Danny Welbeck’s spectacular overhead keeps Watford alive

Norwich all but condemned to relegation after loss at Vicarage Road

Danny Welbeck scores the winner for Watford in their Premier League meeting with Norwich. Photo: Andy Rain/NMC/Pool

Danny Welbeck scores the winner for Watford in their Premier League meeting with Norwich. Photo: Andy Rain/NMC/Pool

 

Watford 2 Norwich City 1

Here’s a pro tip, from an extremely amateur footballer. Shouting “time” at a player in possession – a staple of the grassroots game I am gratified to report is just as prevalent at the elite level – is not, remarkably enough, going to calm him down.

Screaming at a teammate they are under no pressure is not the best way of relieving said pressure. Meditative pauses for reflection are rarely provoked by having half a dozen grown men desperately howling at you from 60 yards away.

And yet, as Watford edged past Norwich to take a giant leap towards safety, you would hear it being bellowed from the sidelines again and again, from well-meaning substitutes and coaches. “Time.” A rushed clearance. “Time.” A pass straight out of play. This, as much as anything, was the dominant backdrop to a game defined by a state of permanent panic, an icy anxiety gripping both teams like a virus.

You could argue neither of these teams were very good. Certainly this would be true of Norwich: a side capable of such elegant football in possession but often a gibbering, blubbering wreck without it. Of the many truly useless teams in Premier League history, Norwich are by far the best of them: cultured, ambitious, and yet likely to be relegated with three games to spare. They will be the Championship’s most likeable club next season.

Watford are a more complex proposition. This was undoubtedly a huge win and yet so laboured and inept was their performance, so permeable and porous their defence, that it offered their supporters zero reassurance before far tougher tests: Newcastle, West Ham, Manchester City, Arsenal. You wouldn’t really back them to win any of those four. With Aston Villa and Bournemouth still blundering behind them, they may not have to.

It was Danny Welbeck – the one genuine star on the pitch – who provided the game’s one moment of Zen. Ironically, as Ismaïla Sarr’s rushed cross bobbled up in the air after Max Aarons’s botched clearance, all of a sudden Welbeck seemed to have all the time in the world. He used it to line up the flight of the ball and execute a perfect bicycle kick, pinging into the top corner and giving Tim Krul no chance: a goal worthy of winning a game far better than this.

This was Welbeck’s first Premier League goal in almost two years, and the hope must be that his injury traumas are finally behind him and we may once again glimpse the player who briefly looked such a fresh and streamlined talent when he emerged in the late-Ferguson era at Manchester United.

You even wonder if might not be better deployed up front rather than on the left wing. Certainly he looks more of a threat at present than Watford’s leaden captain, Troy Deeney: Watford’s main point of attack and yet one who would either drop deep to receive or simply hover without doing very much, like a silent consonant, the “g” in phlegm.

To give him his due Deeney played his part in Watford’s equaliser, cleverly peeling away from his marker just as Etienne Capoue’s free-kick curled in from the right and allowing Craig Dawson a free run at the ball. Still, Alex Tettey should probably have done more to impede Dawson’s header, and coming in the 10th minute it was a soft way for Norwich to surrender the precious early lead given to them by Emi Buendía. His goal was an early portent of the way Norwich were simply able to run at Watford’s backline with little resistance: a curling effort after a surging run by Onel Hernández.

Even after conceding the equaliser, Norwich continued to enjoy sporadic chances. Teemu Pukki – remember him? – flashed just wide. Ben Foster saved from Aarons with his feet. The trouble was that the longer the game went on, the more Norwich looked like doing something extremely stupid at their own end.

Welbeck and Abdoulaye Doucouré had already squandered good chances by the time Welbeck spectacularly put Watford ahead 10 minutes into the second half. And so to Norwich’s last stand, a glorious slapstick finale in which these flawed teams threw everything at each other, and occasionally themselves.

For Watford, Adam Masina sliced a clearance over his own bar. For Norwich, Adam Idah missed from four yards. At one point, Aarons tried to take a quick free-kick to Ben Godfrey, who wasn’t looking.

The irony was that these weren’t actually bad footballers. They were good footballers gripped by a paralysing terror: a fear of making the crucial mistake and thus blinkered to the possibilities around them. So many clever runs went unseen by teammates and unmarked by opponents.

This, perhaps, is the biggest difference between the best teams and the rest: flow, rhythm, malleability, vision, the ability not just to play the pass but to play it at the right time, or play a different pass at the last possible moment.

As the whistle blew for full time, Mario Vrancic tried to clear the ball to the stands in frustration. He miscued it and sent it trickling into one of the advertising hoardings. Watford wildly celebrated a win that has bought them valuable time. Alas, Norwich’s is almost up. – Guardian

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