Norwich secured back-to-back Premier League wins to ignite their hopes of survival as Josh Sargent scored twice in a fine 3-0 victory over Watford at Vicarage Road on Friday Night Football.
After a first half low on quality, Sargent lit up this relegation six-pointer with a finish worthy of deciding any contest as he readjusted his feet to produce a superb improvised finish to break the deadlock (51).
Watford manager Claudio Ranieri was in need of a spark, but there would be an 11-minute stoppage due to floodlight failure to further frustrate the hosts’ attempts to respond. After the lengthy stoppage, it was Norwich who doubled their lead as Sargent rose above Hassane Kamara to give the Canaries daylight (74).
Emmanuel Dennis was already on a caution when things got even worse for the hosts as the Nigeria forward was sent off for a second bookable offence having caught Max Aarons (78), and Norwich put the seal on an impressive away display as Juraj Kucka turned Adam Idah’s cross into his own net in the second minute of stoppage time.
This could prove a damaging result for Ranieri, who has still only won two of 13 league games since taking charge, with this loss the seventh in eight matches. The result moves Norwich out of the relegation zone for the first time this season on 16 points – two clear of Watford, who replace them in the bottom three, albeit having played two games fewer.
Dean Smith is the first Norwich manager to win back-to-back Premier League matches with the club since Alex Neil in April 2016, and they will now feel confident of consolidating their place in the top flight.
Watford: Bachmann (6), Femenia (6), Kabasele (5), Samir (6), Kamara (5), Sissoko (6), Kayembe (6), Cleverley (5), Dennis (4), King (6), Joao Pedro (5).
Subs: Sema (n/a), Hernandez (n/a), Kucka (n/a).
Norwich: Gunn (7), Aarons (7), Hanley (7), Gibson (7), Williams (7), Sargent (8), Sorensen (6), Lees-Melou (6), Rashica (6), Idah (7), Pukki (6).
Subs: Byram (n/a), Placheta (n/a), McLean (7).
Man of the match: Josh Sargent.
Sargent sparks Norwich into life
“First of all I have to say sorry to the fans,” Ranieri said. “I told the players to ignite the fire. The second half after the goal, we disappeared. Maybe we played better with 10 than 11.
“Now we must pick up the players who have heart like Sissoko and Cleverley. Only the players with the fight can help us survive. We have to change our mentality. We cannot carry on in this way. I want players who can play with passion and heart.”
When asked if he would consider his position, Ranieri added: “I don’t go away. I want to continue because I am a fighter. I’ve never given up in my career.”
Watford manager Claudio Ranieri made four changes from his side’s draw at Newcastle on Saturday for Friday night’s Premier League clash at home to Norwich. Daniel Bachmann returned in goal, with Kiko Femenia, Christian Kabasele and Tom Cleverley the other players to come in.
Angus Gunn took the place of the injured Tim Krul in the Norwich goal in the only change made by Dean Smith from his side’s victory over Everton at Carrow Road on Saturday.
For both Watford and Norwich, the thrill of promotion from the Championship was rapidly replaced by the notion that this would be a season of struggle. Both have flip-flopped between England’s first and second tiers in recent years, but this was already billed as a relegation six-pointer in January.
Their respective recent outings had provided a glimmer of hope of avoiding the drop – Norwich ended a six-match losing streak with victory over Everton, while Watford ended a barren run themselves with a battling late point at Newcastle.
The Hornets needed no reminding heading the game it is now two months since they last won a match – the 4-1 home win over Manchester United – but it was the visitors who made the stronger start with Milot Rashica blasting a free-kick into the wall and another opportunity off target.
Ranieri described this meeting as a “cup final” but warned his side victory would not guarantee survival, and his team slowly shook off their sluggishness to carve open a few half chances; the impressive Samir headed over unmarked from Tom Cleverley’s corner before fine footwork from Joao Pedro led to a snapshot into the gloves of Angus Gunn.
Moussa Sissoko’s inability to readjust his feet to meet Joshua King’s cross in stoppage time summed up the half. Heading into the weekend, only three points separated the bottom four teams, but you would not have sensed the pressure during an opening period bereft of goalmouth action.
“It’s been a really poor game, and I wouldn’t even say it’s been tense,” Gary Neville said at the break. “It’s just been really poor quality. Will they be happy at half-time? I wouldn’t say the clean sheets have been as a result of good defending. The quality has to improve.”
A first win in nine for the Hornets would have acted as a springboard for them to put distance between themselves and the bottom three but two triumphs over the Canaries in the 2019/20 campaign were still not enough to beat the drop.
Ranieri arrived at Vicarage Road in October and promised his squad a free dinner if they were able to keep a shut-out in his opening match at home to Liverpool. They lost 5-0 that day and they still await that meal with Norwich breaking the deadlock six minutes after the interval.
Kenny McLean gobbled up Christian Kabasele’s poor clearance and while his pass seeking Teemu Pukki initially appeared over-hit, the striker was too strong for Samir and the Finland international crossed for Sargent to produce the most sensational of finishes with his heel as the ball looped back across goal and over the line via the crossbar.
Jamie Carragher said: “I thought the chance had gone, but Pukki did so well to keep it in. Watford may claim a foul but what a finish from Sargent… it’s unbelievable as it’s behind him. The finish is out of this world.”
Play was suspended for 11 minutes owing to a floodlight failure but it was Sargent who sparked the game back into life, scoring a second with just over quarter of an hour remaining. McLean was involved again as he fed Rashica down the left, and his delivery was met by the leaping Sargent, planting the ball into the bottom corner.
Now was a time for cool heads, but Watford’s problems mounted when Dennis – already booked for a poor first-half challenge on Pierre Lees-Melou – was late on Aarons in front of referee Mike Dean leading to an inevitable red card.
There were 15 minutes of stoppage time as a result of the floodlight failure but when Sissoko’s acrobatic finish was ruled out for offside the home fans headed for the exits, resigned to their fate.
The volume of traffic seeking an escape intensified moments later when substitute Kucka diverted Idah’s low cross beyond Bachmann at his near post to complete a miserable night for Watford, with Norwich now believing survival is within their grasp.
Smith said afterwards: “For a long period of the game I was happy but I wasn’t happy in the final 15 minutes as with a man advantage we should have done better with the ball. But to get the win was the main thing today.
“Two games ago we were thinking it was between four of us, after getting six points in two games you can maybe look ahead and start grabbing others into the battle. Winning back to back games in the Premier League is a massive boost for everybody.”
Will Watford twist again?
“This is a disastrous result for Watford, it really is,” Carragher said as the clock ticked down.
Given the club’s record of hiring and firing, Ranieri will certainly be feeling uncomfortable after this chastening home defeat.
The Italian has picked up an average of just 0.58 points per game in charge – almost half of Xisco Munoz’s tally. His win percentage is 12 per cent lower while they concede more goals and have a higher expected goals against under Ranieri.
They also face around five shots per game more than under their previous manager.
“You fear for Claudio Ranieri because we’ve got a two-week break,” Neville said. “Ordinarily clubs wait for international breaks and periods where there are no games.
“Watford always plan for who the next manager is going to be. They always have that person ready. The owners would have looked at the Newcastle and Norwich games. I hope he stays as he’s a good character but to lose 3-0 to Norwich is a really poor one.”
Shift in momentum at Norwich
Sky Sports’ Ben Grounds:
This could prove a result of real significance, with the Canaries moving out of the relegation zone for the first time this season at Watford’s expense. Smith confirmed his players will have six days off across the next fortnight to recharge their batteries, and it is certainly a well-earned break.
Yes, the Hornets have two games in hand to go with the two points they need to make up, but there has been a visible shift in momentum among Smith’s players.
Norwich demonstrated the type of fight and hunger that both Burnley and Newcastle must show if they are to have any chance of clambering back from off the canvas in the second half of the season.
This could represent a huge week in Norwich’s fight against relegation, and largely thanks to the American Sargent, who provided the spark to take all three points.
Norwich captain Grant Hanley summed up the mood in the away dressing room after this seismic result at Vicarage Road.
“It’s a big result for us at an important time and back-to-back wins is tough to do in the Premier League,” he said. “Now we have time to rest with the break but we have to be better. We got the three points, that is what matters.
“I’m over the moon for Josh Sargent, he deserves it, he works unbelievably hard and the lads love him, he is a top, top lad. They were [top finishes] and it has been a long time coming.”
Man of the match – Josh Sargent
On Sargent’s performance, Smith said: “He’s been waiting a while for a goal but fair play to him, he works hard and is a great kid. His character has never been in question. He’s a real team player. He just needed that goal. A bit like Adam Idah, hopefully now there’s a lot more to come.”
The American netted his first Premier League goals in his 19th appearance in the competition, becoming the 23rd USA player to score in the competition.
Aged 21 years and 335 days, Sargent was the youngest player to score twice in a Premier League match for Norwich since Dean Ashton vs Crystal Palace in April 2005 (21y 143d).
Watford’s wait for clean sheet goes on – Opta stats
- Watford are without a win in nine games in all competitions (D1 L8), their longest run without a victory since December 2013 (10).
- Norwich’s enjoyed their biggest margin of victory in a Premier League match since beating West Brom 4-0 in May 2013, and their biggest away from home in the division since September 1993, a 5-1 win at Everton.
- Watford have now gone 30 Premier League games without a clean sheet (since a 3-0 win v Liverpool in February 2020), with only West Brom enduring a longer such run in the history of the competition (34 in 2011; Blackburn in 2012 and Wolves in 2012 both also on 30).
- Norwich’s win means they have ended the day above the Premier League’s bottom three (excluding the very first day of this season) for the first time since 4th October 2019, 840 days ago.
Burnley host Watford at Turf Moor on Saturday February 5 at 6pm in their re-arranged fixture while Norwich visit Wolves at Molineux in the FA Cup fourth round on the same day at 3pm.
Source : Sky Sports