Hornets stir up a few early doubts
Chris Lakey Norwich City 2, Watford 3: Welcome back to the Championship - where reputations clearly count for nothing. City were generally expected to emerge from their season opener unscathed, but Watford and Malky Mackay had different ideas.
Norwich City 2, Watford 3
Welcome back to the Championship - where reputations clearly count for nothing.
City were generally expected to emerge from their season opener unscathed, but Watford and Malky Mackay had different ideas.
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The last time City won a Championship game was in April last year - when they beat Watford before slipping ignominiously into League One - but any hopes of banishing those memories started to slip away before the half-hour mark as the visitors led 2-0.
It wasn't a start of Colchester proportions, but you wonder if City will be ordering a new tea service for the home dressing room this morning - Paul Lambert will not have been pleased.
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Old favourite Mackay responded to the City fans' call for a wave early on, but at the end it was the visiting supporters chanting his name.
Perhaps the City PA man should resist the temptation to play pre-match songs that promise “this is going to be a good night”.
It had all started well enough: Dion Dublin's walk from the tunnel area, where he was undertaking Sky TV duties, was greeted by huge applause from the City faithful, who then created a sea of yellow as Carrow Road rocked to the sound of Championship football for the first time since April last year.
After the achievements of last season's League One title-winning team were acknowledged it was quickly down to business.
Lambert kept faith with the team that lost to Everton last weekend, with Simeon Jackson in ahead of Grant Holt, who was on the bench - having opted not to face one in a Shropshire magistrates court earlier in the day.
It's a line-up which already has a familiar feel about it, with Lambert gradually revealing his hand throughout pre-season. Six of his new signings started - the seventh, Steve Smith is injured - so with a new look came expectations of a new beginning. Within a minute Elliott Ward had shown what he was brought in for, leaving Marvin Sordell in a heap with a solid, and fair, challenge.
Most of the play was in the City half in the early stages, with Watford captain John Eustace striking the first shot - which was high and wide of John Ruddy's bar.
Jackson had a shot blocked after good work by Andrew Surman and came closer moments later when Michael Nelson's cross in to the area was headed down by Chris Martin. There was no offside flag, but Jackson, under pressure from Martin Taylor, saw keeper Scott Loach dive to his right to keep his effort out.
Ruddy plucked a Don Cowie cross out of the air and then Danny Graham shot high from a position on the near post as the game opened up.
City won the first corner on nine minutes after Andrew Crofts did well to get in a cross, and while David Fox's corner was good, there was no one to meet it.
Chris Martin tried to flick on a Surman cross - and raised his hand more in hope rather than expectation claiming Taylor had blocked with his hand. But on 14 minutes City were behind - and there was some lazy defending involved as Watford took a short corner, Don Cowie crossed, Crofts missed the header completely and Eustace simply had to set up the shot, which went in off the leg of Ward.
“We want seven,” chanted the Watford fans, to no one's real surprise.
It was a body blow to City - now would come the test of their mettle.
Graham had a shot blocked by Fox as the City defence was stretched when Watford broke, but while City were busy, Loach was still virtually untroubled.
Chris Martin tried to put that right with a free-kick on 20 minutes and although his effort hit the arm of Cowie - who was booked - he left the second attempt to Surman, whose left-footer forced Loach into a diving save to his right.
But then Watford struck again, on 24 minutes, and once again City's back four were lacking. Sordell and Graham played a lovely one-two midway through the City half and Graham kept his head to slip it past Ruddy and into the far right corner.
Cue that song again from the travelling fans - and perhaps a few nervous glances among the home support.
To put it starkly: City looked okay going forward, but shaky at the back, which left what should be an effective midfield struggling to pass the ball.
That was perfectly summed up when Will Buckley was denied a third for Watford when Ruddy stretched to his right to keep out an effort from 10 yards, City again having failed to clear - Sordell the man causing the problems down the right channel.
Graham drove a free-kick wide after Surman had fouled Buckley in a dangerous position, but City struggled to deal with the corner that followed - the hope was that the confidence wasn't being sapped by their inability to match Watford for sharpness and strength.
City were struggling to get out of their own half and when they did there was little in the way of aerial presence to get on the end of a cross.
Lambert was looking increasingly exasperated as City toiled, Wes Hoolahan unable to find his strikers and moves breaking down too far away from the Watford goal.
Jackson drew applause with a right-foot shot into the side netting as he chased Chris Martin's flick-on from Ruddy's long kick - route one, but perhaps what City needed.
Chris Martin did finally get on the end of a cross by his namesake Russell, but off balance he headed wide as the half petered out.
Lambert faced some big questions during the interval - not least whether he could risk bringing on Holt earlier than he perhaps wanted. But two goals in arrears demanded action of some sort. The City boss resisted the temptation - for now.
City's supporters did their best to lift the team as the second half got underway, and they were rewarded when Crofts struck seven minutes in. Hoolahan broke, got to within six yards of the area and slipped it right to Jackson.
His back heel was clever - but rather than finding Hoolahan it rolled into the path of the advancing Crofts, who smashed a right-footed shot into the far corner.
Suddenly the mood changed and City, with the crowd behind them, pressed forward to much better effect. Crofts was caught offside after nice work by Surman and suddenly a game that looked to be slipping away was within their grasp.
Ward's poor header caused problems as he fouled Buckley in his attempt to recover - and the momentum City had after the goal was lost.
Ruddy was then left thanking the goalkeeping gods when he spilled Buckley's cross from the right - but somehow centre half Adrian Mariappa failed to find the target when he picked up the pieces, stopping and heading the ball wide of a gaping goal from six yards.
It was a huge let-off for City and it took them a while to regroup. On 69 minutes Fox shot through a crowded area, but it was easy for Loach and certainly not enough to create any wave of optimism.
With the rain getting heavier, Lambert made his first change - with Holt's entrance for Jackson absolutely no surprise. The crowd loved it and if it lifted them could it lift the team?
Within a minute Holt was starting the running battle with Taylor, the man he needed to unsettle and soon after he almost got on the end of Hoolahan's little pass after neat work with Surman.
Hoolahan's cross prompted a diving header, under pressure from Taylor, which flew past the post, but with nine minutes ago it was all over as Graham got his second, sliding the ball in at the far post from the left corner of the area. City were furious that referee Nigel Miller failed to blow for a shove on Nelson in the build-up, but once again City didn't cover themselves in glory at the back.
Nelson made some amends in time added on when he slid the ball home from 15 yards after a neat dummy by Chris Martin, but it was too late.