By Paul Perkins
Having been at a sales conference for my firm in Alkmaar, thirty miles north-west of Amsterdam, a fortnight ago, I had the word "confidence" drummed into me. It is a prerequisite if you are to be a successful sales manager and thereby hangs a tale. It seems to be the buzzword around Watford FC of late, with Aidy pontificating about it in press conferences and with players (past and present) banging on about how Aidy has instilled it in them, how confident and positive he appears to them.
Therefore it was with a certain hesitant confidence I started my journey to Norwich. I say hesitant because for weeks I had been telling my thirteen year old daughter that I was going to be dropping her off at her cousin's house in Clacton, because it was "on the way" to Norwich. Therefore if Norwich was where I thought it was, it should only take two and a half hours to get there, even with a detour to Clacton, shouldn't it? Wrong!
And therefore it was a very flustered man who arrived in Row Q with only one minute to spare; as I was situated only one row behind a BSaD co-editor, I was tempted to apologise or even hand in an apology letter to explain my lateness but, luckily, it wasn't required.
Sitting down to write this on Sunday night, I was prepared to try and find comparisons between this match and the one I saw live at Stamford Bridge earlier today whilst entertaining clients. Unfortunately, the only similarity of note was that both sets of home fans certainly believed that the match was theirs for the taking after going in one goal up at half-time.
After checking out our team line-up (with the still-absent Ashley, we fielded the same team that played Stoke), I noticed two strange faces in the City line-up. Firstly, Andy Hughes was sporting a plastic mask which made him look like an extra from a sci-fi film and whose appearance warranted some chants of "Gazza" from those around me. In fact, the goggles were worn as a result of a fractured cheekbone and eye socket injury picked up in a recent match against Southampton. The other sight was Simon Charlton who in the flesh looks remarkably like Matthew Corbett! If Matthew had his hand up Sooty, Charlton certainly had his hands all over Eagles and Doyley as the match progressed.
It started with the Norwich fans giving a very warm welcome to the returning Malky Mackay. The welcome was not extended to Matthew Spring, however, who was on the receiving end of two fouls in as many minutes. The first by Doherty warranted a yellow card but none was given and the second by Jarrett was rewarded by our first free kick on two minutes.
The first half was notable for some great attacking football from both sides which set the scene for a wide open game of football; with Ashley one match away from a return, it was also a chance to see if we could win an away game convincingly without him. Norwich certainly matched us in attacking flair, with the first shot on target in the sixth minute, which saw a Jarrett shot parried for a corner; immediately after this, Eagles shot just wide after a one-two with DeMerit to warm the hearts of the travelling Hornets.
More Watford pressure was laid on, with McNamee pouncing on a misplaced midfield pass from a Norwich midfielder and shooting wide on the quarter hour mark; then King broke out of midfield to put Macca through, who shot just wide of goal.
On the half hour mark, Norwich came into the game again with Etuhu meeting a Simon Charlton delivery with a sweetly struck header that landed only inches from Foster's goal. This lifted Norwich's spirits and five minutes later, Andy Hughes found himself in front of Foster again, but his shot went several feet over the bar.
Matthew Spring, who was, by far, our most enterprising player of the half, exploited a mix-up in the Norwich defence eight minutes before time and his shot went sailing over Green's goal. Only two minutes later, however, he was attacking the goal once again after Etuhu had half-cleared with his head. Spring pounced on the loose ball, smacking a volley from nearly thirty yards out onto Green's post. The pressure continued with Henderson having a go from all of twenty yards, which Green spilled.
With the half due to end pretty even-handed, Paul McVeigh turned Malky Mackay on the edge of the box only to struggle to get out of the former Norwich defenders' clutches. From where I was standing, it did look like Mackay had wrapped his arms around McVeigh's midriff from outside the area but the player's momentum carried him into the penalty area and he fell in the box, giving Mr Atkinson, the referee, no choice but to point to the spot. McVeigh took the penalty himself and shot straight down the middle, leaving Foster clutching at thin air.
However, Watford did have one final chance which fell to McNamee before the break. It started from King turning Fleming inside out and aiming a shot which struck Doherty for a corner. From the corner, the Norwich keeper spilled the ball which was pounced on by Macca. His shot was blocked but then he lobbed the ball into the far post, where Charlton was well-positioned to clear off the line.
The second half was only a minute old when a Gavin Mahon cross to King on the right was hammered into the goalmouth for Green to palm out, only for Henderson to drill in from eighteen yards. This signalled an increase in tempo and both sides put more urgency into their game, Watford no doubt spurred on by some hair dryer treatment from Aidy in the dressing room.
On fifty-one minutes, we were denied a second goal when a Jordan Stewart challenge won the ball to put Marlon King through with only the goalie to beat. A sure-fire second goal was denied us when the assistant referee flagged for offside and, from my position above that touchline, both officials got it wrong.
Norwich were hemmed in by Watford for most of the next quarter of an hour until a great bit of movement on the left from the fast-paced Huckerby caught Doyley floundering, turned inside out by the dribbling winger. Huckerby proceeded to put in a nicely weighted cross to the unmarked Peter Thorne, who headed home his first ever goal for the club.
Almost straight after the whistle, Marlon King found space in front of goal to force a tame save from Green. The next minute we were awarded a free kick after Colin had handled an Eagles cross to Henderson; the set piece was orchestrated by Eagles who dummied for King to drill a shot into Green. The shot was saved but the parry was straight into the path of the marauding Henderson who slotted in his ninth goal of the season.
DeMerit was sacrificed for Clarke Carlisle to return and, after an incident which saw a Huckerby free kick tipped over the bar by a fully stretched Foster, Aidy made a double substitution, rather bravely with over twenty minutes to go, pulling off Eagles and Macca to replace them with Bangura and Bouazza respectively. Ironically, Norwich capitalised on the reshuffle when, on seventy-two minutes, a poor Doyley back pass to Foster was pounced on by Ian Henderson, on for McVeigh who went off with an ankle injury. Luckily for the Hornets, he failed to exploit the free ball. A minute later, a Huckerby shot screamed right across our goal and off target.
The clever Huckerby was a danger to us again a few minutes later when he clearly got the better of Carlisle by running behind our defenders. Luckily, his pass across goal to his target Ian Henderson was not accepted. The next minute, Norwich broke again and a Charlton pass to Henderson was blocked by Carlisle who kicked the ball out for a corner. Huckerby's cross was well collected by Foster whose performance between the sticks was again a lot better than his sometimes wayward kicking.
Henderson and King were on pulsating form throughout the second half. Five minutes before the whistle, the ball fell to Gavin Mahon from a free kick and his shot from just outside the six yard box was blocked by Colin for a corner. With the game nearly over, Mahon picked up the first yellow card and the resulting free kick was easily saved by Foster.
Nervous fans in the Jarrold Stand around me kept checking their watches, but just before injury time we were rewarded when Stewart began a move which saw him reach Henderson with a neat pass. Gavin in turn found King wide on the right, who immediately crossed into Matthew Spring in the box. Springy was marked by two defenders but was able to wrong-foot Doherty, poking the ball beyond the England third choice goalie.
The final whistle was finally greeted with ecstatic relief from the travelling faithful and Aidy gestured to the full bench to come over to our side of the ground to thank us. He also greeted many of the Norwich players as they walked off and shook hands with most of the ground staff too, proving that he has left a lot of friends at Norwich. The scoreboard illuminated us with the statistic that the stadium was 94% full with a crowd of 25,384 (impressively the seventh time this season that Norwich had commanded a home attendance of 94% or above).
In conclusion, this was the sort of mid-season result that we must grind out if we are to finish in a play-off position. As a Norwich fan said on the 6-0-6 phone-in after the match (which I listened to after a forty-five minute exit from the multi-storey next to the ground), "Norwich are destined for mid-table obscurity".
The score also extends their losing home run to four. Maybe they need a young coach to instil some confidence into the side!