Jackson strike keeps the Norwich City dream alive
WATFORD 2, NORWICH CITY 2: A battling second-half performance earned the Canaries a vital point in their Championship promotion challenge last night – and helped them maintain a record that no one in the top four divisions of British football can match.
City took an early lead through Sam Vokes but found themselves behind at half-time – before sub Simeon Jackson levelled it.
It means the Canaries still haven't lost two successive games in the same season under manager Paul Lambert.
Only Premier League Everton, League One leaders Brighton and League Two leaders Chesterfield can make a similar boast for this season, although none has the longevity that the Canaries boss can boast. Everton's last back-to-back defeats came in November 2009, Brighton's stretches back to April last year and Chesterfield's back to March.
Lambert's has lasted since he walked through the Carrow Road door on August 18, 2009.
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He watched City lose 2-1 at Brentford that night, then set about transforming the club's fortunes: 83 games later and that ability to bounce back from defeat has served the club to the extent that they are now looking up towards the Premier League, rather than down towards League Two.
For the picky statisticians, City have indeed lost two in a row – at home to Carlisle on the final day of last season when the League One trophy was already secured, and then at home to Watford on the opening day of the current campaign. Two games in different divisions in different seasons: hardly counts, does it?
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That defeat by Watford was played out in different circumstances: it was the first game of the new season and the TV men exercised control of proceedings beyond even their extensive remit, invading Carrow Road in a way that Paul Lambert insisted would never happen again.
City had a huge backing of around 2,300 fans at Vicarage Road, who again made a corner of a foreign field their very own – with many more watching the live beamback at Carrow Road.
The match started at a decent pace on a pitch that was already resembling the Aintree race course as it cut up – but it mattered little to City who took the lead inside two minutes.
Watford skipper John Eustance failed to clear, Dani Pacheco beat the ball down, Grant Holt picked it up and played it right into the path of Vokes who did well to control the bobbling ball and put a scruffy, but hugely effective, shot past Scott Loach.
Watford responded quickly – Don Cowie crossed from the right of the area moments later, giving Danny Graham a gilt-edged chance which he fluffed, allowing City to scramble the ball clear.
But it soon became end-to-end stuff, with Watford enjoying some good pressure and City defending resolutely in front of their travelling fans.
At the other end Pacheco's low ball into the area almost deceived the home defenders as City responded.
But Graham could easily have got Watford on level terms after 18 minutes, when he pressured Elliott Ward into a poor defensive header, but then shot straight at keeper John Ruddy from 20 yards.
There were only a few signs that City were beginning to get more of a grip on the game, with Marc Tierney forced into a brilliant block to keep out Lloyd Doyley's shot from the edge of the area after some neat passing play by Watford.
And on 26 minutes the Canaries were undone, losing possession in midfield and allowing Graham to get in a shot which Ruddy got something on to but not enough to prevent the ball from rolling over the line.
Watford came to life again, working the flanks well and forcing City to dig in and as thoughts turned to what Lambert would say to his players at half-time they struck again.
Graham was making ground down the right flank and was clearly pulled back by Zak Whitbread, but while assistant referee Darren Cann – who lives just outside of Norwich and was on the club's books as a teenager – waved his flag furiously, Graham managed to keep his feet and referee Anthony Taylor played a perfect advantage.
Graham squared the ball into the area, where Cowie did extremely well to turn and fire high into the roof of the net, off the underside of the crossbar.
Watford were clearly on top – the chances were coming their way while City were allowing too many unforced errors to creep into their performance.
The opening exchanges of the second half suggested that Watford wouldn't be presenting City with any gifts, although Doyley had to be at his very best to deny Martin with a block after the right back threatened to get on the end of Tierney's cross from the left. Lambert made his first changes on 58 minutes, Pacheco replaced by Anthony McNamee and Vokes making way for Simeon Jackson – and within minutes Jackson had forced Loach into a superb save at his near post after heading down Martin's cross.
City's fans behind Loach's goal burst into life – although they perhaps couldn't believe their luck when Graham simply failed to get a decent touch on Troy Deeney's cross when a goal seemed certain.
Lansbury joined the fray for Andrew Surman just after the hour mark – to good applause from Watford fans who he served so well during a loan spell from Arsenal last season.
Holt stung Loach's fingertips with a left-footer from the edge of the box as City battled for a leveller – and it came on 69 minutes when Jackson struck. Tierney had seen a run down the left ended illegally, David Fox took the free kick, and while a host of City and Watford players seemed to fall over backwards as they tried to get to the ball, Jackson was left with the simplest of tasks to knock the loose ball over the line from close range. City deserved the goal for their second-half efforts – now it was time to go for the winner.
As the screw was turned Watford began to rock and the temperature rose.
Holt headed wide while the referee spoke to Lambert after he reacted angrily to a decision which went against his skipper – the City boss then urging the travelling fans to turn the volume up another notch.
Mr Taylor was making few friends from Norfolk with some of his decisions – but that was simply cranking it all up in City's favour, although to their credit Watford didn't buckle.
Holt forced Loach into another fingertip stop with four minutes remaining with a shot on the run from the right and then saw a goalbound header scrambled away as City piled on the pressure – but just couldn't turn a fine second-half performance into a victory it perhaps deserved.
Holt finished the game walking gingerly and holding the top of his left leg – the last thing City need is to lose him for the run-in, especially after another captain's performance.