Is it too early to bring out the cliche ‘relegation six-pointer’? It felt like one here, as Watford claimed a seismic win while condemning Norwich to a fifth straight loss.
Star man Ismaila Sarr scored a second-half brace to add to Emmanuel Dennis’ early opener as Xisco Munoz’s men moved up the table with a second win of the season.
As important as the win felt for Watford, it made for dismal reading for Daniel Farke’s Norwich: five games, five losses – and 15 Premier League defeats on the bounce if their last top-flight stint is counted.
Watford striker Emmanuel Dennis celebrates scoring his second goal of the season
NORWICH (4-3-3): Krul 6; Aarons 6, Hanley 6, Kabak 6, Williams 6.5; Gilmour 6, Normann 6.5 (Cantwell 70, 6), McLean 6; Rashica 6.5 (Idah 88), Pukki 7, Sargent 7.5 (Tzolis 70, 6). Subs not used: Gunn, Gibson, Rupp, Lees-Melou, Giannoulis, Omobamidele.
Manager: Daniel Farke 6.
WATFORD (4-3-3): Foster 6.5; Femenia 6 (Ngakia 59, 6), Cathcart 5, Troost-Ekong 6, Rose 5; Cleverley 7 (Etebo 83), Kucka 6, Sissoko 6.5; Sarr 7.5, King 6.5, Dennis 7 (Sema 73, 6).
Subs not used: Bachmann, Louza, Masina, Fletcher, Kabasele, Cucho.
Manager: Xisco Munoz 6.
Referee: Robert Jones (Merseyside) 6.
The Canaries become the fifth team in history to lose their first five Premier League games. They’ll take heart in knowing two of those managed to stay up, but it’ll be a monumental task if Farke is to guide his side to safety.
Often when three points is a desperate necessity for both teams, the match tends to pass by at a pedestrian, sparring-like tempo. But that was not the case here, with both sides throwing men forward looking to attack with pace.
Watford had the best of the opening exchanges, with Josh King and Emmanuel Dennis both allowed sights of goal, though Norwich looked lively on the counter-attack.
And it took just 17 minutes for the deadlock to be broken, when Dennis made a clever run to evade two defenders and head home from a searching Tom Cleverley cross.
It was a smart header but the defending was questionable. New Canaries defender Ozan Kabak – who had a loan spell at Liverpool last season – lost his man, as did captain Grant Hanley, and Watford led.
The Nigerian forward, a cheap summer buy from Club Brugge, wheeled off to the away end and unleashed a couple of somersaults to celebrate his second goal of the season.
Norwich responded well and new signing Josh Sargent looked especially lively on the right-hand flank, as did Manchester United loanee Brandon Williams, bombing down the opposite side.
Emmanuel Dennis snuck in to head in the opener from Kiko Femenia’s cross in 17th minute
Norwich striker Teemu Pukki equalised in the 35th minute with a coolly-taken strike
But for their continued improvements in terms of possession and getting into good areas, Ben Foster, starting his first league match of the season, might as well have stayed on the bench.
The 38-year-old was a mere spectator as the Canaries failed to threaten. Before this match, they had a league-low eight shots on goal this season.
It’s a good job the man leading their line is one of the division’s most-prolific forwards: Teemu Pukki.
Ismaila Sarr put Watford ahead for the second time just after the hour mark
He equalised on 35 minutes after a delightful pass in behind by debutant Mathias Normann, the Norwegian midfielder signed from Russian outfit Rostov and described by Daniel Farke as ‘a versatile, perfect addition’.
Pukki made a clever dart beyond the static Craig Cathcart, Foster hesitated to come off his line and the Finnish forward slotted home with confidence.
It’s not quite the self-billed ‘Pukki party’ of the last time Norwich were in the top flight, but his stats still speak volumes, Watford the 35th English club he has netted against.
Sarr sealed victory when he slotted home the rebound after Tim Krul saved Joshua King’s shot
Pukki might have netted another minutes later as Sargent squared it to him, but his left-footed strike sailed over.
At the other end, Watford really should have taken the lead as Ismaila Sarr got in behind only to shoot straight at Tim Krul. The Senegalese international seemed to hesitate over whether to take it around Krul or to shoot and before he decided, the chance was gone.
He didn’t need a second chance though. Not long into the second half, Sarr reinstated Watford’s lead after being teed up by Josh King. Again, Hanley was caught on his heels as a forward made a dart across him to score.
Sarr added another on 81 minutes, prodding home a rebound after Krul saved Joshua King’s shot. The flag immediately went up for offside against King but VAR reviews showed he was onside – marginally – and the goal stood.
Norwich forward Josh Sargent climbs above Danny Rose of Watford to head the ball
Since his Watford debut, Sarr has scored more goals than any other Watford player, he should have completed a hat-trick in the 90th minute but Krul saved well.
The away end teased the Norwich fans with a chorus of ‘how sh*t must you be, we’re winning away’.
Fair enough, after eight straight Premier League losses on the road, this was a monumental win for Xisco’s men.
Danny Rose of Watford battles for possession with Milot Rashica of Norwich City
Daniel Farke is first boss to lose 15 consecutive matches in the English top flight