Norwich City 1, Watford 3
Battle-weary Norwich will question the wisdom of playing their second big match in the space of just three days after failing to win for the 10th Championship game in a row.
Norwich 1 Watford 3: Battle-weary Norwich will question the wisdom of playing their second big match in the space of just three days after failing to win for the 10th Championship game in a row last night.
With Sunday's battling draw against Ipswich still fresh in the memory, the odds were stacked against City as they faced the Championship leaders, still smarting from a surprise home defeat by West Brom on Saturday. And there's one of the salient points -
Watford, as if they needed an advantage, had an extra day to prepare.
Add the fresher legs to their superior quality and Glenn Roeder's chances of a second home match full of hope and promise were slim. And so it proved
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Two goals down at half-time was reminiscent of Sunday's exploits, and when Lee Croft pulled one back there was certainly more than an air of optimism around Carrow Road.
But Watford are a different kettle of fish to City's cross-border rivals, and when Marlon King added a third near the end the match the prospect of another home draw was already well on the wane.
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The tale of the tape shows just what Roeder is up against: one shot on target, one off.
Roeder was without the suspended Darren Huckerby, starting a three-game ban after his straight red in the closing stages on Sunday, and Dion Dublin, who suffered a hamstring injury in that game. Jimmy Smith was promoted from the bench into the right midfield role, with Luke Chadwick heading left, and on-loan John Hartson, as expected, deputising for Dublin up front, alongside goal hero Jamie Cureton.
Adrian Boothroyd called Adrian Mariappa in for injured central defender Jay DeMerit, with former Canaries skipper Matt Jackson recalled from a loan spell at Blackpool to take a place on the bench.
Watford headed towards David Marshall's goal from the start, the keeper not helped by team-mate Julien Brellier taking Tommy Smith down a few yards outside of his penalty area: luckily, Adam Johnson's attempt was a yard too high.
Hartson took the “honours” in his first confrontation with giant defender Danny Shittu, leaving the Watford man grounded - but it was Shittu who clearly came out on top.
Watford's attacking prowess was there for all to see - including the linesman - in the fifth minute, when Marlon King's cross went over Shackell's head and was met by Darius Henderson, whose first time effort hit the back of the net, but was ruled out for offside.
City were a little slower out of the blocks, although Cureton should have done better when he hooked a cross over the bar on nine minutes when Hartson was available at the near post.
Hartson almost showed him how it was done, bringing down the ball beautifully and allowing Cureton a run, only for another offside flag to halt his progress - a problem that would frustrate City's on several more occasions.
Smith almost caught out Marshall with a miscued cross that the keeper did well to tip over and King got the first effort on target soon after as Watford responded.
Chadwick was unlucky to see yellow for a foul on Lloyd Doyley on 27 minutes, with City - and the home crowd - growing increasingly frustrated with the match officials as a host of decision went against them.
City got their first effort on goal after half an hour, Chadwick and Darel Russell breaking well from a Watford before Cureton fired a shot from the edge of the area over the bar.
But attacks were few and far between, with Watford's attacking instincts stifling Otsemobor's forays forward and the visiting defenders quick to close down.
It was Watford's superior strength and pace which did for City on 36 minutes, Smith playing a ball inside the flat-footed Lappin, Doyley skinning the left back for speed and putting a low cross in which the sliding Henderson knocked over the line from close range.
Once again, City's resolve in arrears was put to the test - the question was would they be able to recover as they did on Sunday?
Unfortunately the challenge was becoming far too familiar, with Watford adding a second just three minutes before half-time, just as Ipswich had done on Sunday. This time it was of City's own making, the unmarked Adrian Mariappa heading Johnson's corner against the upright from close range, only for the ball to hit Marshall on the back of the legs and go back over the line.
Johnson's left-footer which whistled past an upright emphasised the gap that was growing between the teams - and the challenge ahead.
The response at the half-time whistle from City followers was polite, no more - they knew the odds of City recovering from two down so soon weren't good.
Watford didn't help their cause by not allowing City to get any momentum going, leaving Roeder with no choice but to change - so off went Hartson for Chris Martin, with Lee Croft replacing Smith.
And 10 minutes later it paid off. Both subs were involved, Martin taking a quick throw down the left to Cureton, who made his way to the byline and crossed low and accurately for Lee Croft to knock it over the line from close range for his first of the season - and first since Barnsley last March.
The phrase déjà vu was being uttered everywhere, with City fans in full voice and the impetus once again with the Canaries. But Watford are a very different proposition to the Ipswich side which buckled at the weekend - and it wasn't easy to differentiate between City's performance against the old enemy and their first hour or so last night.
Roeder threw striker Chris Brown on for Chadwick with 20 minutes left as City chased an unlikely equaliser, with a hectic finale on the cards.
Watford weren't making it easy, and Lappin wasted a good free-kick opportunity when he went for goals - despite the rare presence of City big guns Martin Taylor and Jason Shackell in the area.
Henderson could have made sure of the points for Watford with their first real effort of the second half on 81 minutes, but he hooked Smith's cross across an empty goalmouth.
Frustration was mounting again, with referee Penton the focal point of more Norwich complaints, but clear heads were needed for a rescue act: an act King ensured wasn't necessary with two minutes left.
Julien Brellier played a poor pass to Croft in the left back area, Lee Williamson took possession and played in the striker who slid it home from an angle - signalling an exodus of home fans.