Watford-Norwich City Preview
Norwich City don't know if they're going to be in the Premier League next season, though there's increasing speculation someone new will lead Watford when they return this summer.
It's win or relegation for the Canaries on Wednesday at Carrow Road, where they'll also keep a nervous eye on the out-of-town scoreboard as they face Watford.
Alex Neil's team has put themselves in dire straits heading into the final week of the season. Norwich City (8-7-21) enter this contest 19th in the table on 31 points, four behind 17th-place Sunderland, who can condemn both the Canaries and Newcastle United to the Championship with a victory at home over Newcastle United on Wednesday.
The Canaries have only themselves to blame for their plight, having dropped four on the bounce without scoring a goal. Though Saturday's result was a second straight hard-fought 1-0 defeat - this time to Manchester United on a goal by Juan Mata in the 72nd minute - Neil knows moral victories are no substitute for the needed actual ones to stay in the top flight.
"Their first shot on target comes off the back of us making a silly mistake, and it cost us the game," Neil lamented to his team's official website. "It's why we're in the situation we're in, and the bottom line is that it's not good enough."
Norwich's fade to the tape has already resulted in front-office shuffling. Chief executive David McNally, who joined the team in 2009 when they were in League One and oversaw consecutive promotions to reach the Premier League in 2011, resigned Monday.
He helped the Canaries spend only one season in the Championship after being relegated in 2014, and the players are desperate to avoid a return to the second tier.
"We have an opportunity on Wednesday which we can't waste; we have to get three points," defender Ivo Pinto told Norwich City TV. "We need to keep together as a team, which we are. While it's possible, we won't quit and stop fighting."
Watford (12-8-16) and Bournemouth were the other two promoted sides with Norwich City at the start of this season, and both the Hornets and Cherries have no such relegation worries. But the optimism of December - when Watford were seventh in the table and only one point out of a Champions League spot - coupled with a run to the FA Cup semifinals caused a backslide to mediocrity that has put coach Quique Sanchez Flores on the hot seat.
The Hornets were outclassed 2-0 at Anfield by Liverpool on Sunday and are 2-2-6 in their last 10 league matches. That poor run of form is threatening to put a damper on what could have been a season of overachieving by the Golden Boys.
"We've had difficult periods and bits of form, and when you're in it you feel the pressure building," defender Craig Cathcart told Hornets Player HD. "We're still sitting comfortably in the table and it's been a really good season, but we want to carry on for the last two games and see just how high we can go."
Flores has admitted the team was distracted by the unlikely journey to Wembley after amassing 28 points before the turn of the calendar year, and now the Spaniard has been batting away rumours he may be moving back to La Liga to coach Valencia or perhaps stay in the Premier League and take over Everton, who are expected to part ways with Roberto Martinez at season's end.
While Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo have combined for 29 of Watford's 42 goals in all competitions, Ighalo has not found the back of the net in league play in his last 12 matches since scoring versus Newcastle on Jan. 23. His last goal came in Watford's FA Cup quarterfinal victory at Arsenal on March 13.
Watford ran out 2-0 winners at Vicarage Road in the reverse fixture Dec. 5 as Deeney converted from the penalty spot on the half-hour and assisted on a goal by Ighalo in second-half stoppage time.