Graham double reopens old wounds for Norwich

Norwich 2 Watford 3
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The Independent Football

What is it about Norwich City and opening matches of the season? Last August the Norfolk club lost their first-day fixture 7-1 at home to Colchester United, a result that led to Bryan Gunn being sacked as manager a week later.

Paul Lambert, Gunn's successor, subsequently led Norwich to the League One title, but any thought of an immediate celebration of their return to the Championship quickly vanished at Carrow Road last night. Norwich never recovered after going two goals down inside 23 minutes as Watford, one of this season's relegation favourites, gave a performance to cheer their manager, Malky Mackay, who had been given a warm welcome by the home fans in recognition of his time here as a player.

Norwich were particularly tentative in the first half, looked shaky at the back throughout and rarely found any fluency, which may have been down to the fact that they had six new signings in their line-up. In contrast Watford's confidence was evident in their slick passing and movement whenever they pushed forward.

The home side went behind after only 13 minutes. John Eustace controlled Don Cowie's right-wing cross following a short corner before shooting home from 10 yards, the ball taking a slight deflection off Elliott Ward.

Watford supporters were soon chanting: "We want seven!" If that raised a smile around the rest of the ground nobody was laughing 10 minutes later as Danny Graham played a neat one-two with Marvin Sordell and chipped a shot past John Ruddy.

Ruddy, making his debut after arriving from Everton in the summer, must have wondered quite what he had let himself in for. But for the 6ft 4in goalkeeper's agility Norwich would have been three down inside half an hour. Sordell found space down the right before crossing to Will Buckley, whose shot was smartly saved by Ruddy at the near post.

Andrew Surman's free-kick, which Scott Loach kept out with a fine save at the foot of a post, was the closest Norwich came to a goal in the first half, but Lambert's men had a more positive approach after the break and were rewarded with a goal after 51 minutes. Simeon Jackson cleverly backheeled the ball into the path of Andrew Crofts, whose rasping drive from the edge of the penalty area found the far corner of the net.

Norwich played with more conviction in the second half and with 19 minutes remaining Lambert brought on Grant Holt, last season's top scorer. One Holt header flew just wide of a post, but within nine minutes of his arrival Graham had restored Watford's advantage, beating Ruddy with a soft shot that crept inside the far post. Michael Nelson pulled a goal back for the home side with a close-range shot in injury time, but an equaliser would have been more than Norwich deserved.

Mackay said afterwards that he was proud of the character his team had shown, particularly after Norwich had reduced the arrears early in the second half, while Lambert blamed his team's defeat on poor defending for the first two goals. "If you make mistakes in this division you get punished," he said.

Norwich (4-4-2): Ruddy, R Martin, Nelson, Ward, Drury; Crofts, Hoolahan, Fox, Surman (McNamee 87); C Martin, Jackson (Holt 72). Substitutes: Rudd (gk), Korey Smith, Lappin, Johnson, Berthel Askou.

Watford (4-4-2): Loach; Hodson, Mariappa, Taylor, Doyley; Cowie, Eustace, Buckley (Jenkins 59), McGinn; Graham, Sordell (Deeney 59). Substitutes: Gilmartin (gk), Bryan, Henderson, Mingoia, Oshodi.

Referee: N Miller (Durham).