In only his fifth start for the Hornets, the former Manchester United and Arsenal forward pulled out a majestic overhead kick to inspire his side to a crucial 2-1 win that lifts them to four points above the relegation zone.
Norwich, by contrast, are a defeat to West Ham away from finally rubber-stamping their relegation. This was their 23rd loss of the season. Another will equal their highest number of defeats in a league campaign. It really has been that bad, even if finishing in the bottom three was to be expected.
The nature of Welbeck’s strike was on par with its importance, for him and the club. It’s hard to find someone with a bad word to say about him, and the cod psychologists will say that same trait has equated to a lack of ruthlessness that has hindered his progression as much as injuries have.
But a first league goal in almost two years, when he was a Gunner, and, finally, a first win for his current club in his 14th appearance has dispelled any talk of him being bad luck or dead weight. Not to mention making a key contribution to keeping Watford in this division.
It was Norwich who took the lead with a goal that was not against the run of play, though certainly against the run of the season. They have managed six goals in their previous 16 matches on the road, and the source, Emiliano Buendia, had been without a league goal after 36 attempts.
Number 37 did the trick this time, after some strong play out wide from Onel Hernandez. The Cuban brought the ball towards the box before finding Buendia in the box. A feigned shot and drag-back with the right foot opened up space to curl one beyond Ben Foster with his left.
Yet already in the four minutes of play this was the second time Hernandez had pushed Watford into their own box. The proof was in the pudding - the hosts were just as uncertain at the back as they are. To underline that, Norwich squandered their lead six minutes later.
Their organisation has proved especially frustrating for manager Daniel Farke and observers from the sides, and there can be no excuse for how easily Craig Dawson, a known threat from set-pieces, was able to lose two markers to head his second goal of the restart. Etienne Capoue’s service from a set-piece out on the right was solid but eminently defendable.
The briskness of Watford’s reply meant there was little time for nerves to set in. A gap of seven points between the sides matters little when it’s splitting 20th and 17th. And though the quality of the respective sides could be extrapolated to a greater margin, which should have been the case by half-time with further chances falling to those in yellow. Welbeck had a near post header pushed out by Tim Krul. Abdoulaye Doucoure powered a more forceful header over the bar.
But the difference was highlighted in the two minutes between Welbeck’s acrobatics and an earlier move from Norwich that saw Hernandez have a shot destined for the far corner blocked by a yellow shirt and then Max Aarons’s follow-up shot kept out by Foster.
Moments later Ismaila Sarr marauded down the wing and squared into the middle. Aaron’s attempted clearances whiffed the ball up behind him where Welbeck decided to forgo a first touch for some first-time glory. A gamble that paid off handsomely.
Norwich pushed and pushed but dealt only in near-misses. Mario Vrancic had a free header at the near post that he put too much on. Adam Idah’s desperate stretch at the far post failed to do more than squirt Josip Drmic’s deliberate flick on wide when there was empty goal in front of him. But even 2-2 would not have been enough in the grand scheme of things.
It is now six consecutive defeats for Farke’s side, in keeping with previous runs of five losses or more that were features of their previous relegations in 1995, 2005, 2014 and 2016. Now 10 points off safety with four points before, we can add 2020 to that list with some certainty.