Just as the top of the First Division table beckoned, Norwich City's impressive recent form deserted them and Watford brought the Canaries' 100 per cent home record to an end.
With none of the other leading sides in action yesterday, a ninth straight home victory for Nigel Worthington's side would have taken them two points ahead of West Bromwich Albion, rewarding the high-quality football that had seen them beaten only once in 12 games since the end of August.
But there could be little dispute over the merit of Watford's victory. Ray Lewington's neat, well-organised side belied their lowly position in the table by playing some attractive and productive football, 19-year-old striker Scott Fitzgerald giving them a 24th-minute lead before winning a penalty converted by captain Neil Cox 10 minutes from the end.
Goalkeeper Lenny Pidgley defied the home side with a sequence of fine saves, but it was a below-par performance from Norwich, whose solitary reply, through 17-year-old Ryan Jarvis's first senior goal, came too late to salvage a point.
However, Norwich had some right to claim that referee Steve Bennett had not dealt them a fair hand. Three times in the first half, the home side had apparently legitimate penalty appeals, but all were turned down by the Kent official, Darren Huckerby landing himself a yellow card for diving in the first instance.
Norwich's case for feeling hard done-by, however, was undermined by passing that was often casual, possession being surrendered all too cheaply. With the exception of a point-blank third-minute header by defender Craig Fleming that Pidgley, on loan from Chelsea, kept out against all expectations, they rarely threatened a first-half goal of their own.
By then, Fitzgerald, spotted playing for Ryman League side Northwood Town, had slid home the impressive Lee Cook's low cross to give Watford the advantage. Pidgley made further excellent saves, first to deny Ian Henderson a fourth goal in three games and then to keep Huckerby off the scoresheet, before Cox's spot-kick made Norwich's task almost impossible, frantically though the visitors were forced to defend after substitute Jarvis scored with two minutes left.
"After our great run, I think some of our players thought we had only to turn up to win," Worthington said afterwards. "We should have had at least one penalty, but the quality was not there today, so I don't want to make excuses."
Norwich City 1
Fitzgerald 24, Cox pen 81
Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 16,420Reuse content