Josh Sargent double piles pressure on Claudio Ranieri to give Norwich City hope of survival

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Josh Sargent - Josh Sargent double piles pressure on Claudio Ranieri to give Norwich City hope of survival - PA
Josh Sargent - Josh Sargent double piles pressure on Claudio Ranieri to give Norwich City hope of survival - PA

It is beginning to look bleak for Watford and their head coach Claudio Ranieri, whose team tumbled into the relegation places for the first time this season at the ruthless hands of fellow strugglers Norwich City.

For all the esteem in which Ranieri is held by the Watford owning Pozzo family, his record of seven points from 39 and 10 losses from 13 games at a club who rarely tarry in dispensing with managers makes for grim, possible tenure-ending reading.

“I want to say sorry for the defeat,” sighed Ranieri. “I asked for fire, but the first half wasn;t good enough and we disappeared after the second. We have to change mentality, we can’t carry on in this way, I want players who believe, who play with passion and with the heart, not those who’re selfish as they were tonight, other than Cleverley and Sissoko. I don’t go away. I want to continue. I never give up.”

Two splendid strikes from the hitherto goal shy Josh Sargent and a late own goal from Juraj Kucka gave Norwich their second Premier League victory in a row and concrete hope that a demotion which seemed inevitable before Christmas can be avoided.

“It wasn’t perfect, we lost our way in the first half,” said Dean Smith, the Norwich head coach. “But back-to-back Premier League victories are always special. When we scored, there was only going to be one winner.”

As befitted a team who, since February 2020, have now stumbled through 30 Premier League games without a clean sheet , Watford bolstered their rearguard, giving home debuts to Brazilian centre-back Samir, Ivory Coast international left back Hassane Kamara and corner-taking DR Congo defensive midfielder Edo Kayembe.

Anxiety was to be expected and Watford certainly struggled to blood their new men. Norwich were more than ready to seize the evening. Sargent’s heroics notwithstanding, Adam Idah buzzed in attack, while just behind him Milot Rashica continues to blossom.

Norwich’s early dominance did not translate into early chances, let alone early goals and Watford finished a chanceless first half in the ascendency. Even then, though, there were portents of what was to come when Emmanuel Dennis got himself booked for a silly challenge on Pierre Lees-Melou. His punishment could well have been doubled after he took a theatrical penalty area tumble in the approximate vicinity of Grant Hanley.

A game which both teams thought they could win had transformed itself into one neither dared lose, but the second period would belong to Norwich. As in the first period, the visitors were first to show. They eased ahead six minutes in when Sissoko surrendered possession cheaply. Kenny McLean picked up the ball and threaded it to Teemu Pukki on the right. Head in hands, McLean believed he had overhit his pass, but the Finn was stronger and had more desire than Samir, whose feeble challenge ended with him onthe ground. Pukki’s cross was behind the onrushing Sargent, but the American somehow managed to twist and hook the ball past Daniel Bachmann, for his first Premier League goal of a most difficult season. After Var decided Samir was the victim of his own grounding, the goal stood.

“His character was always there,” said Smith. “He just needed that goal. It was somwe finish sand it’ll do him the world of good.”

Eleven minutes later, as if to offer a literal metaphor for Watford’s season, the floodlights dimmed and, although it looked bright enough to play on, referee Mike Dean halted the game for 10 minutes.

Two minutes after the re-start, Norwich and Sargent had two. Again Watford were sloppy. Kiko Femenia allowed Rashica time and space to cross from the left. The galvanised Sargent rose high to head home

Previously supportive, the home crowd turned and as the jeers rang out, Dennis caught Max Aarons with the late tackle which brought his second yellow card. Even then, Norwich were not quite gone. Ben Gibson headed Cucho Hernandez’s effort off the line, Gunn expertly repelled the follow up and the Colombian would drive against Gunn’s bar in added time.

But even with 15 minutes added time, there was more Norwich pain when Idah crossed low from the right and substitute Kucka poked the ball past his own goalkeeper to complete a wretched evening for the home side.

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