The weather forecast for the weekend had been for cold temperatures and some snow and, sure enough, we were not far out of London when the landscapes became white under a beautiful blue sky. The sky changed to grey as we went further north and, on changing trains at Preston, the snow was falling.
The train bookings I had made for this journey were a little odd, to say the least. I had booked to arrive at Burnley Barracks, as it allowed the earliest connection to my train from London, only to find that the same train was going on to Burnley Central and that the Barracks station was a request stop on the line which meant that you had to ask the conductor to let you off there. Since Central was a better option for the ground, I asked whether there would be a penalty if I stayed on for the extra stop and was assured that I would be fine. So, with the snow falling heavily, I opted for an extra 2 minutes on the train to save a further 10 minute walk.
As I walked towards the ground, I was amazed to see someone setting up a stall selling Burnley/Watford half-and-half scarves. Who on earth did he think would buy one? This was not a game likely to attract a lot of tourists. When I arrived at the Cricket Club, I was expecting to see some of my party in our usual spot, but the room was empty. Thankfully, they arrived soon after and we were soon thoroughly enjoying the cask beer and the pie, chips, mushy peas and gravy on offer at Annie’s Kitchen. Our party grew quickly and there was a lovely surprise when the arrival of the supporters’ coach led to us being joined by the two Janices, who declared that they had finally found somewhere in Burnley that they liked.
As we got to the turnstiles, we endured the usual search which was made unusually pleasant by the stewards being rather apologetic about the intrusion.
Team news was two changes from the Spurs game with Janmaat and Carrillo coming in for Femenía and Prödl. Silva had also opted for a change in formation to 4-2-3-1. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Mariappa, Kabasele, Zeegelaar; Cleverley, Doucouré; Carrillo, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney. Burnley’s starting line-up included former Watford loanee, Jack Cork, but the main connection was in the dug-out with former player and manager, Sean Dyche, and his best mate, Ian Woan.
The view from the away end at Burnley is rather delightful. If there is nothing interesting to see on the pitch, you have the hills to look at which, on this occasion, looked enchanting with their frosting of snow.
The first chance of the game fell to the visitors as an early corner from Cleverley was touched on by Pereyra to Deeney who nodded wide. Watford should have opened the scoring when Carrillo played a great ball to Richarlison but the young Brazilian shot just wide of the near post. The travelling Hornets had great faith in him, though, as they started a chant of “He’ll score in the snow.” At this point, there was some discussion about the players who were wearing gloves, Carrillo and Richarlison I accepted, but Janmaat is Dutch, he shouldn’t be bothered by a little snow! Burnley’s first chance came with a shot from Wood which was comfortably gathered by Gomes. The home side had a wonderful chance to take the lead when they won a free kick in a dangerous position. Gudmundsson delivered a superb shot over the wall which was met by an equally brilliant save by Gomes to keep the game goalless. The Icelander had another go, but this time his shot from distance was wide of the near post. The next Burnley chance came from a long pass upfield that Wood met on the volley, but Gomes had an easy catch. Watford threatened when a long throw was met by a snapshot from Doucouré which was saved resulting, eventually, in a corner, which came to nothing as Kabasele shot well wide.
The snow was coming down in earnest now, but we were warmed by a lovely passing move from the Hornets that finished with a cross from Pereyra being headed goalwards by Janmaat, unfortunately Pope was able to make the save. A couple of minutes later, it all went horribly wrong as Zeegelaar slid into a challenge on Defour. It didn’t look particularly bad from our vantage point, so there was shock among the travelling fans when a red card was brandished. Due to the dismissal, Silva made the decision to sacrifice Pereyra for Holebas. The Watford fans were calling for a penalty soon afterwards when Richarlison was knocked down in the box, but nothing was given. Holebas had a chance to put Watford in the lead as he latched on to a cross from Carrillo, but he powered his shot into the side netting. Burnley took the lead just before half time as Gudmundsson found Arfield in space and he slotted home. It was all rather cruel.
At half time there was a lot of complaining about the referee, apart from those who had received messages from friends with a better view who were all of the opinion that the card had been justified. Whatever the truth of the matter, we were looking forward to a very tough 45 minutes.
Early in the second half, there was an angry exchange between Gomes and the referee. The keeper had taken off his gloves and appeared to be gesturing to his hand, possibly to an injury that he had sustained that had evaded the notice of the referee. The first chance of the second half came when Richarlison played a square ball to Doucouré who directed the shot wide of the target. Then Janmaat did well to battle past a couple of defenders into the box, but was tackled and the ball went out for what looked like a corner, but a goal kick was given. Carrillo had the ball in the box with the goal at his mercy, but he thought too long about the shot and was tackled. Then, following a couple of blocked shots after a corner, the ball fell to Cleverley on the edge of the box but he fired over the target. It appeared to be game over just before the hour mark when a ball over the top found Wood who tapped home, but his celebrations were stopped by an offside flag. Burnley threatened again as a free kick reached Long who shot over the bar. There was another shout for a Watford penalty as Carrillo collided with a Burnley player in the box, he went down protesting, but it looked like a coming together to me and the referee was right to wave play on.
Burnley had the ball in the net again as Watford failed to clear allowing the ball through to Barnes, who was flagged offside although, on this occasion, there was a long discussion between the linesman and referee before he indicated the free kick as opposed to a goal, much to the relief of those in the away end. Burnley were then awarded a free kick on the edge of the box for what appeared to be a foul on Kabasele. Thankfully Defour hit it just wide of the target. Deeney played in Richarlison who was taken down in the box but, with the travelling Hornets again howling for a penalty, the referee indicated a corner. Watford’s second substitution came with 10 minutes to go as Carrillo made way for Gray who was welcomed back to Turf Moor with boos and chants of “short, greedy b*st*rd.” It is so lovely to be warmly remembered. A Watford corner came to nothing as Janmaat headed just over. Gray had an early chance to anger the home fans further as he ran on to a lovely ball from Richarlison, but Pope arrived first to avert the danger. Burnley had a great chance to increase their lead but Gomes stretched to pull off a great save to stop Gudmundsson’s shot. Richarlison was in the wars again as Bardsley sent him flying and was booked for his trouble. Watford threatened from a free-kick, Holebas delivered a lovely ball into the box, but no Watford player could connect to shoot. The visitors had a final chance to save a point when they were awarded a free kick in the last minute of added time. Gomes joined his colleagues in the Burnley box, but Pope plucked the delivery out of the air and the game ended in a narrow defeat for the Hornets.
After the final whistle, both Silva and Gomes had stern words with the referee and, once the players had been applauded off, he attracted the wrath of the away fans, although I don’t think he was flavour of the month for the home fans either after the disallowed ‘goals’. Sean Dyche again acknowledged the Watford fans on his way towards the tunnel and was rewarded with warm applause.
My eccentric train booking meant that I had a couple of hours to kill in Burnley after the game. Having been irritated by some goading on our way back to the cricket club, I was thankful that those inside were generally very pleasant and our post-match reflections took place in a convivial atmosphere. The general feeling among the Watford fans was pure frustration. Burnley were always going to be difficult opponents, but the game had been shaping up nicely as a contest when Zeegelaar was dismissed. The ten men competed admirably for the whole of the second half and nobody could have argued it was undeserved if they had gone home with a point. But I would have loved to see what we could have done with 11 against 11 for 90 minutes.
The journey home started with a treacherous walk on icy pavements to the station. We were then treated to a slow running train to Preston, which had us anxiously checking our watches and connection time. We needn’t have worried as the London train was kept in Preston station to meet a train from Glasgow that was not going any further south. This also had the knock-on effect of extra stops and an arrival in London after 11pm. There was an upside, though, as one of the passengers who transferred from the Glasgow train was the lovely James McArdle whose work at the National Theatre I have greatly admired. He walked past me half a dozen times before I plucked up the courage to ask if he was who I thought he was and, when he answered in the affirmative, tell him how much I enjoyed his work. The encounter cheered me up no end.
Due to further delays on top of my late booking, it was nearly 1am before I arrived home. It is a long journey home after a defeat but somehow it doesn’t discourage me and I found myself looking at the route to Huddersfield today (although trains won’t be booked until the TV fixtures are out for April). We go again at Selhurst Park on Tuesday, another ground that most people dread visiting, but I quite like for the atmosphere and the feel of a ‘proper’ football ground (even if I can’t see much). I am forgoing my work Christmas party for this match, so am very much hoping that it is worth the sacrifice.