Watford are in the relegation zone tonight after their Premier League survival hopes took a huge blow following a dreadful 3-0 defeat at home to Norwich City.

In a game interrupted by a partial floodlight failure in the second half, the Hornets’ campaign plunged to its darkest depths yet as a Josh Sargent brace and Juraj Kucka own goal saw the Canaries climb above their opponents in the battle at the basement after doubling their away goals tally for the season inside 90 minutes.

It was a game when Watford needed to start positively. They did the exact opposite.

The hosts were anxious and tentative in the opening 20 minutes but gradually improved before the break, only for their forays into the attacking third to be let down by a lack of composure and poor decision making.

Once again, the Hornets were slow out of the blocks in the second half, but this time they were punished as Sargent improvised to make the breakthrough in spectacular fashion after Teemu Pukki had capitalised on some poor defending from Samir.

The partial floodlight failure delayed proceedings for at least ten minutes but it was the visitors who were far sharper when play did resume, doubling their lead through Sargent’s header.

What was turning into an awful night then got even worse as Emmanuel Dennis was sent off after a second yellow card.

Moussa Sissoko thought he had given the Hornets hope, but saw a volley ruled out for offside, only for another defensive calamity to befall the hosts when Kucka put through his own net to set the seal on an awful night that leaves big question marks over Claudio Ranieri’s future at the club.

The head coach named a positive, attack-minded line-up but it was one that showed four changes from the starting XI at Newcastle United, two of which were enforced.

Ben Foster and Craig Cathcart both missed out with “illness”, the goalkeeper confirming via social media that he was suffering with Covid, while Jeremy Ngakia and Kucka dropped to the bench.

Their places were taken by Daniel Bachmann, Kiko Femenia, Tom Cleverley and Christian Kabasele, who was making his first appearance since October following a lengthy injury lay-off.

Norwich boss Dean Smith had confirmed before the game that Tim Krul was ruled out through injury and the inclusion of Angus Gunn in his place was the only change from the team which started the 2-1 victory over Everton last time out.

The atmosphere was already cranking up in the minutes approaching kick-off but it was sizzling by the time the contest got underway following the now traditional scarf tribute to Graham Taylor following the fifth anniversary of his death before Vicarage Road was enveloped in smoke after some pre-match pyrotechnics.

Both teams looked to attack from the outset but the first moment of anxiety came for the Hornets when Sissoko fouled Adam Idah inside the D. It was the ideal opportunity for the Canaries to try and test Bachmann early on, but Millot Rashica could only fire his free-kick straight into the wall.

Watford looked edgy in the opening stages with the Canaries looking the more threatening on the ball.

The visitors had the next opportunity when Sissoko won the ball back in his area and tried to find Cleverley, but the pass was intercepted by Jacob Sorensen and he laid it inside to Rashica, who whipped a first-time effort a yard over from the edge of the 18-yard box.

The Hornets looked like they might have an opportunity to create something when Samir picked Dennis out with a superb sweeping 50-yard pass out of defence, the Nigerian laid it inside to Cleverley, who returned it to the striker, only for the Hornets’ leading scorer to carelessly give the ball away.

Brandon Williams was fortunate to escape a booking after clattering into Dennis in the 18th minute and three minutes later the visitors were forced into an early change when Kenny McLean replaced the injured Sorensen.

The Hornets though, had won a couple of corners by this time and there were signs they were starting to at last settle after an opening 20 minutes in which they had been too edgy for the most part.

The hosts had a promoting spell as the game ticked past the half-hour mark, seeing three shots blocked as Norwich were forced to defend in numbers.

But it took until the 31st minute for them to muster an attempt on target, with Gunn able to stand still and catch a Kabasele header following a Cleverley corner from the right.

Norwich had not been adverse to going to ground at times but it was Dennis who became the first player to be shown a yellow card by Mike Dean for a foul on Pierre Lees-Melou.

However, the card count was very quickly levelled up as McLean suffered the same fate for a high challenge on Cleverley.

Watford were almost in soon after when Sissoko released Dennis on the left side of the area, but instead of trying to pick out a teammate he theatrically tried to claim a penalty – perhaps not the wisest decision within minutes of being booked.

Poor decision-making let down the Hornets in the last minute of the first half when some sparkling footwork from Joao Pedro saw him break through in the area, but again he chose to go it alone and could only toe-poke an effort tamely through to Gunn, much to Joshua King’s frustration.

However, the striker almost turned creator moments later when he was released by a ball over the top and centred into the heart of the area, but the on-rushing Sissoko was unable to get his feet sorted out and sliced the ball well wide of the target as an opening period low on quality ended goalless.

The Hornets tried to start the second 45 minutes as the ended the first half, on the front foot, and had their first chance within two minutes of the resumption when Sissoko shook off Lees-Melou on the left side of the 18-yard box and pulled the ball back for Pedro, who hit a rising drive over the top.

Three minutes later though, it was the visitors who were celebrating after they capitalised on the latest defensive mess from the Hornets’ perspective.

Kabasele was stretching when he tried to play a ball out of defence, the visitors seized on it and tried to release Pukki on the right side of the area. Samir looked to have the situation under control but in trying to shepherd the ball out of play, he was disposed by the striker who centred for Sargent, who improvised and hooked the ball over his shoulder and beyond Bachmann via the underside of the bar with the ball just crossing the line.

VAR John Brooks took his time to look at the incident for a possible foul on Samir by Pukki, but decided no infringement had taken place as Norwich were awarded just their fourth league goal of the campaign.

Ranieri responded by bringing on Cucho Hernandez for Cleverley before play was temporarily halted when half the floodlights when out.

After a couple of minutes they did come back on briefly, only to go out again, but the players were kept on the pitch kicking balls amongst themselves, while Bachmann headed for the changing rooms for a short time.

The delay went on for 11 minutes, but with the problem still not fixed the referee decided to resume proceedings.

But within two minutes Watford’s season plunged to its darkest depths yet as Rashica got away from Femenia with far too much ease on the left and sent over a deep cross which Sargent attacked, getting up above Hassane Kamara to head down and beyond Bachmann into the far corner.

The night was soon to get even worse as Dennis went in late Max Aarons, Dean reached for his pocket and a second yellow card was soon followed red.

Watford were in a complete mess but they almost pulled one back when some shambolic Canaries defending allowed Hernandez to head towards goal, only for it to be cleared off the line, but the home side kept the ball alive and the young Colombian had a second bite at the cherry, but this time was denied by Gunn.

Ken Sema replaced Kamara with 84 minutes on the clock as the home side were threatening to get back into it, Pedro curling a shot narrowly over after being found by Hernandez following a break involving Sissoko and King.

The Hornets then thought they were back in it when a cross from the left was hooked in on the turn by Sissoko, only for his celebrations to cut short by the linesman’s flag.

The signalling of 15 minutes of injury time seemed to afford the Hornets further hope, only for them to concede a third courtesy of another defensive calamity when Adam Idah cut the ball back from the byline and Kucka, who had only been on the pitch a matter of minutes, stuck out a boot to divert the ball past Bachmann to make it 3-0.

It was also the signal for plenty of Hornets fans to head to the exit.

King dragged a long-range shot wide at the other end before Hernandez went closer hitting a right-footed effort from distance that crashed off the top of the bar.

But there was to be no consolation goal on an awful night for the home side that leaves them in the drop zone heading into a two-week break.

Watford: Bachmann; Femenia (Kucka 89), Kabasele, Samir, Kamara (Sema 84); Cleverley (Hernandez 59), Kayembe, Sissoko; Pedro, King, Dennis. Subs not used: Elliot, Ngakia, Fletcher, Tufan, Sierralta, Morris.

Norwich City: Gunn; Aarons, Hanley, Gibson, Williams; Sargent, Sorensen (McLean 21), Lees-Melou, Rashica (Placheta 90); Idah, Pukki (Byram 86). Subs not used: McGovern, Dowell, Kabak, Tzolis, Giannoulis, Rowe.

Bookings: Dennis for Lees-Melou (36); McLean for a foul on Cleverley (38); Dennis for a foul on Aarons (78) – sent off.

Referee: Mike Dean.