibre and was yet again smartly off his line to smother at the feet of Onel Hernandez. It had to be perfectly timed as he had he got it wrong, it was a certain red card.
There was the customary injury before half-time, Roberto Pereyra the latest player to limp off, but the team withstood that blow on the half hour to make it safely through to the break with their narrow lead intact.
The cushion of a second goal was badly needed to give the team some breathing space and make everything a little less fraught. It arrived, thankfully, seven minutes after the break. Deulofeu was given a second bite of the cherry at delivering a cross and second time round he picked out Gray who found the back of the net with a back heel via a deflection off Jamal Lewis.
It was a good job the second goal arrived as they needed that buffer after Kabasele was sent off for a second bookable offence. It needed everybody to dig that bit deeper, to run that bit further and jump that bit higher and nobody did that better than Étienne Capoue. He got better as the match wore on and showed real leadership qualities. It was good to have him back and back playing like this.
As a result of those throwing bodies in front of him, Foster was only really called into action once, making a flying save to deny McLean and the Hornets saw things out relatively comfortably. Let's not get carried away and believe one win makes a season. There is a heck of a lot of hard work to be done still, but this was a start, a step in the right direction. It was about time.
HORNETS: Foster; Janmaat, Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas (Masina 88); Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes; Pereyra (Gray 30), Deulofeu (Mariappa 70).
Subs not used: Gomes, Deeney, Chalobah, Femenía.