Norwich City 2: Watford 3: Hornets' resilience heartens Mackay for battles ahead

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The Independent Football

Above all, Mackay appreciates the need for promotion contenders to keep their nerve. "There was talk in February of Alan Pardew being one game away from the sack at West Ham," Mackay recalled. "Come the summer he got promotion and signed a new five-year contract. Things turn around in weeks in this division. I think managers realise that. You can only be judged on what happens at the end of the season.

"Any of the top 10 or 12 teams could still be involved. Norwich didn't start this season too well, but then won five games in a row. Crystal Palace and Preston have come on strongly. There are still about 16 games to go. If you get down to the last 10 and you're still in with a shout then anyone can get into the play-offs. And once you get to that stage, it's all on the day."

Recent results underline Mackay's point. The Scot was talking after Watford's hard-earned victory at Carrow Road on Saturday, their third in three matches after their last eight games in 2005 had yielded just one win. Norwich, in contrast, saw out the old year with a five-match winning run but have taken only one point from their last three games.

There is an impressive resilience about Watford, who went behind twice, Paul McVeigh converting a penalty after being brought down by Mackay and Peter Thorne stooping to head home Darren Huckerby's cross. The equalisers were almost identical, Darius Henderson beating defenders to the ball after Robert Green had parried efforts by Marlon King.

Having survived sustained Norwich pressure in the second half, Watford took all three points with an excellent injury-time winner as Matthew Spring shot past Green after King had picked him out with a delicate pass from the right with the home defence expecting a driven cross.

Adrian Boothroyd, Watford's manager, admitted his side had generally been second best. While his team hit a succession of early balls in the hope of capitalising on King's pace and Henderson's aerial strength, Norwich had gradually taken control with their passing game and intelligent movement. Huckerby became an increasing threat, while the powerful Dickson Etuhu dominated the midfield.

Defeat was harsh on Nigel Worthington, who will be relieved when the transfer window closes next week. Speculation surrounding Dean Ashton had been hanging over Carrow Road for weeks - West Ham finally announced they had got their man for £7.25m on Saturday night - while the sight of Green throwing his shirt into the crowd on the final whistle fuelled rumours that he is on his way to Portsmouth. The goalkeeper later said he had simply acted out of frustration with Norwich's performance.

"When you have good players the transfer window brings an unsettling period because players get distractions," Worthington said. "There's lots of speculation and rumours. It's certainly not helpful."

Goals: McVeigh pen (44) 1-0; Henderson (47) 1-1; Thorne (62) 2-1; Henderson (65) 2-2; Spring (90) 2-3.

Norwich City (4-3-3): Green; Colin, Doherty, Fleming, Charlton; Hughes, Jarrett, Etuhu; McVeigh (Henderson, 66), Thorne, Huckerby. Substitutes not used: Gallacher (gk), Shackell, Brennan, Spillane.

Watford (4-4-2): Foster; Doyley, DeMerit (Carlisle, 66), Mackay, Stewart; Eagles (Bangura, 71), Mahon, Spring, McNamee (Bouazza, 71); Henderson, King. Substitutes not used: Chamberlain (gk), Chambers.

Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).

Man of the match: Etuhu.

Attendance: 25,384.