After finally achieving our first win of the season against Norwich, I went into this game feeling uncharacteristically positive. I had an extra reason to feel positive as my friend, Vicki, was visiting from the US. I have made it my mission to share my love of Watford with all of my friends, meaning that she first saw the Hornets play in 2010 when she arrived in the UK on an earlier flight than she originally intended in order to take in a pre-season game at Boreham Wood. This occasion had added significance as it was also the occasion that Toddy bought her first pint in the UK. Since then she has seen Watford a couple of other times including another pre-season at Wealdstone when she met Lloydy and Mapps. Her most recent game was in 2013 when, following a midweek win against Doncaster, she made the trip to Barnsley. I had strongly advised her against going to that game. No visitor from the US looks at possible destinations in the UK and plumps for Barnsley and we never win there anyway. She was determined and ended up having a cracking day out with a great pub, fantastic company and a 5-1 Watford win. This would be her first Premier League game and she was very much looking forward to it.
I decided not to subject Vicki to the convoluted train journey, especially as there was disruption at Euston, so I drove to the West Herts. We arrived to find our party at the usual table. It was a flying visit for a couple of them as Mike had been offered the use of the Community Trust table in the Elton John Suite, so the prawn sandwich brigade had a swift drink and then headed for their posh seats, while we enjoyed a proper football lunch of burger/hot dog and chips. While we waited for our food to arrive, Glenn appeared with his bag of treats. Vicki looked sceptical as the bag of pork scratchings appeared on the table but was persuaded to try one. “Oh, they are really good.”
We headed to the ground at the usual time. Needless to say, the touts decided to give this one a miss. Once inside the Rookery, I showed Vicki to our seats and sped around to the GT stand to take a bag of sweets to Don, who had left for the game before Glenn arrived.
Team news was that Quique had made three enforced changes from the win at Norwich with Kabasele (suspended), Janmaat and Pereyra (both injured) making way for Mariappa, Femenía and Gray. So, the starting line-up was Foster; Cathcart, Dawson, Mariappa; Holebas, Capoue, Doucouré, Femenía; Hughes; Gray, Deulofeu. Deeney was again on the bench, this time accompanied by exciting prospects Ismaïla Sarr and Tom Dele-Bashiru.
Just before kick-off someone observed that Dyche had swapped ends so the Hornets would be defending the Rookery in the second half. And so the torture began.
Three minutes into the game Burnley were already indulging in time-wasting and Sean Dyche had just had his first rant at the fourth official. Watford had the first chance of note as a free kick from Deulofeu was met by the head of Dawson, but his effort flew past the top corner. The next chance for the Hornets came when Capoue released Holebas who crossed for Doucouré at the back post, but the header back towards goal was cleared. The Hornets won a free kick in a dangerous position when Hughes was hacked down by Tarkowski. Sadly, Deulofeu curled the set piece into the arms of Pope.
Deulofeu’s next effort was more impressive, he robbed Tarkowski before belting into the box and taking a shot, but Pope made a superb save with his feet. Burnley’s first attack of note came after 20 minutes when they won a corner. The delivery from McNeil was deep and flew straight out of play. The first booking of the game came when Gray went up for a header with Tarkowski, who went down clutching his face and the Watford man was cautioned. The Hornets won another free kick in a good position after Tarkowski handled the ball. There were protracted complaints from the Burnley players leading to a booking for Mee. Deulofeu took the free kick and hit it straight into the wall. Watford had a great chance to take the lead after Gray broke forward before finding Femenía on the right, Kiko tried a shot but Mee stuck a foot out and managed to turn it back to Pope. Another decent chance went begging as Deulofeu played the ball back to Capoue whose shot was poor and flew wide of the near post. A lovely exchange of passes between Hughes and Doucouré finished with a shot from a narrow angle from Will that was blocked for a corner. Hearing some applause at the front of the Rookery, I looked down to see Jay DeMerit making his way around for the half time interview. A shot from Cathcart was blocked to shouts of handball from the Watford faithful, but the VAR check confirmed that the block was legitimate. Then there was some concern as Dawson went down with what appeared to be a head injury. He didn’t move for quite some time, which is always a bad sign. Thankfully, he was able to walk off the field, but he couldn’t continue and was replaced by Masina. This was now the sixth league game in a row in which we have been forced to make a substitution in the first half. Into the five minute of added time and Deulofeu tried a run into the box that was stopped by a judicious foul by Tarkowski on the edge of the area. The free kick from Deulofeu was on-target but kept out by a great one-handed save from Pope. So, we reached half-time goalless, although the Hornets had much the better of the half and would have been ahead but for two excellent saves from Pope. Burnley had defended well, but their efforts in attack resulted in only one (off-target) shot in the whole of the first half.
The half-time interview was with Jay DeMerit, who had been at Vicarage Road on Friday evening for the European Premiere of a short film, “Game Changer”, which was an episode of the US animated show for children, LaGolda, which encourages kids to accept everyone for who they are and promotes inclusiveness in football and wider society. This particular episode was in support of LGBTQ youth. Also in attendance, and being interviewed, was Executive Producer, Judy Reyes. Both Judy and Jay spoke positively about how the club had allowed them to promote their message of inclusivity, which seemed only too right given that Elton John is such an important part of our club. They then went and had their photo taken with the children who took part in the half-time penalty shoot-out, who had been playing with a rainbow football. It was only after the game that I realised that Judy Reyes played Carla in “Scrubs”. I loved that show and was a big fan of hers.
The first chance of the second half fell to the Hornets when the ball broke to Capoue whose shot was deflected over the bar. The home side threatened again as a cross from Capoue was headed goalwards by Mariappa, but his effort was blocked. Mapps was then in action at the other end of the pitch, heading clear while under pressure from Mee.
The visitors took the lead from the resultant corner as Tarkowski’s header was blocked, Foster got stuck in the traffic in the box and was unable to intervene as Wood buried the rebound. The goal was scored in the 53rd minute from the first on-target shot by the visitors. After the goal the Burnley fans started a chant that I thought was “sexy football” but at a later rendition I heard “anti-football” which was much more accurate. Flores decided to bring on the cavalry at this point replacing Gray with Deeney who took to the field to a huge ovation. The Hornets had a chance to break back when they won a free kick in a dangerous position after Tarkowski fouled Capoue on the edge of the box. Again the Burnley players protested the decision and Westwood was booked for dissent. Capoue took the free kick himself, but it was a dreadful effort that flew well over the bar. The visitors had a chance to increase their lead, but Foster blocked the shot from Hendrick and the follow-up from Bardsley was hit over the bar. Flores made his final sub with a quarter of the match remaining, bringing Sarr on in place of Hughes. As Pope wasted time retrieving the ball for a goal kick, Deulofeu placed the ball in position on the edge of the six yard box. Needless to say, Pope wasted more time moving the ball to the other side of the area, much to the annoyance of the fans behind him in the Rookery.
Another decent chance for the Hornets came to nothing as Capoue released Holebas who cut inside but shot straight at Pope. At the other end, a cross was chested down to Barnes who shot over the target. With 15 minutes remaining, there were chances at both ends of the pitch. First a corner from Westwood appeared to be heading for the net, but Foster punched clear allowing Deulofeu to break forward, he played Doucouré in, but the shot was high and wide. Dyche then made his only substitution of the game replacing Wood with Rodriguez. The Burnley substitute almost made an immediate impact as he hit a powerful shot that came off the underside of the bar, but the ball bounced off the line and was headed over by Cathcart. The visitors appealed for a penalty when Barnes appeared to run into Holebas, the referee waved play on and the Hornets broke down the other end. When the ball went out of play, it was announced that VAR was checking the penalty. When the decision came through, the referee pointed back up the field and the players returned to the Rookery end of the field. Barnes took the spot kick, Foster got a hand to it to push it onto the post but it bounced back and into the net. The authorities had said that they would be giving the fans in the stadium more information about the VAR decisions and, sure enough, the big screen showed footage of the challenge which clearly showed Holebas kicking Barnes so, much to my annoyance, it was the correct decision. To add insult to injury, the visitors scored a third goal when a Burnley free kick reached Tarkowski whose first effort drew a good save from Foster, but the rebound found the net. The traveling Burnley fans burst into a chorus of “Andre, what’s the score?” while the majority of the home fans headed for the exits. There was a chance for a consolation goal as a powerful shot from Deulofeu hit the crossbar, but it wasn’t to be and the game finished in a humiliating defeat for the Hornets. As if that wasn’t enough, Norwich won and Southampton drew so we finished the afternoon back at the foot of the table.
There wasn’t much enthusiasm at the end of the game, but Troy did his usual lap of the pitch and was warmly applauded by the few who were still in the ground.
Due to the many early leavers, the trip up Occupation Road was somewhat quicker than usual. When we arrived back at the West Herts, Pete assured me that I didn’t have to write the blog. That was certainly a tempting thought. As we muttered miserably about what we had seen that afternoon, the folk from the posh seats joined us. I have to say that an afternoon of drinking wine in hospitality meant that they were considerably jollier than the rest of us. On the way home, Vicki was very apologetic about not having brought us luck when it should have been me apologising having subjected her to that game and being utterly miserable all afternoon.
It is very hard to articulate my feelings about that game. Burnley were dreadful but still managed to beat us 3-0. The first half performance had been decent with the Hornets totally dominating. I would bemoan the fact that they didn’t turn the dominance into goals, but we would have been two up but for a couple of excellent saves by Pope. The loss of Dawson just before half time certainly made a difference. He had been solid in the middle of the back three and was just what we needed against a team like Burnley. The second half had started well but once the first goal went in, despite the fact that it was horribly scrappy, the confidence disappeared and we never really looked like getting back in the game.
It is hard to see where we go from here. We have played a number of very poor teams this season and failed to pick up points from most of them. We have a squad with a lot of talent but are suffering with both injuries and a lack of confidence. I am trying to hold on to the thought that this team is too good to go down but, as the weeks go on, it is harder and harder to convince myself that we will survive.