In my enthusiasm to buy train tickets for the first away game of the season, I completely forgot about Burnley’s involvement in the Europa League, so was booked on the 8:03 from King’s Cross via Leeds on Saturday morning. When the game was moved to the Sunday, I looked at changing the ticket but found that the first train leaving London on Sunday would not arrive in time for me to make kick-off. Just as I was contemplating a lonely Saturday night in Burnley, a dear friend offered to show me the sights of Bradford, so I was treated to a Hockney exhibition followed by curry, beer and putting the world to rights. All rather lovely.
We made good time on the journey from Bradford to Burnley on Sunday morning and were in the Cricket Club by 11 and soon joined by a couple of VIPs from the club as well as the Happy Valley Horns and Kate and the two Janices who had caught the supporters’ coach at 6am. The cricket club is a lovely friendly place and we were soon in conversation with a local who is clearly enjoying their European exploits.
On arrival at the turnstiles, the steward looked slightly aghast at my tightly packed overnight bag and the discovery of toiletries inside had her shaking her head, declaring them flammable and therefore not allowed inside the stadium. Thankfully her supervisor decided that roll-on deodorant and lemon shower gel were not too dangerous in the hands of a middle-aged woman so I was allowed to keep them. I assured her that I wouldn’t put a match to them.
Team news was that Gracia had kept faith with the team who did so well last week, so the starting line-up was Foster; Holebas, Cathcart, Kabasele, Janmaat; Pereyra, Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes; Gray, Deeney. Burnley featured former Watford loanee Jack Cork and, of course, had Sean Dyche and Ian Woan in the dugout.
As I was on a flight to the US last Saturday for work, I missed the Brighton game, so I was really looking forward to my season starting properly. But, as Watford hadn’t scored away from home since January 2nd and we never get anything at Burnley, my expectations were pretty low prior to kick-off. Thankfully they were confounded as the Hornets started brilliantly with a chance in the second minute as Deeney crossed for Gray, whose shot was blocked by Tarkowski. The visitors took the lead a minute later as Deeney and Gray exchanged passes before the former Burnley man hit a superb volley that gave Hart no chance. I am pleased to confirm that, despite the length of time that had elapsed since the last away goal, the travelling Hornets had not forgotten how to celebrate. The home fans were not so happy and, as if in sympathy, the big screen in the opposite corner went blank.
Unfortunately, Watford’s lead was very short lived as Burnley won a corner and Tarkowski rose highest to head home for the equaliser. The home side then had a period of dominance and had a great chance to take the lead as Gudmundsson curled a gorgeous free kick towards the Watford goal, but Foster pulled off a decent save to keep the scores level. Gray should have done better after exchanging passes with Pereyra but his shot was mishit and flew wide. At the other end a Cork shot was blocked and, in the ensuing goalmouth scramble some tenacious defending ensured that no Burnley player got a clear sight of goal before the ball was finally cleared. The Hornets had a decent end to the half and could have regained the lead when Deeney tried a shot from distance, but Hart got a hand to it and kept it out. The first caution of the game went to Hughes for a silly challenge on Ward that appeared to take place off the field when Watford had already won a throw-in. The home side had one last chance to take the lead before half time as a cross-cum-shot from Hendrick was saved by Foster, it fell to Lennon, but Holebas made a terrific tackle to prevent the shot. So we reached half time with honours even. It has to be said that Burnley had slightly the better of the half, but it had been a good contest.
The second half started brilliantly for the Hornets as a blocked ball into the box rebounded to Doucouré, who played a gorgeous pass to Deeney, with only Hart to beat he made no mistake and the Hornets were ahead again. It turns out that Watford away goals are like London buses, you don’t see one for over seven months and then three come along at once. This time it was Hughes who intercepted a terrible ball from Lowton, advanced and found the bottom corner. At this point, the travelling Hornets were beside themselves. The first Burnley booking was born of frustration as Ward was cautioned for pulling Hughes down. Watford had a decent chance to increase their lead as Capoue launched a long cross into the box, but it was just too far in front of Deeney. As the game reached the final quarter hour, both sides made substitutions as Barnes and Vokes came on for Wood and Hendrick for the home side and Sema replaced Gray for the visitors with Watford switching to just one up front. Vokes almost made an instant impact as he met a Gudmundsson free kick with a header that flew just wide. Each side made a further substitution as Taylor came on for Ward and Femenía replaced Will Hughes, who went off to a standing ovation. With time running out, Sema had a great chance to grab a fourth goal for the Hornets, but his low shot was put out for a corner. Watford’s final substitution came with a minute to go as Deeney made way for Success. As the fourth official raised the board showing time added on, Vokes crossed for Mee but the shot was poor and missed the target. There was a better-looking chance as a cross reached Barnes but the shot was met with a good catch from Foster and the flag was up for offside anyway. There was another caution for the Hornets as Janmaat was booked for a late tackle that was totally unnecessary. But the final whistle went on a very satisfying win for the Hornets.
As we streamed out of the ground, there were beaming smiles among the Watford fans who couldn’t quite believe what they had seen. Not just three goals away from home, but against a very decent Burnley side at Turf Moor. The first half had been even but, once Watford took the lead in the second half, the home side never looked like they would get back in the game. It was great to see both Gray and Deeney on the scoresheet, they are playing very effectively together and making chances for each other and others. There was some lovely football played, with three excellent goals, but that sublime pass from Doucouré was the pick of the bunch. I think most Watford fans consider him to be the signing of the Summer but, after missing all of the pre-season games, he could have been forgiven if he had taken a few games to get back to his best. On Sunday he was running after everything and playing as if he had never had a break. He wasn’t the only one, another pleasing contrast to last season is the fitness of the players. Most games last season started at pace but fizzled out after about 70 minutes as the players tired. On Sunday, they were working until the end and saw the game out effectively. A lot of people were nervous at the start of the season, but this is looking like a very strong side and they are playing the sort of football that we knew they were capable of last season, but so rarely saw.
On the way back to the station, I was delighted to pass the Royal Dyche pub. The sign is a thing of beauty and I wish Sean luck for the rest of the season, but am delighted that it was the Watford fans who were smiling on Sunday.