POINTERS: Five key observations from City's defeat at Watford
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Our chief Norwich City reporter David Freezer brings you five key observations following Norwich City's 1-0 defeat at Watford on Boxing Day.
- Difficult challenge
Watford got the new manager bounce they were looking for, with Xisco Munoz leading the celebratory roars as the final whistle was blown, but the Spaniard isn't exactly taking over at a club in crisis.
This hard-fought victory moved the Hornets clear as having the best home record in the Championship so far this season, with an impressive 26 points taken from a possible 33.
The problem for Vladimir Ivic was drawing too many games overall, seven to City's four so far. Earning this victory leaves them fifth and just two points behind second-placed Swansea, six behind Norwich.
And that's the positive to take from this frustrating Boxing Day battle, that the Canaries were in the fortunate position of being able to absorb a loss without feeling too much pain.
Just a second defeat in 17 matches and still four points clear at the top, after a 1-0 away defeat they had mostly dominated, is hardly anything to get too worked up about. City have already played worse than this and won this season - and they will do again.
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It was the first time Daniel Farke had been able to start Emi Buendia, Kieran Dowell and Todd Cantwell as his attacking midfield three behind striker Teemu Pukki, following Dowell's recovery from ankle surgery in September.
There was plenty of excitement about that prospect after the teams were revealed but it proved a stuttering start for the attacking quartet, not quite finding their rhythm.
Cantwell and Buendia had been on fire during the 2-0 home win over Cardiff prior to Christmas but the final touch just wasn't there, with all three of the attacking midfielders guilty of some wayward finishing.
Dowell is only just reemerging so can't be judged too harshly and Buendia still looked to be the man most likely to pick the lock, but the lack of balance and understanding against a team ready to absorb defensively made for a disjointed effort.
Well, by this City squad's high standards at least. Most teams would be thrilled to have 65 per cent of possession at Watford, 16 shots to the hosts' seven and three shots on target to the Hornets' one. There's only one stat that matters though.
After having to show spirit to fight back or find a winner earlier in the season, this was just the second time City have been behind at half-time in their last 13 matches.
That ability to control games had seen them move almost serenely to the Championship summit but at Vicarage Road the decisive moment was sloppy.
Max Aarons' pass to Emi Buendia in attack was ruthlessly pounced upon by the experienced Etienne Capoue and although the visiting defence had reorganised, they hadn't switched on to the extent of the danger.
Ken Sema's low cross from the left seemed to deflect very slightly off Aarons and deceive Michael McGovern, which in turn caught Jacob Sorensen on his heels, as Ismaila Sarr charged past him to prod into the unguarded net.
It's the kind of goal we haven't seen conceded too often recently, thankfully, and the Canaries will feel it was an avoidable concession.
No penalty for Pukki
Buendia's probing and a disguised pass from Vrancic looked to have finally broken the home resistance in the 82nd minute.
The substitute played Pukki clean through at close quarters and the prolific Finn seemed posied to convert the equaliser, with just Ben Foster to beat.
But then Hornets substitute Adam Masina seemed to take him down just as he was pulling the trigger with a desperate lunge.
With clear contact, it has looked a certain penalty n real time, but on closer inspection, it was a heroic intervention. Yes, he did make contact with the striker but he'd somehow wrapped his legs around first to prod the ball away.
Fair play to referee Jon Brooks, he made the correct call, with Masina showing that extra 10pc of effort that trying to impress a new manager can bring.
Competition for places
For the first time in a long while Farke has several selection issues to consider ahead of Tuesday's home clash with QPR.
The triple substitution made in the 67th minute worked, halting the Hornets and wrestling back control, after a change to a 3-5-2 formation as Vrancic, Ben Gibson and Jordan Hugill replaced Cantwell, Dowell and Sorensen.
Lukas Rupp also returned in the closing stages, a man who had been in inspired form prior to his hamstring injury.
Xavi Quintilla was back on the bench and although it was Oliver Skipp moved to the left to deal with the lively Sarr - signed for £30million in the Premier League - it would be little surprise to see Quintilla get the chance to make a fresh start after Sorensen's admirable efforts as emergency cover.
Christoph Zimmermann has done pretty well on the whole but the defensive partnership of Gibson and Grant Hanley did seem to have a better balance - but maybe Farke will feel it's Hanley who needs a rest the most.
With Przemek Placheta and Tim Krul hoping to be available again soon, there will be a fair amount of room for manoeuvre for City's head coach, if he feels fresh legs and minds are needed.