The week running up to this match had been an emotional rollercoaster for fans of the Hornets. The dreadful cup defeat to Millwall had been followed by a magnificent win at Arsenal. But both events were overshadowed on Wednesday as we said goodbye to Graham Taylor. The family were very gracious in allowing the funeral to be broadcast to those who gathered outside the church. The service was very sad but also uplifting. His children and grandchildren all spoke beautifully about the family man that they knew. I thought the club and the council did them proud with the little details. The One Bell, which is boarded up had been decorated with pictures and quotes from GT. There was also a gorgeous order of service that was handed to those outside, allowing us to join in with the hymns, which included “Abide with Me”. A scanned copy of the order of service is available at http://www.wfc.net/files/GT/GT_Order_of_Service.pdf.
On Saturday we were back at Vicarage Road for the visit of Burnley. Those who had been at the mid-week game were waxing lyrical about the performance, but there was a niggling feeling that this Watford team tends to raise its game for the big clubs and that Burnley, despite their failure to win on the road this season, were just the sort of team to cause us problems.
Team news was that Mazzarri made two changes from the team that won at the Emirates with Britos and Janmaat replaced by Holebas and Zárate, both of whom were returning from suspension, which seemed a little bizarre given that this was the Argentine’s debut. So the starting line-up was Gomes; Cathcart, Kaboul, Prödl, Holebas; Behrami; Niang, Cleverley, Capoue, Zárate; Deeney. The 4-1-4-1 formation that had served us well in the previous game making another appearance.
The notable action in the first few minutes of the game was all related to cards. First, Niang was booked after flying into a tackle on Ward. A minute later, Hendricks was shown a straight red card for a nasty foul on Holebas. Playing against 10 men isn’t always easy, especially when the team is as well organized as Burnley, so it was a relief when Watford took the lead in the tenth minute as a lovely cross from Niang was headed home by Deeney from close range. With Troy now having scored three goals in the last four games, it seems hard to believe that such a long period elapsed between his 99th and 100th goals. There was another booking soon after as Holebas was penalised for a high foot as he challenged Barton. Watford had a great chance for a second goal as Niang exchanged passes with Deeney before unleashing a shot that Heaton tipped over. Then, from a throw, Zárate hit a lovely shot from the edge of the area that Heaton managed to catch. Burnley’s first on-target shot came just before the half hour as Lowton tried his luck, but it was an easy catch for Gomes. The Watford keeper was called into action again soon after tipping over a free kick that Barton hit from the edge of the area. Niang threatened again, going on a lovely run before taking a shot from the edge of the box that was blocked, the ball rebounded back to him and his second shot was comfortably saved by Heaton. Watford had another decent chance as Cleverley passed the ball out to Zárate on the wing, he burst into the box before shooting just wide of the far post. Then Holebas took a short corner, exchanging passes with Zárate before crossing for Capoue whose shot was blocked by the face of Barnes. As we reached time added on at the end of the half, I was beginning to worry that we had wasted too many chances, then Holebas whipped in a lovely cross that Niang met with a superb header and the Hornets went in to the break two goals to the good.
The second half started with the Hornets on top. A lovely early move finished with a cross from Holebas, but no Watford player was on hand to finish. There was a better chance soon after as a cross from Capoue was just a fraction too far in front of Deeney for him to apply the finishing touch. At the other end, a Burnley corner was headed goalwards by Keane, but Gomes dropped to push it around the post. Sean Dyche was the first to make a substitution, replacing Gray with new signing, Brady. Mazzarri’s first change was to bring Doucouré on for Behrami. I was much more comfortable with that change on this occasion than I had been midweek. Watford continued to threaten the Burnley goal as Capoue received a cut back from Holebas, but his shot was saved. Burnley threatened briefly as Barnes had the ball in the Watford box but Cleverley just took it off his feet. The Hornets created another excellent chance as Niang crossed for Deeney whose shot was blocked on the line. As we reached the 72nd minute, the Watford crowd got to their feet to applaud and sing Graham Taylor’s name. It was very pleasing to see that both those in the Director’s box and a good portion of the visiting crowd joined in. Burnley had a rare shot with a powerful strike from Arfield, which was blocked by Gomes. That was the last act for the Burnley man as he was replaced by Westwood.
There was a flurry of activity in the Watford box following a corner as a shot from Barnes was cleared off the line, the ball reached Barton on the edge of the area, his shot was also blocked and the ball went out for a corner. When I saw Prödl arguing with the referee, I thought that he was disputing the corner. Then the awful realization dawned that a penalty had been awarded and Prödl had been shown the yellow card for handball. Barnes stepped up to take the spot kick and, on this occasion, the Gomes psychology did not work and the shot went in off the post. It was very frustrating as, despite a flurry of activity, Burnley really hadn’t looked like scoring, but Watford would have to keep it tight for the remaining 12 minutes. Mazzarri made a second substitution as Niang, who had put in another terrific performance, made way for Success. But the next chance fell to the visitors as Brady broke forward and unleashed a shot that was straight at Gomes. There were two late substitutions as Vokes replaced Boyd for the visitors and Janmaat came on for Zárate. In time added on, the Watford players seemed determined to push the self-destruct button. First Gomes decided to dribble after receiving a back pass instead of wellying upfield, and was almost caught out. Then Cathcart gave the ball away to Barnes on the edge of the box and Gomes had to make a smart save to stop the shot. The keeper was so furious with his defender that he had to be held back by Prödl.
So it was a relief to see Watford on the attack in the final minute, Success crossed and Deeney powered the ball home to secure the win. Or so we thought. I was in mid-celebration when I turned back to the pitch to see a Burnley player flying upfield and it became apparent that the goal had been disallowed and the points were still up for grabs. Thankfully a late free kick for the visitors came to nothing and the Hornets achieved their second win in a week. The manner of the win had been rather frustrating as, after looking really comfortable for most of the game, we really shouldn’t have been holding on at the end.
But what a difference a week makes. After the abject performance in the cup against Millwall and some very disappointing showings over the past few weeks, most of us were looking nervously down the table. Two wins in a week and we are back in the top half and looking forward to the rest of the season. The club have done some terrific business in the transfer window. It was very sad to see both Ighalo and Guedioura go, they were terrific servants to the club. But the return of Cleverley and the addition of Niang and Zárate seems to have strengthened the squad considerably. Zarate did well on his first showing. Niang was superb, scoring one goal and creating the other, and he already seems to have built up an understanding with Deeney. Cleverley was named man of the match and deservedly so. The smiles are now back on the faces of Watford fans as we seem to be over our slump and can look forward to the rest of the season with some optimism.