Watford 2, Norwich City 1

Chris Lakey Norwich City paid a heavy price for two defensive lapses - but will still be wondering how they managed to leave Watford empty-handed. After Lee Croft's deserved equaliser, having gone behind early on, it took City just three minutes for them to hand Watford three valuable points when they barely deserved one.

Chris Lakey

Norwich City paid a heavy price for two defensive lapses - but will still be wondering how they managed to leave Watford empty-handed.

Having gone behind early on, City had to wait until just after the hour mark before Lee Croft popped up with a deserved equaliser.

It was a goal which should have teed City up nicely for a welcome away win. Instead, it took just three minutes for them to commit error number two, and hand Watford three valuable points when they barely deserved one.

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The Canaries now slip a place to 20th - with Watford jumping above them courtesy of their superior goal difference, of one.

With a trip to Reading coming up this weekend, this should have been another confidence-booster after Sunday's derby day victory. Instead, they will go to Reading in trepidation, rather than fearless.

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Once again it was that old problem of failing to make the most of opportunities that proved so costly, with long periods of domination bringing nothing more than close calls.

Manager Glenn Roeder had been forced into a major change of plan before the game, with Wes Hoolahan ruled out because of illness, meaning a recall for midfielder Darel Russell, who was deployed up front alongside Leroy Lita.

Otherwise, he kept faith with the team which beat Ipswich on Sunday, with John Kennedy, back after suspension, having to be content with a place on the bench as Elliott Omozusi's excellent performance in the derby earning him another game in the centre of defence, alongside skipper Gary Doherty.

There was no place for new signing Carl Cort, whose international clearance wasn't received on time.

With only four minutes on the clock, Lita should have put City ahead, having evaded his marker in the box to get a free header from Jon Otsemobor's free-kick from the right - and then seeing the ball go a yard wide of the far post.

Croft did well to get in a cross from the right moments later, with Adrian Mariappa clearing just before Marty Pattison could slide in and get a touch.

David Bell played Pattison in down the left side of the area, but the midfielder's low cross was easily taken by keeper Scott Loach.

It was an encouraging start by the Canaries, who were camped in the Watford half for the opening exchanges

Pattison had the first shot on target after nine minutes, combining well with Croft but sending a clipped right-foot shot from 20 yards straight into Loach's arms.

City had the ball in the net after a neatly worked free-kick between Bell and Lita didn't quite come off, but when Croft put the ball back in a combination of Russell and Doherty fouled keeper Loach on his line as all the jumped for the ball.

And then suddenly it all went wrong, with Watford going ahead after their first sight of the City goal after quarter of an hour. Marshall's long kick was headed back by Liam Bridcutt towards Hungarian striker Tamas Priskin, who had far too much space in the right channel to tee up a low shot which evaded the advancing Marshall and going in off the far post.

It nearly got worse seven minutes later when Ross Jenkins broke down the right, passed square across the area, and the ball fell perfectly for Jon Harley - only for Otsemobor to put in a superb block on the former Chelsea defender to divert the shot over the bar for a corner.

Otsemobor did well at the other end as he got above Priskin to head away Lee Williamson's cross as the game swung from end to end.

And it was Otsemobor who came closest for City on 28 minutes, getting the merest of touches to Bell's free kick but putting his header just a few inches wide of the far post.

It was a good response from the Canaries, and Lita was close again as he flicked on Russell's header from Croft's cross - although the offside flag was quickly raised.

Ryan Bertrand did well to follow-up a Bell corner hit a low drive that took a deflection for another flag kick as City sought the parity the deserved before the break.

t Half-time: Watford 1, Norwich City 0

Otsemobor set up the first chance of the second half when he got his head to Bell's cross, but no one was there to finish.

Croft gave away possession but Bridcutt's shot was poor and City's wastefulness went unpunished.

City quickly racked up the corner count, but just couldn't make them count, Pattison going closest with a diving header after 55 minutes.

The breakthrough really had to come and on 61 minutes, Watford's weak defensive wall was finally breached. Pattison had possession on the left, looked up and saw Croft unmarked on the far side of the area and sent in a perfect cross which the winger simply had to head in from six yards for his fourth of the season.

It was no less than City deserved, but within three minutes it had all gone to waste. Tommy Smith found himself on the left edge of City's penalty area, but there appeared to be no real danger - until he spotted a gap in the far corner and squeezed in a shot that Marshall couldn't reach. The only real question was, how was Smith allowed to get in the shot in the first place?

Once again City were chasing a goal, but Watford might not be as charitable a second time around.

Doherty had to block another Smith effort as the hosts looked to increase their advantage, while Lita stooped low but headed a Bell corner just wide.

Watford began to sit back more as the game entered its final stages, with Russell close with a header and then Bertrand seeing a shot blocked.

But for all their huffing and puffing, there was no way back.

t Result: Watford 2, Norwich City 1

t Watford: Loach, Sadler, Bromby, Mariappa, Doyley, Bridcutt, Williamson, Harley, Jenkins, Priskin, Smith.

Subs: Lee, Eustace, McAnuff, Hoskins, O'Toole.

t Norwich City: Marshall, Otsemobor, Doherty, Omozusi, Bertrand, Croft, Clingan, Bell, Pattison, Russell, Lita.

Subs: Nelson, Drury, Kennedy, Fotheringham, Lupoli.

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