First Team 08/11/2019

Match Report: Norwich City 0-2 Watford

By Kevin Affleck

Blimey, doesn't that feel good?

Those three points, those long-awaited and much-needed three points finally arrived at the 12th time of asking this evening to breath renewed life into the belief there is a way out of this predicament.

As ever, there was nothing whatsoever straight forward about the win achieved at Carrow Road. It was never going to be, was it? Let's be honest.

The team lost its playmaker after a third of the game, had to play 25 minutes plus injury time after Christian Kabasele was sent off and Norwich threw absolutely everything at the Hornets in what was a lively atmosphere in East Anglia. But, by hook or by crook and with a fair degree of spirt, the Hornets stood firm to protect the lead given to them inside two minutes by Gerard Deulofeu and doubled seven minutes after half-time by Andre Gray. It wasn't the prettiest but who cares? You don't get any extra points for artistic merit. It was all about winning, however it was achieved and now the confidence should, slowly but surely, start to flow. 

The win validated what Quique Sánchez Flores is trying to achieve and confirmed that everything, as the Head Coach keeps pointing out, starts with a solid base, a platform on which to build. If you keep the back door shut, which they have done now in three of the last five games, then this team has players of high enough calibre to nick at least one at the other end. 

It wasn't a night for heroes, not here and not in a game of this significance. It was all about the collective and an all-for-one mentality. Nearly everyone ran their socks off here and it's a good job there is an international break as most of this lot will need a rest. If it requires individual performances to be picked out then Craig Dawson was a rock at the heart of the defence; Will Hughes was a pest in midfield and quickened the game up when the team needed it and slowed it down on other occasions while Daryl Janmaat played the right wing-back role to a tee. He will have been shattered after this one. You also need your 'keeper to be a reliable last line of defence on nights like this and Ben Foster never really looked like ever being beaten. 

Keeping the goals out has not really been a massive problem of late, it's been scoring them has been the issue. The goal everybody craved, the early one Sánchez Flores went to bed dreaming about arrived after 76 seconds. Deulofeu loves a game against a newly-promoted side on a Friday night (hat-trick at Cardiff, anyone?) and he was at it again here. He pick-pocketed Emiliano Buendia, advanced down the right, cut in on his left foot and then guided on into the bottom corner. It was an exercise in how to silence the home crowd and gave this team something to hang their hat on, a cause to rally round.

It wasn't pretty thereafter. In fact, at times it was grotesque. It was all hands to the pump as Sánchez Flores was happy to cede possession (58 per cent of it in the first half) and play on the break. It meant there were a few hairy moments defensively. Kabasele made several last-ditch tackles, including an unusual one in combination with José Holebas; Craig Cathcart made three in quick succession; Dawson got in a crucial toe and even Deulofeu was forced to hoof one in the stand.

Foster made some saves that fell into the routine category for a 'keeper of his calibre and was yet again smartly off his line to smother at the feet of Onel Hernandez. It had to be perfectly timed as he had he got it wrong, it was a certain red card. 

There was the customary injury before half-time, Roberto Pereyra the latest player to limp off, but the team withstood that blow on the half hour to make it safely through to the break with their narrow lead intact.

The cushion of a second goal was badly needed to give the team some breathing space and make everything a little less fraught. It arrived, thankfully, seven minutes after the break. Deulofeu was given a second bite of the cherry at delivering a cross and second time round he picked out Gray who found the back of the net with a back heel via a deflection off Jamal Lewis. 

It was a good job the second goal arrived as they needed that buffer after Kabasele was sent off for a second bookable offence. It needed everybody to dig that bit deeper, to run that bit further and jump that bit higher and nobody did that better than Étienne Capoue. He got better as the match wore on and showed real leadership qualities. It was good to have him back and back playing like this.

As a result of those throwing bodies in front of him, Foster was only really called into action once, making a flying save to deny McLean and the Hornets saw things out relatively comfortably. Let's not get carried away and believe one win makes a season. There is a heck of a lot of hard work to be done still, but this was a start, a step in the right direction. It was about time.

HORNETS: Foster; Janmaat, Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas (Masina 88); Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes; Pereyra (Gray 30), Deulofeu (Mariappa 70).

Subs not used: Gomes, Deeney, Chalobah, Femenía.

First Team 08/11/2019

Sánchez Flores: “It's A Big Final For Both Sides”

By Kevin Affleck

Quique Sánchez Flores has coached in a Europa League final, a Madrid derby and countless other mammoth occasions, but knows Friday night's match at Norwich is as important as any, describing it as “a final” and one that could shape the rest of the season.

The Head Coach cranked up the intensity in training this week and was as animated on Wednesday as anyone has seen him in his two spells with this club. His persona is perhaps reflective of a man who knows the significance of what could be a cracker under the lights at Carrow Road and what a first win of the season in a match between the bottom two would do to morale and the outlook. 

“It's a significant match,” he said. “We know perfectly it will decide a lot the future of the team. We know three points is the same against every team but I know three versus this team is significant. It's a big final for both sides. It's not the end of the season, but it's a big final. The result can change the future of both team. It's massive.”

Norwich have lost five of the last six and only won one of the last nine, but their two wins mean they are above the Hornets by two points in the table.

“They are in the same situation as us,” said Sáncehz Flores. “They are positive, stable and able to play very good matches. They are also suffering a little bit, like us, and we are at the same point in the season with similar feelings. We know we need to change this dynamic and this situation. It's about what we can do versus Norwich.”

The Head Coach has been working hard on the training field this week, particularly when it comes to defensive shape, and he upped the ante in an intense finishing drill on Tuesday. He has also been working holistically away from the training field.

“We need to forget negativities, forget that we are a little bit low,” he said. “We need to forget about everything. They can play much better, they can keep the ball much better, they can shoot more time, they can defend more solid. They can do everything much better. We don't feel completely comfortable or have confidence but we are working to get results. Results are everything in sport. Some day we will play well and one day we will score one and they don't score and everything will change. We are working for this day and then everything can change.”

Like everyone else, Sánchez Flores had hoped to have seen a bigger and more noticeable bounce effect since he made a return to the club. It's not been for the want of trying, but he's just been focussing on stabilising the ship and creating a foundation. He has also been hampered by the fact four games had already ticked by and that he did not have a pre-season to get his philosophy across.

“I was thinking it would be difficult,” he said. “I came here to change the dynamic. A good result over the first two matches would have changed everything but we know the programme was difficult. I came positive and I don't feel deflated. I feel very positive and I understand the process of the players.

“We have played against City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea where the possibilities are reduced. This is not an excuse as we know the programme. We need to accept this. We feel positive, we believe in the players and we are transmitting the values and habits to improve the performance. I have no regrets, I will not surrender and I'm not going to give up until the last day I train.”

Sánchez Flores received some criticism for his third and final substitution against Chelsea and a touch of his explanation behind it got slightly lost in translation as he brought on Kiko Femenía for the tiring Daryl Janmaat as he wanted his team to raid deeper into the Chelsea half down the right. Plus, Isaac Success had only had one session under his belt and there was a desire not to pick up further injury, especially after Craig Cathcart had limped off. But the Spaniard still steadfastly believes shoring up the defence and making his team difficult to beat is the best chance of plotting a route away from danger.

“My biggest concern is to make the team more solid,” he said. “Since February, I think, we have conceded one or more goal per match and means you need to score at least once to draw and sometimes two or three per match to win. To do this every match is not easy. The shortcut is to try and not concede goals. If we don't concede, we are able to win. We were close against Tottenham, against Sheffield and Bournemouth. If you concede it is very, very difficult to be able. This is my first concern.

“We didn't concede for two matches and we didn't deserve to concede versus Tottenham. I want to have a good balance between attack and defence. I have to choose something and this is to be solid as if we won't concede, we are close to a win. This is my idea.”