Watford got their campaign off to the perfect start this evening with a richly-deserved 3-2 victory at Norwich City on live TV.

The Hornets stunned the reigning League One champions with a superb opening to the game that saw them take a 2-0 lead inside the opening 25 minutes through John Eustace and a wonderfully-worked Danny Graham strike.

It might have been even better for the visitors at the break had John Ruddy not pulled off a fine stop to deny Will Buckley, but a reaction from the Canaries was always likely and so it proved with Andrew Crofts halving the deficit six minutes after the restart.

Adrian Mariappa missed a gilt-edged chance to restore the two-goal cushion soon after, but Watford went on to make sure of the points with nine minutes remaining when Graham notched his second of the night, even though a late effort from Michael Nelson made injury-time rather more tense than it should have been.

And, although it is largely meaningless, the win means Watford will be top of the table at least once this season.

Malky Mackay made just the one change from the last pre-season outing against Charlton Athletic, with the fit-again Martin Taylor replacing Tom Aldred, but the main interest was on the bench where new signing Deeney was registered in time to take his place among the substitutes.

The Watford boss also, intriguingly, opted for a diamond shape in midfield, with skipper Eustace holding behind Stephen McGinn and Don Cowie, while Buckley was deployed in the hole behind the front two of Graham and Marvin Sordell.

While there were no new signings in the visitors’ starting XI, Norwich had no fewer than five in the form of keeper John Ruddy, centre-half Elliott Ward, midfielders Andrew Crofts and Andrew Surman and striker Simeon Jackson. Former Hornet Anthony McNamee was on the bench.

The match got underway in a fantastic atmosphere, with both teams going like-for-like in terms of their midfield shape, but it was the Hornets who made the brighter start and had the first attempt in the fourth minute when Eustace fired over from 30 yards following a considered build-up.

However, it was the hosts who had the first clear opening two minutes later when, after having a shot blocked, Jackson latched on to Chris Martin’s knock down in the area, but Taylor did just enough to prevent him having a clean strike and Scott Loach was able to save.

Back came the Hornets though, with Graham seeking to latch on to Mariappa’s cross-field ball at the far post and, although he did well to get a foot to it, the Hornets’ striker was unable to get his effort from a tight angle on target.

Graham then had the opportunity to advance in the 11th minute when the ball broke to him near the centre circle, and with Don Cowie offering an option to his left, last season’s top scorer chose to go it alone, only to scuff his shot wide of the near post.

But Watford’s strong start to the contest was rewarded in the 14th minute when they scored the first goal of the new season.

The opener originated from their first corner of the match when the Canaries momentarily switched off, allowing Buckley to lay the ball back to set-piece taker Cowie on the right. His cross initially looked too high and deep, but Eustace was able to bring the ball down and take it past a limp challenge from Crofts before striking a left-footed shot that was deflected inside Ruddy’s near post to give the Hornets a 1-0 lead.

Graham had another attempt soon after when the visitors, who were looking very threatening on the counter, broke again, but it took a good save from Loach to keep the Hornets in front after 21 minutes.

After Cowie had picked up Watford’s first yellow card of the campaign for breaking too early from the wall at a free-kick, Surman curled a second set-piece round the inside of the wall and Loach across well to save at his near post.

But instead of being 1-1, the Hornets put clear daylight between themselves and the home side with a fantastic move and finish after 23 minutes.

Lloyd Doyley started it with well-weighted lofted pass, Graham chested down first time to Sordell, who returned the favour with a superb flick round the corner back into the stride of his strike partner who had continued his run and firmly and confidently planted it beyond Ruddy and inside his far post to put the Golden Boys 2-0 up.

A great first half almost got even better on the half-hour when more shoddy Norwich defending allowed Sordell to get in behind on the right side of the area and, although his cross was slightly behind Buckley, the former Rochdale man was able to spin and strike a left-footed effort that was destined for the bottom corner until Ruddy managed to get his right hand down to parry.

Soon after, Watford won a free-kick in a good shooting position around 25 yards out and Eustace rolled the ball short to Graham, whose rising effort was deflected over. Then, on 36 minutes, some more attractive inter-play around the Canaries box ended with Cowie finding Sordell, but he shot tamely at Ruddy.

Norwich had enjoyed few opportunities since their opponents doubled the lead, but they had one five minutes before the break when Jackson was allowed to run in behind the defence, but the summer signing from Gillingham could only hit the side netting.

The home side had another opening three minutes later when Chris Martin headed a Crofts cross from the right down and well wide, but the Hornets were able to hold on to their richly-deserved 2-0 lead going into the break.

The Canaries, perhaps surprisingly, did not come out with all guns blazing off the break and, indeed, it was their opponents who had the first attempt of the second period when Buckley cut in off the right but fired over.

But within six minutes of the restart, Norwich were right back in it.

The hosts built on the edge of the Hornets box, with Wes Hoolahan driving at the defence and finding Jackson who, with all the defenders sucked across from the left to centre, intelligently back-heeled to the unmarked Crofts, who didn’t break stride as he shot powerfully across Loach to make it 2-1.

Having been pegged back though, Watford really should have restored their two-goal cushion seven minutes later – and the reason they didn’t was because of the first contender for miss of the season.

Buckley did well on the right to keep the pressure on following a corner and then whipped in a dangerous inswinging cross with his left foot. Ruddy got a hand to it, but only succeeded in palming it back out into the six yard box where Mariappa, effectively with the entire goal to aim at, headed the down and the wrong side of the keeper’s right-hand post.

Having looked to the heavens after that miss, Mackay then made a double change, with Deeney coming on for his debut in place of Sordell, while Ross Jenkins replaced Buckley.

A David Fox shot at Loach and a torrential downpour aside, little happened until the 72nd minute when Paul Lambert made his first change, bringing on Grant Holt for Jackson. Soon after though, referee Nigel Miller felt it necessary to have a lengthy word with the Watford boss for reasons that weren’t readily apparent.

But it didn’t take the Canaries striker long to almost make an impact and, with ten minutes remaining, he met Hoolahan’s cross from the left with a powerful downward header that wasn’t too far wide.

That was a close call, but within a minute Watford were celebrating a third goal.

A mix-up in the home side’s ranks allowed Stephen McGinn to send the ball to the left side of the area where Graham had timed his run to perfection to make space for himself and, although his right-footed effort wasn’t the hardest ever struck, a slight deflection was enough to take it beyond Ruddy and inside the far post.

That should have been that but Norwich ensured there would be some late nerves for the visitors when, ten seconds into injury time, Crofts pulled the ball back, it was dummited and defensive colleague Nelson, who had largely crept up from the back largely unnoticed and calmly steered the ball beyond Loach to make it 3-2.

Norwich City: Ruddy; R. Martin, Ward, Nelson, Drury; Fox; Crofts, Surman (McNamee 87); Hoolahan; Jackson (Holt 72), C Martin. Not used:, Rudd, Smith, Lappin, Johnson and Askou.

Watford: Loach; Hodson, Mariappa, Taylor, Doyley; Eustace; Cowie, McGinn; Buckley (Jenkins 59); Sordell (Deeney 59), Graham. Not used: Gilmartin, Bryan, Henderson, Mingoia and Oshodi.

Bookings: Cowie for ungentlemanly conduct after 20 mins.

Attendance: 24,348.

Referee: Nigel Miller.