Burnley 2 Watford 2 (06/08/2011) 07/08/2011Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
Five thunks from the season opener at Turf Moor…
1- Sometimes the season opener can be a bit of a low-key affair, the lingering air of a pre-season friendly at a slowish pace in blazing sunshine. Whether the rain that emptied over east Lancashire at regular intervals was a factor in flushing out any summer laziness or not, this was a full-throttle return to football. Watford fans in the ground will have endured apprehension, anxiety, dismay, euphoria, excitement, more anxiety, disappointment, relief within the course of the 90 minutes; Burnley fans something similar, if not necessarily in the same order. A splendid afternoon’s entertainment all in all, no half-measures here.
That’s not to say that we started on the front foot. Immediately and throughout the home side displayed an intent to play around us rather than through us, getting the ball very wide as often as possible with Wallace and Elliott delivering countless balls into the box. our ongoing survival owing as much to luck as to good defending. Actually, rather more to luck if we’re honest, although Mariappa stood out as taking credit from the first half rearguard. Our opening goal, when it came, was not completely unheralded; if Iwelumo and Sordell had been playing rather too far apart we had nonetheless managed to fashion openings or suggestions of openings rather easily, suggesting more to come.
So, if the half-time score didn’t quite constitute daylight robbery we were perhaps rather fortunate to be ahead. No cause for complaint for the home side though… it’s about rolling with the punches and taking your chances after all. We then started the second half like a train, vivacious, bold. A second goal, could have been, should have been more before rocking in the face of a Burnley fightback. No meek surrender this, though; if we could easily have been two down at half time and not complained, our rearguard action in the second half was gutsy and inspiring if not entirely sufficient to protect the three points. Plenty to love in this latest incarnation of the Watford side. I have no voice on Sunday morning.
2- Most dramatic of the transformations in yellow over the course of the game was that of Carl Dickinson, long awaited Answer to the Problem at left back. He started the game with a heavy touch, and proceeded to play as if his laces were tied together for the first half hour. Not just a little suspect, but almost farcically vulnerable, giving the ball away, iffy backpasses, caught in possession. The guffaws of Portsmouth messageboards on his signing echoed loud. Then, late in the first half before the goal, he got his head to a cross from the left having tucked inside diligently to protect the far post. Not spectacular defending, but solid, competent, and almost certainly goal-saving. He grew from there; a second half challenge on Elliott snapped decisively, confidently… no more tentativeness. By the end of the game, with Watford trying to kill the clock, he picked up the ball on the left flank inside his own half and, clearly completely shattered, pegged it up the left flank towards the away end. Two markers followed him all the way chasing, jostling, trying and failing to regain possession. One made a forlorn attempt to muscle Dickinson off the ball as they approached the touchline. He failed, bouncing off. Dickinson turned on his final adversary and cracked the ball at him, which rebounded off for a corner. Dickinson turned to the away end in triumph, his transformation complete. Splendid theatre, a triumph for bloody-mindedness.
3- Two stock moves to look out for, two new weapons in the armoury. You’ll have noticed that there’s rather more height in the side now than there was last season… Iwelumo, Dickinson, Forsyth all extra targets at set pieces. So it was that Martin Taylor was unmarked beyond the far post… let’s just say that again, Martin Taylor. Unmarked. Honestly…. to meet a Mark Yeates free kick from the left in the second half. With Iwelumo attracting the markers like flies, the ball reached Taylor whose perfect header was back across goal and destined for the far bottom corner until the man on the post did his job, if only barely. It felt like a practised piece. Two… Craig Forsyth in general. Pre-season outings had suggested a willing, tidy, gutsy left-sided option. He’s also bloody huge, if Peter Crouch huge rather than Devon White huge, and is going to give any number of right-backs a really hard time… balls from the back found him on the left like a beacon, and until he tired on the hour he didn’t lose a single one. Burnley right-back Kieran Trippier will not have slept well. Forsyth’s goal was just reward… a splendid move down the right, a bold run and cross from Sordell and Forsyth’s on the far post, running into the path of the ball to head the cross expertly inside the far post. Already an asset.
4- Of the other new boys… Yeates hadn’t contributed much for the first half hour, but came to life in the final third, and was increasingly at the centre of our best period after the break. Willing to run at people but also happy to cross with either foot, his best moment just below us was a trick and shimmy that took him between two markers (one of them Trippier, again) and into the penalty area to roars of appreciation from above. Iwelumo, the target of half-hearted cat-calls from the home stands, did exactly what you’d expect… won headers, occupied defenders, provided knock-downs. We need to be better at profiting from his aerial dominance.
5- Entertainment in the home ranks was provided by The Artist Formerly Known as Bikey, rechristened Andre Amougo over the break. Never has there been a footballer so comprehensively better better at reacting to things than anticipating them. Particular highlights were a ridiculous first-half shot from all of 35 yards that lacked direction if not venom, and a second half encounter with the official which had echoes of Di Canio’s dismissal at Hillsborough in 1998 as he was booked for a cynical foul on Sordell. Fortunately for Burnley his partner Ben Mee, a loan signing from Manchester City, looked far more composed. The Clarets will be OK, and looked more potent on Keith Treacy’s second-half introduction, but this is somewhere that we never get any points. A very decent start to the season, dropped lead or otherwise.