Pre-match I had a very frustrating encounter at the ticket office where I was told that, unless we could provide a letter from the university proving that my niece has a place for her second year (we can’t as she has yet to finish her first year), we wouldn’t be able to renew her season ticket at student prices so she would jump from paying the 18 and under to the adult price, which is very steep for a 19 year old student. After the Fans Forum event, at which the club made noises about encouraging local youngsters to support the club, I was very
disappointed that the club would treat a loyal young fan so appallingly.
Thankfully I was able to go to the West Herts to calm down. Our usual pre-match crew was joined a couple of very welcome guests, who I hope will join us more regularly in the future.
Team news was that Gracia had named the same team as last week, so the starting line-up was Karnezis; Janmaat, Mariappa, Prödl, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Femenía, Hughes, Pereyra; Deeney. The Burnley team included former Watford loanee, Jack Cork, and their Management team, of course, includes Sean Dyche and Ian Woan. Tim Coombs made a point of welcoming Sean back after the teams were announced and the Burnley manager was given a terrific welcome by the Vicarage Road faithful.
As at all Premier League grounds, there was a minute’s applause for Ray Wilkins, whose passing at the ridiculously young age of 61 hit me rather hard. His time at Vicarage Road was not one that is remembered fondly by Watford fans, but when I met him at the kit sponsors do, I found him to be a lovely man (unlike Vialli). It was pleasing that the applause in his memory started well before it was instructed.
Burnley started the game very brightly and had the ball in the net in the second minute from a Wood header, but the goal was disallowed for offside. The visitors threatened again as a cross from Ward was met with a header from Barnes that cleared the crossbar. Watford’s first chance came from a Janmaat cross that Deeney glanced just wide of the far post. The next chance for the Hornets came from a lovely move involving Capoue, Janmaat and Hughes, who found Pereyra whose shot needed a decent save from the Burnley keeper, Pope, to keep it out. Pereyra had another chance soon after as a short corner was played to Holebas who crossed for the Argentinian, whose shot from distance was saved. The home side executed another lovely move as Hughes played a gorgeous pass to Femenía, who tried to return the compliment, but Pope was out to gather before the pass reached the Watford man.
A rare attacking move for the visitors led to the ball pin-balling around the Watford box before it fell to Westwood whose shot was blocked by Mariappa. Another short corner for the home side allowed Holebas to put in a dangerous looking cross, but Pope was able to claim it. Watford attacked again, and the ball bounced between players without any of them being able to make a decent contact, finally it fell to Capoue who shot wide of the far post, to groans from the Rookery. Pereyra had another great chance to put the Hornets in the lead as he beat a defender to get into the box and shot towards the top corner, but Pope pulled off another great save to deny him. Deeney was the next to try his luck with a low shot that was cleared and that was it for the first half action.
It had been a terrific half of football. The visitors started strongly but, from the 10th minute onwards, Watford were in control, playing some superb football and, were it not for a terrific performance from Pope in the Burnley goal, would have been a couple of goals to the good.
At half time, the crowd was introduced to Ryan Cassidy, a first year scholar who has just signed his first professional contract with Watford. The little I have seen of him in action for the U18/U23 has been impressive. Let us hope that he goes on to make a name for himself in the first team.
The 50-50 draw was made by Malky Mackay, who mentioned that he had been joined by Aidy Boothroyd at the game. Malky was given a very warm welcome, which made me happy as I sponsored him for a few years as player/manager and always found him to be a lovely man.
There was an early scare for the Hornets in the second half, as Karnezis came to gather a high ball and failed, thankfully it rebounded to safety. Watford’s first chance of the second period came as Femenía found Hughes who played the ball back to Janmaat whose shot was straight at the keeper. Watford won a free kick as Hughes was tripped on the edge of the Burnley box. Pereyra’s set piece rebounded off the wall, but Watford kept possession and the ball reached Pereyra in the box, his strike was more impressive than last week’s, and had the same impact as it also ended up in the net to give Watford a very deserved lead. At that point, I thought we would go on and win the game. It wasn’t to be.
With 20 minutes to go, Dyche made his first substitution bringing Vokes on for N’Koudou. The Burnley substitute had an immediate impact as a free-kick was headed on by an off-balance Mariappa, and fell to Vokes who poked it past Karnezis. It was his first touch and Burnley’s first shot of the half, but the visitors were level. It went from bad to worse as, within 3 minutes, Burnley took the lead. A free-kick into the box bounced around, it appeared that Karnezis had cleared it, but the referee indicated a goal from a Cork header and Burnley were inexplicably ahead. Gracia made his first substitution bringing Okaka on for Janmaat. Watford had a chance to hit back as a cross reached Deeney, but it appeared to bounce off his head and the chance was gone. There was a better chance as Femenía crossed for Okaka, who headed over when he should have done better. There was a rash of substitutions, as Hendrick replaced Lennon for the visitors, and Doucouré and Hughes made way for Carrillo and Richarlison for the Hornets. The last 10 minutes were notable for a series of dramatic collapses by Burnley players when in the vicinity of an opponent, too many of which the referee fell for. These were supplemented by other antics that my friend, Jacque, described as elevating time-wasting into an art-form. The Hornets had one last chance to rescue a point as Holebas launched a cross into the box, but Pope was there to gather and the points went to the visitors who celebrated with chants of “We’re all going on a European tour.”
There were a lot of complaints from those around us on the way up Occupation Road and it was very hard to come to terms with the fact that we had lost a game that we had dominated so convincingly. But, once Burnley equalized, we lost our nerve against a very well-organized team, so the game finished very badly for the Hornets.
It is a source of some frustration that we have finished two very winnable games with only a point to show for a couple of excellent performances. There have been some very promising signs, Hughes and Pereyra have been outstanding, but we are not clinical enough in front of goal and make too many mistakes at the back. But the football has been (mostly entertaining), we must be safe and we have a terrific squad to build on for next year. These are still the good old days.