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Norwich City 0 Watford 1 (20/04/2021) 21/04/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1-    I’m a grumpy bastard.

Ask anyone.  Type I Diabetes doesn’t always help in this regard…  hypoglycaemia, low blood sugar, is effectively an excess of hormone and has the impact you’d expect on the mood at moderate levels…  weepiness and particularly, yes, snappiness.  My lifetime memories are peppered with Incidents when Stuff Happened that shouldn’t have done…  sometimes seems a wonder that I’ve retained any friends or family members willing to pass the time of day at all really.  

But I’m a grumpy bastard anyway.  Hypoglycaemia-induced grumpiness tends to disappear with the help of some quickly absorbed sugar but I can do and – here’s where the dedicated training and stamina come in – sustain grumpy without any physiological support.  And as with the rest of the footballing world – and isn’t it nice to see everyone coming together on a topic for once – I’m grumpy about the Super (and Tottenham) League.  The hows and whys don’t need repeating… you know it, you’ll have seen it lucidly argued amidst the rare consensus and in any case it looks like it might be unwinding as I type.  If it isn’t, we’ll moan about that another day…

But back to early evening, and I’m still grumpy.  What I really need is a football match to shout at.  Not just a match on a screen but a match to inhale.  In the stadium.  Noises and smells and adrenaline.  Watching outside.  But that’s not where we are.  So instead I eat up the time before Hornet Hive starts its pre-match show by stomping forcefully around the fields out back with grumpy-appropriate noise in my ears.  Jane’s Addiction.  Sonic Youth.  Nine Inch Nails.  Get back, brace myself, grab a drink, check phone on the way upstairs, turns out kick-off is 6pm, not 7pm (as it was in my head). I make it with minutes to spare.

Grumpy.

2- It’s been an edgy few days.  You don’t need telling that. The possibility, however remote, of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory has been in our heads… not “in your face, I’m coming for you” in our heads, but certainly “raising a hand from the back of the room and tentatively waving – yoohoo!” in our heads.  “I’m still here”.  As an aside, such an eventuality wouldn’t be typical Watford as some have suggested.  Typical Watford would be typical Gillingham, typical Liverpool, typical Rushden and Diamonds if we supported them.  No reflection on the club, it’s an anxious reaction to the threat of failure, it’s a comfort blanket and unless you support Spurs, its nonsense.

But we needed something here.  Something to calm the nerves after Saturday’s unpleasantness.  Something to make the rest of the week tolerable.  Something to reassure us that it was all going to be OK.

Boy did we get it. We deserve promotion this season.  We haven’t gotten away with anything, if and when it’s confirmed we’ll have earned it (hellooooo again Spurs).  At the start of the season we were solid… less than the sum of our parts, perhaps, frustrating at times but often effective despite that, and effective enough to hang around at the top of the table.  To be in position to capitalise if and when we found some form.  When we did find that form we looked occasionally flamboyant, often cruelly, mercilessly irresistible – twenty clean sheets before today.

But we’ve never been more impressive than here at Carrow Road.  Given the context – easier to be the chaser than the chased, the Luton defeat, players suspended, players injured, quality of opponent – the mental strength of the side was extraordinary, the ability of the head coach to craft solutions and get players’ heads in the right place phenomenal.  And on the pitch we looked every inch a top flight side.

3- The solution on the pitch, it transpired, involved Craig Cathcart at right back.  A shame that Jeremy Ngakia, forced into a supporting role by the remarkable form of Kiko Femenía, has a knock just when he’s needed, but if we don’t have a reliable right back available we have a very reliable defender.  There’s nobody you’d trust more to make a decent fist of an unfamiliar role and the Ulsterman, never quite appreciated enough to my mind, will have a stunning evening.  The solution also involves Adam Masina making a welcome return at left back, and an in-your-face midfield trio of Hughes, Gosling, Cleverley.  That’s not a midfield that asks permission.  That’s not a polite midfield.

After a brief period of early sparring, the Hornets controlled the first quarter of the game.  If there’s a word that defines the performance as a whole it’s discipline, so vital against this opponent with their ability to escape through careless gaps and skip unforgivingly over misjudged tackles.  This was a disciplined, controlled effort, and if we were fortunate to visit Carrow Road three days after the ten-man Canaries had chased Bournemouth around before celebrating their promotion we took a crowbar to that opportunity and prized it open.

Much of the threat came down the right despite the loss of the overlapping Kiko, a role which Cathcart was never going to replicate.  Slightly mystifyingly, Ismaïla Sarr was often given the freedom of the flank in the first half by second choice City left back Xavi Quintillà who, despite having not started since October, seemed to receive precious little support from his teammates.  Cathcart’s more restrained support to Sarr nonetheless reminded us – as if this should have been necessary six years to the week since his acrobatic winner against Birmingham put us top of the Championship table – that he’s anything but a clogger.  A particularly fine deep cross provided the first of a number of chances in this period, Dan Gosling seemingly surprised that it reached him and heading wastefully over.  It wasn’t the last time that a move ended with an unsuccessful Gosling effort, but as Robbo pointed out at the break none of these missed half-chances dissuaded Gosling from being on the end of the next one when it came along.  Those words were to prove prophetic.

Two deflected shots in two minutes by Todd Cantwell and Kieran Dowell announced Norwich’s arrival as an attacking threat, and a magnificent game of football broke out abetted by referee Tim Robinson’s willingness, seven yellow cards notwithstanding, to let the game run rather than blowing up for every challenge.  Norwich moved the ball mischievously and confidently, Watford’s human blanket smothered City attacks and clubbed them to within an inch of their lives.  Norwich broke down the centre through Buendía, Hughes and Sema were bypassed but resisted the temptation to foul, the ball reached Quintillà and then Cantwell before being smothered by Cleverley and out.  Often stretched – twice free kicks were surrendered on the edge of the box, the second repelled by Tom Cleverley’s draught excluder – but rarely exposed it was a defensive masterclass as the home side asked questions.

We swung back into control.  Sarr left the formidable Hanley on his ample backside with a sharp turn and drove at Tim Krul’s near post when a square ball might have been more effective.  Five minutes later Sarr moved the ball across to Gosling who fed Sema and the Swede – in his most pugnacious outing for a while – drove fiercely at the keeper.  Krul parried, Sarr followed up with a fine drive from a narrow angle, Krul equal to it again.  Sema sent in a cross from the left, João Pedro’s acrobatic volley was blocked, we failed to make anything from yet another corner.  The half ended, but the voice in your head whispering “we should have scored by now” was calmed by our bloody relentlessness.  We might not have scored, but we weren’t about to falter.

4- Lucky half time “chocolate” turned out to be my dinner.  Ethiopian injera with spinach, garlic, split peas and a beef stew.  Success level high, but with this best will in the world this is not a tradition that can be expected to continue once we’re back at the Vic.  It’s messy enough with a plate and a healthy supply of kitchen roll in your own home.

This development rather hampered the note-taking at the start of the second half, which by memory was more of the same but more so.  Even more focused control, another Todd Cantwell chance despite this, but overall a crushing intensity to our play.  Having finished my meal and dashed to the bathroom to wash my hands I returned to the study to rearrange tray, notepad, keyboard appropriately.  As so often my finger strayed to the screenlock key as I moved the keyboard, causing a frantic typing of password in time to see João Pedro slip an artful ball to a galloping Gosling who flicked a shot past Krul.   Watford supporters everywhere made undignified, very loud noises.  How inspiring that Gos got the goal having spurned so many chances in the first half.  Those misses, ultimately, mattered little.  Being there yet again to tuck it away at the fifth time of asking was everything.

Norwich lost their composure, if only briefly.  Teemu Pukki was demonstrably frustrated by the way the evening was going, Skipp was booked for an untidy foul on Hughes.  You awaited an onslaught, the onslaught tried to get itself going but we had a bunch of tough, savvy bastards blocking the way…  Clevs, Gos, Hughes, Masina, Sierralta, WTE and Craig Cathcart, who stomped on the danger when a slack Bachmann clearance dropped to Buendía.

Had you been in the stadium, had a crowd been in the stadium, it would have been one of those insanely tense ones where your fingers were embedded in your scalp.  It was edgy enough as it was…  but these things feed themselves with a crowd in attendance.  Who knows what difference collective anxiety, urgency would have made.  As it was we were gloriously assertive for much of the half.  Sarr, slightly less prominent after the break, drilled a ball towards João Pedro… the Brazilian suggested limited threat on goal, but did a great line in holding the ball up and floating off with it, retaining possession under unlikely pressure.  Here Grant Hanley (“a head on a stick” – Tommy Mooney) blocked crucially.  From the corner Will Hughes came close to emulating his goal against Fulham two years ago, crashing a goalbound volley from the edge of the area that someone got in the way of.

Norwich threw on as many forwards as they could find.  The Hornets introduced Andre Gray, who’s ratty persistence might have made rather more of the chances we’d had in the first half, and Nathaniel Chalobah whose glorious, eyecatching cameo underlined that he’s finally become the player that he always promised to be.  He slipped Andre Gray through with elegant precision only for Hanley to intervene with a monstrous block.

Max Aarons sounded a clarion call breaking down the right, but we held the home side off with breathtaking composure.  City managed two shots on target all evening… their best chances came when Buendía, Vrančić or Hernández danced across the sentinels inside the area daring a challenge, inviting a foul.  Those invitations weren’t accepted.  “Sorry lads, washing our hair.  Do one”.  Otherwise the greatest threat came to personal safety, from the violent and gormless interventions of sub Jordan Hugill.

Eight minutes of added time were brought to a close with Sema robbing Vrančić and bellowing in triumph.  The whistle went.  We made further undignified noises.

5- It’s not done yet.  Probably and definitely aren’t the same thing.  However, very probably is definitely getting there.  The three sides mathematically capable of catching us will be down to two at most by Saturday afternoon with Brentford and Bournemouth facing off at lunch time.  A win against Millwall would seal the deal, with Norwich travelling to form side QPR the same afternoon.

It doesn’t matter what they do.  It’s all about us.  We’re going to get promoted because we’re bloody brillliant, and better than everyone else.  And didn’t we show it this evening.

Not grumpy any more.

Yooorns.

Bachmann 5, Cathcart 5, Troost-Ekong 5, Sierralta 5, Masina 5, Hughes 5, Gosling 5, *Cleverley 5*, Sarr 5, João Pedro 5, Sema 5
Subs: Gray (for João Pedro, 70) 5, Chalobah (for Gosling, 70) 5, Zinckernagel (for Cleverley, 82) 5, Kabasele (for Cathcart, 82) 5, Lazaar, Sánchez, Hungbo, Success, Elliot

Comments»

1. ukmalc - 21/04/2021

I think all the unused subs also deserve a 5. Good times

2. Kristoffer Vad - 21/04/2021

We were fortunate to play Naaarch under the circumstances you state. But we are responsible for what those circumstances offered us and for the lads to have ensured maximum benefit is immense. That the other sides didn’t win is icing for sure – but we made the cake.

Norwich have impressed me this season and again yesterday proved one of the strongest Championship sides I’ve seen. But so are we. If we join them in the premiership, no one can complain. Once we found form, got our mojo back, we have been unplayable. 21 clean sheets now, best defense in the league with 28 goals against in 43 games.

Shout out to Craig Cathcart who is becoming a favourite of mine. Always giving 100%, always ready. Some people give him a hard time which I don’t get. You could never doubt his effort. This season he’s found opportunities to play few because of the strenght of the defense playing. Yet he comes into the most important game of the season, playing out of position and puts in a shift like this. Hat’s off to the man!

Matt, you have said for a long time it was not about what others did but all about what we did. I didn’t really dare believe that. Shame on me. Thanks for your continued efforts to bring perspective and sense. This place is a cornerstone of my relationship to Watford FC (as was BSaD before it) and I am sure others feel the same. Long may it continue!

Nb. I’d love for you and Ian to write a piece on the (not) Super League, however, it would seem it has imploded before it got off the ground… for now.

Matt Rowson - 21/04/2021

Thanks Kris

John maher - 22/04/2021

For an old boy like me it brought back memories of the Furphy promotion season. That trip to Swindon (league leaders) towards the end of the season, doomsayers saying ‘we won’t win there’, a performance that rated best of the season and a 1-0 win. If the comparison holds good, we will confirm promotion with a 1-0 win in a turgid, disappointing game.

JohnM - 25/04/2021

Got that one mostly correct. We lost all our remaining games that season (I think)

3. Alan Ahern - 21/04/2021

High fives all round.

4. JohnF - 21/04/2021

That was quite something with the two best sides in the league going toe to toe and giving it everything in spite of no fans. This meant something and we were brilliant. Bloody minded determination combined with team spirit and a shedload of skill was such a contrast from the end of last season.The players were enjoying it and were determined to put Saturday behind them.

Great report Matt, I’m hoping the stress didn’t drop your blood sugar too far. We are almost there and as Tommy Mooney said “we should be looking up and Norwich should be the ones looking over their shoulder”. Arguably one win but only one win and a draw to be promoted with 3 games left and a team on fire. It has to be good, particularly as two of those are on the Vicarage Road baize.

Get in there!!

Matt Rowson - 21/04/2021

No “arguably” John. A win puts us on 88 and nobody below us can reach that, so a win is definitely enough. Indeed we’re already guaranteed fourth minimum since Brentford and Bournemouth play each other on Saturday lunchtime so can’t BOTH catch us.

5. Ray Knight - 21/04/2021

Wonderful evening and wonderful report Matt. Absolutely buzzing this morning. What a contrast from Saturday! Every player was amazing. Cathcart fitted in seamlessly. Cleverley a powerhouse. Sema back to his best supported by a powerful Massina. WTE marginally better than his partner for a change. Sarr best player on the pitch first half. Hughes and JP with their touch back. Bachmann solid and Chalobah a great sub. That probably only leaves Gosling who stuck with it and was dynamic. Realistically Swansea are out of the race and the others will find it very hard to catch us now. The pressure is all on Brentford and Muff now. I can even see us winning the last three games pushing Norwich all the way. Luv to all loyal Horns!

6. Ben G - 21/04/2021

Great piece Matt – really enjoyed reading it. Still buzzing.

Nearly there.

COYH.

Matt Rowson - 21/04/2021

Cheers Ben

7. Sam - 21/04/2021

Lucky injera and tibs at half time, you may need to do the same for the remaining fixture Matt…

Amasaganalo (phonetic spelling) Matt for a great write up, as always.

Matt Rowson - 21/04/2021

Injera not easy to get hold of in darkest Bedfordshire. Requires a trip to London… cheers Sam

8. jtbodbo - 21/04/2021

Excellent feel for the match. Thanks.
Thought your ratings a bit harsh though

9. Harefield Hornet - 21/04/2021

Well what a tonic after Saturdays debacle in front of the conservatories . I am so proud of this team and the way they responded last night. I’ve been having nightmares about Brentford, or even more horrifically Muff!, sliding up on the rails and sneaking past us! – Imagine the joy on the south coast among those smug so and so’s if that had happened . But let’s forget about them for now and revel in the glory of that performance last night. Bloody brilliant !! Craig Cathcart at right back ! Now that was an inspired piece of management .

10. John parslow - 21/04/2021

Love love love this !

And the video of Pukki patiently waiting in the tunnel to swap shirts with his idol King Ken Sema was brilliant .

On food options back at the Vic : Maybe we can raise the new catering opportunities to Scott at the next “at Our Place “ event ….

11. Agostino Di Falco - 21/04/2021

What a wonderfully committed performance! Love this team. I really hope we don’t make too many changes and allow them to from and develop in the Prem.

12. Old Git - 21/04/2021

That was up there with that 1-0 win at Swindon in 1969. And for the lucky chocolate on Saturday, Matt, might I suggest aubergines? Tasty, versatile and packed with flavour, truly the Ken Sema of vegetables.

13. Olly - 21/04/2021

Great performance, great report (as ever).

I recall GT lambasting a journo after the 99 play-off final for questioning his squad’s suitability for the Prem (‘Just let us celebrate for today…’) so this is horrendously premature, but…

IF we seal promotion does the squad need much of an upgrade? I guess we’ll need a striker (like every fan says) with JP making an impact from the bench or out wide, or will Cucho be the new signing we already have? Perhaps a bit more depth on the wings too (assuming Geri’s not returning), although I’d prefer to see Zinc there and Hungbo looks very exciting. Maybe another attempt at a back-up to Masina?

I’m sure the Pozzos will have a wildcard or two lined up as well.

GK, central defence (Kaba and Sierralta starting, for me) and the current midfield options plus TDB and Quina look well stocked with quality.

(Or feel free to give this comment the GT response it deserves!)

Matt Rowson - 21/04/2021

Let’s get promoted first

Olly - 22/04/2021

Fair enough, I was getting a bit over-excited! Still stand by my positive assessments though.

14. Kevin - 21/04/2021

Just a thought… If we do seal it at home to Millwall… The final two games are dead rubbers for Brentford and Swansea… So 3 wins is very, very possible…

JohnF - 22/04/2021

I think that if we win on Saturday Brentford and Swansea will be wanting to generate some momentum for going into the play-offs, currently the form team are Bmuff. Equally IF we win on Saturday still we want to keep momentum going into the new season. Remember what happened after the cup semi.

15. Graham French - 21/04/2021

I missed the game as it clashed with a commitment coaching teenage athletes- 6pm on a Tuesday not the best time! So I had to not very surreptitiously follow it on Hive audio , leading to quite a bit of mickey taking, and I couldn’t refrain from a modest leap around the field when Dan scored! So double thanks for the report , Matt. Together with the highlights I’ve now got a great sense of the game, & what a game to have missed . And what a contrast with Saturday, the difference being, it seems Tom, Dan, Adam & by all accounts an outstanding performance by Craig in his RB deputising debut. Nearly – but not quite – there. Roll on next Saturday!

16. Ray Knight - 22/04/2021

Have to agree Kevin. Confidence must be sky high but doubt we will actually catch and pass Norwich. On players, the priority is to sort out the front line. Hope we can keep Sarr at least for a while. Sema, JP and maybe Cucho. Munoz might even be the one to revive a player like Penaranda. Success has to go (sorry Matt) along with Deeney, who could go on a free to say Brum. His media interests are not compatible withe the EPL. If Gray stays its only as 4th choice impact striker from the bench. That still means we need to get in one or maybe two pacy instinctive frontmen. Another midfielder, LB and possibly winger. Our CBs are now the most settled part of the squad. Would like to keep our goalkeepers as well, if Dahlberg remains in the plans. We won’t have a lot to spend of course but the Pozzos might unearth a few gems, along the lines of Sierralta. Would keep Gosling definitely. Lazaar has to go but Sanchez might stay. Luv to see Quina back along with a fit D-B. Our under 23s also have good talent coming through for a change. I think we are better off squad wise than last time.

Matt Rowson - 22/04/2021

Disagree re Deeney – his media interests are far more compatible with a Premier League schedule for those not in Europe than this Championship season. Even if it were in our interests to release him (I don’t think it is) you’re presuming that someone else will pay his wages or that we’ll pay him to leave. Neither is realistic. In any case, as above, he’s an asset for all sorts of reasons.

If and when we’re promoted a priority would be physical presence in centre mid. For all our bullishness on Tuesday, and for all that Chalobah has re-emerged as a strong senior option, we lost a lot of welly in Capoue and Doucouré.

17. Harefield Hornet - 22/04/2021

Change of subject but if anyone fancies watching a truly inspiring heart warming
Football story check out the film about Derry City that was on BBC 2 the other day. Now on the I-player. Talk about triumph over adversity!

Matt Rowson - 22/04/2021

Yes but was Luther in it…? 4 games for Derry, 1993

Harefield Hornet - 23/04/2021

No it was mainly focussed on the clubs resurrection in the 1980’s.

18. Ray Knight - 22/04/2021

Hi Matt – Deeney has wound up alot of the EPL this season from the safety of a lower league. Are WFC going to be happy with this continuing, which could impact on the club? We have no right to expect a fee so we can negotiate a release on a settlement. He is then free to move anywhere he wants. Despite everything Deeney has done for us (and he is a legend) I can’t see him playing much next year. Of course, he can sit on his contract as the money rolls in from two sources. Doesn’t look like he wants to go into coaching, so what exactly will be his role be at the club? I am not a Deeney knocker but this summer could see an amicable exit that suits both parties.

Matt Rowson - 22/04/2021

It doesn’t suit him. He’s giving up £70k (or whatever) a week. Unless we pay him up, but why would we? He’s not a disruptive influence, he’s a leader. He may or may not play, but I’d like to see how mobile he is when he’s over his achilles op. As for not coaching – he’s said in the past he’d like to coach kids, but that’s neither here nor there when he’s in contract.

19. Fez - 22/04/2021

Excellent report as always, capturing the zeitgeist perfectly, as well as giving further insight into your, hitherto known, musical tastes and culinary prowess!
The complete performance from Watford. I think I shouted at the telly for a couple of the misses – not mad at Dan, just sheer inevitability of the proverbial bite on the bum… that didn’t materialise. One injudicious hack of a clearance aside, it was as an assured defensive display as we could expect, bite and creativity in midfield and menace up top.
Noisy for the goal!
And that’s not to mention Norwich’s contribution to an outstanding match, a couple of pathetic dives (disappointingly unsanctioned by an otherwise very good official) notwithstanding.
Roll on Saturday!

Fez - 22/04/2021

Should read *excellent* musical tastes…

Matt Rowson - 23/04/2021

Thanks Fez. Can’t claim culinary prowess for this one, outside my repertoire…

20. Ray Knight - 22/04/2021

I think we can agree to differ Matt. Admittedly it would be a nice touch if Deeney ends up coaching kids. Looking forward to Saturday now. COYHs!

21. Harefield Hornet - 23/04/2021

If Troy gets himself fit he’s got another season or two in him. I wouldn’t write him off just yet.

22. John R - 23/04/2021

The oracle which is Transfermarkt says Deeney’s contract runs out this year.

5 other players also expire in June; Rob Elliot, Carlos Sánchez, Kiko Femenía, Christian Kabasele, Achraf Lazaar.

Matt Rowson - 23/04/2021

They’re wrong. We have a year’s option on Kiko, Deeney has another year and Kaba signed a four year contract last summer (so three left). Elliot, Sánchez, Lazaar are all out of contract.

23. SteveG - 23/04/2021

I still think that Deeney’s injury happened at a convenient time for Xisco, making it easier to change the shape and put Will Hughes into what is undoubtedly his best position, without having to make any highly ‘political’ selection decisions. If Deeney were fit now, would he drop Joao Pedro to accommodate Deeney, revert to 4-4-2 and take someone out of midfield, or start with TD on the bench? Personally I wouldn’t start with Deeney at the moment, but this might have been seen as a highly controversial decision in the first few weeks of Xisco’s management – but perhaps less so now/at the start of next season.


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