As I left work to catch the train to Burnley, I bumped into a colleague who, on spotting my overnight bag, asked where I was going. My response left her confused, “Burnley? Where is Burnley?” I tried to describe the location adding that it is not the nicest of towns but I was going there for football. “Why not watch it in the comfort of your own home?” A good question, but I don’t particularly enjoy watching football on television and don’t have Sky TV at home, so off to Burnley it was.
My journey included an hour ‘layover’ at Preston. There was a time not so long ago when I was travelling though Preston very regularly but, since our promotion, it has become a rare occurrence and, for some inexplicable reason, I’ve actually missed it. On arrival, Burnley was grey and damp. After a brief detour to check in to the surprisingly pleasant hotel, I set off for the cricket club spotting a good few familiar faces on the way. My first thought when this game was moved for television was that it would a bit of a throw-back to our Championship days when the midweek away crowd was mostly the hard core. But the club having subsidized the tickets and laid on cheap coaches meant that we had sold over 1400 tickets, so there would be a very impressive turn out for a Monday TV game.
The Cricket Club had been spruced up and our usual corner was already occupied by a couple of our party. Our welcome to the North was cask ale at £1.50 a pint and “Annie’s kitchen” was doing a roaring trade in the pie, chips peas and gravy. The side room where we had gathered soon filled up with familiar Watford faces. So, as Angela started telling us that her daughter had bought her a copy of “On this Day” by one of the BSaD guys, I was a little bit confused. I assumed that everyone there knew everyone else, but she was totally oblivious to the fact that the author of her lovely birthday present was at the other end of table. So, of course, I introduced them.
Team news was just the one change with Amrabat in for the injured Janmaat. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Prödl, Britos; Amrabat, Capoue, Behrami, Pereyra, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo. Rather oddly, for the second away game in a row the Hornets faced a team in claret and blue wearing their white away kit which meant that both teams were wearing the same coloured shorts and Gomes was in a purple shirt that would have been deemed a clash in a bygone age. After our last two convincing performances, confidence was high among the fans before the game. But there was a question in the back of my mind as to whether this team could do it on a wet Monday night in Burnley. With former Watford boss, Dyche, in charge, our hosts were not going to be a pushover.
The first chance of the game was a warning of things to come from the home side as, from a corner, the ball fell to Boyd whose shot drew a decent save from Gomes who tipped it over the bar. Watford were a little lucky to escape a penalty appeal as a ball hit Holebas on the upper arm. It was definitely a case of ball to arm, but I have seen them given. After 20 minutes, I made a note that it had been mostly Burnley on top. I wasn’t to know at that point that I could have made the same note at almost any time in the game. The first sign that the Watford players were rattled came when Pereyra fouled Boyd and was booked for arguing with the referee. It was a really stupid booking to attract. Despite their dominance, Burnley didn’t threaten again until the 23rd minute when Gudmundsson took a shot from the edge of the area that flew just wide. Watford’s first chance on goal came soon after as a corner from Capoue reached Holebas whose shot was blocked on the line. In the 38th minute, Burnley won a disputed corner, Holebas was booked for protesting and many around me were unhappy at the decision although, to be fair, most of them had been unhappy since kick-off. Burnley took the lead from the corner as Defour’s deep delivery was headed home by Hendricks. It was a poor goal to give away, but the home side’s lead was well deserved on the balance of play. Watford’s best chance of the half came in time added on as a free kick reached Pereyra whose cross was headed goalwards by Ighalo, but Heaton gathered easily. It was a relief to hear the half time whistle. It had been an utterly dreadful performance from the Hornets but that had a lot to do with the opposition. Sean Dyche had done a tremendous job in organizing his team to stop the Watford players, who had no space to play in, although I’m not sure that excuses them not being able to string two passes together or defend set pieces.
It was hoped that Mazzarri would make changes at half time, but the only change in personnel was to bring Zúñiga on for Cathcart. Watford started the half brightly with a lovely passing move ending in a shot from Deeney that was blocked and then cleared for a corner before he could connect with the follow-up. But the good play didn’t last long and the home side increased their lead on 51 minutes as Defour’s corner was returned to him, his follow-up cross was met by Keane who was allowed a free header to beat Gomes. Watford never really looked like getting back in the game after that, although there was some hope with the second substitution which saw Success come on for Amrabat. That change went down very well among the away support who had been berating Nordin throughout the game. On the hour, the Hornets had Gomes to thank for keeping the score respectable as he did brilliantly to save a shot from Defour. At the other end Deeney met a Pereyra cross with a header that Heaton saved, but it would have been off target anyway. Success had been lively since he came on and a run at the Burnley defence drew a foul and a free kick in a decent position. Holebas stepped up to take it and shot into the wall, the ball rebounded to Capoue whose shot was blocked and Deeney’s follow-up was saved. Watford were having a lot of possession during this period but too often were passing sideways or backwards, any forward passes seemed to be from Gomes launching the ball upfield, much to the frustration of those around me who were letting their feelings be known.
Mazzarri’s final change saw Kenedy on for Pereyra who had been lucky to avoid a second yellow card after a petulant challenge. Into the last ten minutes and the involvement of Success and Kenedy had introduced some energy on the field that transferred itself to the stands and the travelling Hornets started making some positive noise. Deeney went on a run and found Success who cut in, beating a couple of defenders, but his shot was from a tight angle and no Watford player could connect with the ball as it rolled along the goal line before it was put out by a defender. The resulting corner came to Behrami on the edge of the box whose shot flew just wide. Success had one final chance to reduce the deficit in the last minute of time added on, but his shot from an angle flew over the bar. The final whistle was greeted with boos from the away stand. Although this was followed by some sympathy applause for the players from the soft-hearted among us. Deeney looked livid as he applauded the crowd and he certainly did not hold back in his post-match comments.
There was a lot of grumbling on the way out about the players being able to motivate themselves for the big teams while capitulating against Burnley. There is a sad irony in fans criticising the players for arrogance while taking it as a given that we should beat a team like Burnley. Personally, I am rather heartened that this division is competitive, so results cannot easily be predicted. But I hope that future performances are a bit more entertaining to reward those who travel. As I saw the fans piling on to the coaches for the long journey home, I was very happy that I had decided to stay over so only had a short walk back to my hotel room.
On checking out of the hotel the next morning, the woman on reception asked if I’d been to the football. I bemoaned our performance, but we then had an interesting conversation about Sean Dyche. She was definitely a fan, praising the efforts that he has put into developing the infrastructure of the club, so that they are set up for a future in the Premier League. I’m told they have a nice new training ground and that the academy has grown under his leadership. While he’s not a local he seems to have taken the club to his heart much as he did at Watford, which has gone down very well.
Saturday we will be back to Vicarage Road and there needs to be no complacency from either the players or the fans. Bournemouth will be tough opposition and we will need to be at our best to ensure that we get a result against a team that we have had little success against recently. This has been a great start to the season, so I sincerely hope that Monday was just a blip and we can return to winning ways very soon.