All the talk before this game was about the return of two men, the much loved former manager, Sean Dyche, and equally much reviled referee, Stuart Attwell, who was making his first appearance at Vicarage Road since awarding the ghost goal.
On arrival at my seat in the Rookery, I was delighted to see the elderly couple who sit in front of my sister. They have been absent for a considerable time and we feared the worst. As so often with the people you see at every game, we only knew their first names, so had no way of finding out how they were. It was such a relief to see them back where they belong.
Team news was that Beppe had made only one change from the win at Sheffield Wednesday with Cassetti coming in for the injured Doyley, so the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Battocchio, Anya, Ranegie and Deeney. Former Watford loanees, Chris Baird and Michael Kightly, started for Burnley.
There had been much pre-game talk on social media about giving Attwell a hard time and, sure enough, the first time that the ball went out for a goal kick it was greeted with cheers and a rendition of 1-0 to the Golden Boys. This elicited a smile from the referee. Early in the game, Burnley won a free-kick in a dangerous position but Treacey delivered it
straight into the arms of Almunia. On 9 minutes, Watford were ahead as Deeney hit a shot from distance, which took a nasty deflection and looped over Heaton and into the net for Troy’s 20th league goal of the season. The visitors appeared to have equalized almost immediately as a cross from Treacey was booted into the net from point blank distance by Barnes, so we were relieved to see that the flag was up for offside. Immediately the Rookery started a chorus of “There’s only one Stuart Attwell.” We had a couple of great chances to increase the lead. First, McGugan brought the ball down and hit a lovely curling shot that was just wide of the far post. Then Battocchio found Ranegie with his back to goal on the edge of the box, he played a short pass to Deeney
but his shot was just over the bar. Then McGugan put a dangerous cross into the box but Ranegie couldn’t quite get his head to it. At the other end, Barnes got on the end of a Kightly cross, but the presence of Angella ensured that his header was wide of the target. Battocchio then played a ball over to Pudil, who didn’t have time to control and poked it wide. Ten minutes before half-time Battocchio collided with a Burnley player and stayed down. It was a while before play stopped and the physio could come on. The treatment went on for some considerable time before the stretcher was waved on and Cristian was carried off and straight out through the gap between the Rookery and the Main Stand. It is horrible to see a player carried off like that and it put a dampner on the rest of the half. Abdi took his place in the midfield. There were 6 minutes added on at the end of the half, during which a Tözsér corner was flying around the Burnley box as a number of shots were blocked, but McGugan’s final attempt flew over the bar.
At half-time, there was much satisfaction in a good first half performance tinged with worry about Battocchio’s injury. Cristian had been playing really well before he went off. Deeney was playing like a man possessed and the often maligned McGugan had been excellent. In addition, Almunia did not punch a single cross, each time assuredly catching the ball.
At the start of the second half, the Watford players were out early and found themselves kicking their heels waiting for their opponents. It nearly started badly for Watford as a clearance by Ekstrand rebounded off Barnes and went just wide. Then a shot from Arfield curled just wide of the far post. At the other end, Ranegie released Deeney who played a low cross to McGugan who shot wide. A scramble in the Watford box that appeared to include a handball by the home side, finished with Kightly shooting into the side-netting. McGugan received a pass from Abdi but his shot from distance was well over the bar. Then Anya exchanged passes with Deeney who crossed for McGugan, but Baird cut it out. Then a Tözsér cross was met with a lovely header from
Ranegie, but Heaton was equal to it. With 15 minutes to go, Faraoni replaced Ranegie for the home side and Burnley brought on Stock for Jones. There was anger in the home stands as a ball crossed the sideline, but play was allowed to go on and Burnley won a free-kick in a dangerous position. It could have spelled disaster as the deep free-kick was on target, but Abdi headed the ball off the line. From Kightly’s corner, Ben Mee sent a header goalwards, but Almunia pulled off a fabulous save to keep it out. McGugan then played a brilliant through ball to Anya, who rounded the goalkeeper, but his shot lacked pace and Baird had time to get back to clear. From the corner, Pudil’s header was well saved by Heaton. At the other end Edgar’s header flew just wide. The Clarets got the equalizer with five minutes remaining as Arfield found space on the edge of the box and shot into the
corner past the diving Almunia. Riera came on in place of the excellent McGugan for the last minutes of the game. The first booking of the game went to Faraoni after what looked like a soft foul, although I was informed that he threw the ball away. In the last minute of time added on, Angella released Pudil who advanced and found Deeney who played a one-two with Anya before shooting just wide.
After the final whistle, Sean Dyche graciously applauded all four stands and the Watford faithful loudly applauded him in return. It was disappointing to come away from that game with only a point, but pleasing to see such a positive performance against a team that will likely claim the second automatic promotion spot. If we continue to build and key players stay fit, next season could be very interesting indeed.