Story of the match
Watford welcomed Norwich City under the lights of Vicarage Road for a true relegation six-pointer in the Premier League and, with television cameras from all parts of the world in attendance, the match lived up to its billing.
Following a late flourish to grab a deserved draw away to fellow relegation contenders, Newcastle United last weekend, Claudio Ranieri’s Watford side were able to enjoy an extended rest after another postponement away to Burnley in midweek.
Ranieri made four changes to the starting line-up from six days ago with Daniel Bachmann replacing Ben Foster (COVID-19) in goal and Christian Kabasele making his first starting appearance since August. Tom Cleverley and Kiko Femenia also returned to the side as Juraj Kucka and Jeremy Ngakia were consigned to the bench.
After picking up just their third win of the season at home to Everton last weekend, Norwich City arrived in Hertfordshire just one point behind the hosts and in a buoyant mood.
With Watford winless since November and Norwich winning just once away from home all season, the opening exchanges were tense but the best chances fell the way of the Canaries.
In the first minute, Milot Rashica fired straight at the wall from 18 yards after a desperate Moussa Sissoko foul and ten minutes later Rashica wasted another opening as his first time shot sailed over Bachmann’s bar from a similar position to the free-kick.
Watford’s first sight on goal eventually came in the 32nd minute as new signing, Samir aimed a tame header directly at Gunn from a Cleverley corner.
The next and final chance of a dour first half came in added time as Joao Pedro danced his way into the Norwich box only to pass the ball into the hands of Gunn from a promising position ten yards out.
It was indicative of a first half lacking in quality.
The second half started much like the first with an early chance for Pedro but the young Brazilian was unable to keep his shot down from the edge of the box.
The game finally came to life in the 51st minute as Norwich took the lead.
Teemu Pukki chased down a wayward pass and dispossessed Samir who went down looking for a foul. Pukki picked up the ball and crossed into Josh Sargent who audaciously back-heeled the ball past Bachmann off the crossbar for Sargent’s first Premier League goal.
There was a brief pause to check the ball had crossed the line before Norwich fans erupted into pandemonium. Even a VAR check for a foul on Samir could not prevent the Canaries from celebrating as Watford’s wait for a first clean-sheet this season continues - the longest wait in Premier League history.
Time continued to be the enemy of Watford in the 60th minute as the floodlights failed at Vicarage Road. Mike Dean stopped played for 11 minutes only to decide the light was, in fact, good enough to play football.
The break proved to be to the advantage of the visitors as they extended their lead only three minutes later.
Rushica exploited space left by Femenia to cross the ball into Sargent who headed calmly passed Bachmann for his and Norwich’s second of the evening.
Amidst a chorus of boos from the home fans, things went from bad to worse for Watford moments later as Emmanuel Dennis received a second yellow card for a late challenge.
Watford. however, refused to give up and in the 81st minute substitute Cucho Hernandez saw a header cleared off the line.
In the 90th minute Watford thought they had pulled one back as Sissoko volleyed in from a Pedro cross but the flag was up for offside.
Norwich then put the game to bed a minute later as substitute, Juraj Kucka scored an own goal without a Norwich attacker within ten yards of him.
Norwich’s third goal sparked a mass exodus from Vicarage Road as the Canaries moved out of the relegation zone for the first time this season.
As the game drew to a close and Watford’s place in the relegation zone secured with defeat, both sets of fans rubbed salt in the wounds of Watford by serenading Ranieri regarding a possible imminent departure. On tonight’s performance, it seems only a matter of time.
Takeaways from the match
A managerial transfer on the horizon?
Watford transfer business generally receives a mixed reaction amongst the Hornets faithful. For every Ismaila Sarr and Emmanuel Dennis, there has been a Danny Rose or Obbi Oulare. But at least there have been highlights to enjoy.
Good Head Coaches have, however, been harder to come by.
In recent seasons Watford fans have endured the short-lived spells of Nigel Pearson and Vladimir Ivic, with a slightly longer spell for Xisco Munoz on account of Watford’s promotion to the Premier League but the managerial merry-go-round looks set to continue at Vicarage Road as Claudio Ranieri looks close to receiving his severance package with Watford floundering in the relegation zone and still without a clean-sheet.
It seemed that Ranieri had the financial and emotional backing of Watford’s board by virtue of his close relationship with the owners but after recent performances, it seems that time has run out for the Italian manager after a humbling defeat to the equally deficient Norwich City.
Nevertheless, questions will be asked whether Watford would actually improve without Ranieri at the helm. The concern will be that the answer is likely to be no.
Hope springs eternal
After a battling draw away to Newcastle United last time out, Watford fans went to social media to exalt their sides’ spirit and celebrations. For many, it felt like a turning point.
With Newcastle’s owners wasting no time to spend big with the arrivals of Kieran Tripper and Woods, Watford entered St James’ Park with a David attitude against Goliath. The celebrations that followed Pedro’s late header showed a team united, a team with a common goal to avoid Premier League relegation. Tonight felt like two steps backwards.
Watford were slow in their build-up, uncommunicative in defence and generally devoid of creativity. If the Hornets are to survive they might need more than just a positive attitude, they need a miracle.
Whilst there was little to cheer about for the Hornets, the substitution of Hernandez provided a reason to smile.
With ambitious efforts from distance, incisive runs through the Norwich defence, and generally a motivation to receive the ball, the young Colombian was the only bright spark in a tepid display by the Hornets.