The ACN Match Review – Watford (h)

04/01/23

With any Cinderella story hopes for our temporary caretaker dashed upon the rocks of Hertfordshire, Nick Hayhoe ponders... y'know, stuff. Sorry it's a bit late, we've lost our pizazz.

It was a near-imperceptible noise from the entrance of Norwich railway station. The smallest hint, as the unaware brushed past each other into the colder night air, that something 700 yards away had occurred without me. The snatch of a “yeahh” that was unmistakably coming from the away supporters at Carrow Road, then as I fumbled into my pocket for my train card, I felt my phone vibrate. Watford had, indeed, scored the winner. I rolled my eyes and shook my head. That… that had been inevitable.

There’s a train at five o’clock that, should I leave Carrow Road before the 4th official puts up the board indicating stoppage time, I can catch. In this particular scenario, at around the 85-minute mark, yet another Watford player had fallen to the floor, like Philippides collapsing at the end of his marathon run to deliver the news that the Persians had been defeated, and I was getting quite sick of watching tracksuited men running onto a football pitch to hunch over a stricken footballer. So I decided to call it a day.

I didn’t regret it. 

Before last season, I’d maybe only left a game early once or twice in my entire life. In the last 12 months I have seen more of an empty Koblenz avenue than full walking back to the station, knowing that an earlier train means an earlier dinner and an earlier dinner means an earlier feet-up time. Staring at my phone, playing on my computer. Watching someone build a hedge on Countryfile. It was all subsequently more enjoyable than, I’m sure, the last 15 minutes or so of that football match.

Things had started somewhat optimistically. The draw against Reading had, at least, been something of an enjoyable experience which saw the crowd back on side. While the football hadn’t been good, this for me, had been mitigated by the drum keeping the atmosphere going and the five pints of ale consumed before the game. Alas, with a working day following, there was to be no such intoxicating assistance even if the drum was still there. Within the opening 20 minutes it was clear I was paying the price for sobriety. It was all a little too real: we were fucked.

Watford’s forward line – Sarr, Davis and Kalu – made the Hanley/Gibson axis (one of the greatest ever Norwich City defensive pairings in history not two seasons ago, don’t forget) look as though they were matchstick men running through spilled super glue. Quite how they didn’t score in the first half was anyone’s guess, though I suspect a hefty dose of Championshipitis (where a run forward or a mistake will inevitably lead to a goal in the Premier League but never in the Championship) played a part. Our midfield had collapsed, and an apparent return to the Victorian-era 2-0-8 formation was leaving the backline horrendously exposed to counterattack.

In the second half, and despite a necessary pint to take the edge off, we saw more of the same from Norwich. While there were a couple of shouts for penalties (including a stonewall clattering into Sargent that was awarded a free kick the other way for Sargent’s crime of ‘getting in the way of a flying goalkeeper’), and a decent chance from outside the box from someone I cannot now recall flashing wide (Sara? Head to the Pink Un if you want a proper match report, alright), Norwich City recorded the classic statistic of having no shot on target despite having three genuine strikers on the pitch for the majority of the game.

And so, Watford broke up the game with their players repeatedly dropping to the floor (with, admittedly, genuine issues), causing agitation, and eventually managing to hook a move up to get through a Norwich defence that was holding on by their bloody fingernails. And so ended the Allan Russell Banter Period.

By that point, however, I was long gone.

Next week is an FA Cup match and a new manager has been hired. It was impossible for me to speculate on who this would be exactly, and really I didn’t care because the question was actually what they will be. Are we going to try and stumble into the playoffs, with false pragmatism? Or are we going to restart, rethink and reset with the understanding that we cannot pretend to be like a midtable Premier League team any more? Most importantly, for me at least, are we going to hire someone who can actually make it all mean something again? Optimism, not positivity. Longshot, not underdog. Fuck ‘em, not join ‘em. That’s what I want my Norwich City to be, and I hope my manager to be the same…

Either that or we can pinch Kieran McKenna, just for the banter.

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