Norwich City 2 Watford 3: Spring capitalises as Norwich lose Ashton

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There was no shortage of goals and excitement in this gripping match, but the key presence at Carrow Road was of a man who did not even play. An injury-time winner from Matthew Spring prompted a smattering of boos at the final whistle, but the home fans had been unsettled as soon as it became apparent that striker Dean Ashton was not in the starting line-up following reports that a move to West Ham had been finalised.

The club insisted his absence was the result of a persistent groin injury and issued a pre-match denial. "We have not agreed a fee for Dean with West Ham for £8 million," Norwich's chief executive Neil Doncaster said, "nor indeed accepted any other bids for any other players with any other club."

And manager Nigel Worthington confirmed that position - only for Ashton's move to Upton Park for an initial £7m to go through after the match.

Worthington also insisted that nothing should be read into the way that goalkeeper Robert Green had thrown his shirt into the crowd at the final whistle. Green insisted it was a gesture born out of frustration. "As far as offers go," Worthington said, "we have had nothing."

For Norwich, it was a bad day at the office.That the winner was scored by a player who had been rejected by the club as a schoolboy just rubbed it in. Even the Watford manager, Adrian Boothroyd, accepted his side had been fortunate. "We've got the kind of players you'd like to go to war with," he said. "We've not played particularly well, but we've ground it out, and that's characteristic of champions."

Norwich were ahead twice thanks to a Paul McVeigh penalty and a Peter Thorne header but sloppy defending allowed Darius Henderson to pounce twice after Green had parried. Norwichhad their chances before Spring turned in Marlon King's pass to secure the points.