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Watford 1 Burnley 1 (05/04/2014) 06/04/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- I was reckless with my routine today.  Trains instead of cars.  Mexican food with Dad instead of the pub.  When to experiment if not in such circumstances, with the season all but over.  And as the match kicked off, with the spring weather equally unsure what to make of itself things began to shake themselves out rather well.  With Lewis McGugan prominent – this was as effective and dynamic a 45 minutes as I’ve seen him put in in yellow – we looked bright and positive in the early exchanges… kicking towards the Rookery with Sean Dyche presumably having advised flipping the ends.  Ten minutes in we were ahead… the irrepressible Deeney latching onto Pudil’s pass and belting us into the lead.  We got a break… a deflection off Jason Shackell’s thigh looked critical in lifting the shot over Tom Heaton;  everything Troy strikes is going in at the moment.  Minutes later… another break, what looked like a tight offside call denied Burnley a decent equaliser, Barnes attacking the near post to convert Treacy’s cross.   A deflected goal and a tight offside within minutes – perhaps it was going to be our day?

2- Burnley’s disallowed goal was greeted with a rousing rendition of “One Stuart Attwell” from the Rookery.  Coming hot on the heels of the inevitable mock-celebration in response to the first shot drifting wide of the Clarets’ goal this briefly suggested that the much-discussed first return of Attwell since the ghost goal of 2008 would be commemorated with sarcasm and wit rather than ire and red-faced barracking.  That it didn’t prove that way was in no small part down to an erratic display from the official, albeit that the only decision that had the potential to directly impact the outcome was, if failure it was, down to Attwell’s assistant.  Which sounds familiar.  That call got the visitors on his back and he was never going to get much leeway from the home end… both sets of supporters were on his back as he left the pitch at the interval.  By that time Cristian Battocchio was off the pitch – stretchered off with what looked like a serious knee injury as he fell badly after a collision.  Nothing wrong with the challenge… but criticism perhaps for the failure to allow trainers on quickly for what always looked more than just another knock.

3- Battocchio was a big miss for the rest of the game. Faced with the absence of two prolific strikers Sean Dyche had selected his only available forward – target man Ashley Barnes, who remains as respectful of the rules of engagement as Beppe is of the boundaries of his technical area – in front of a five man midfield.  This begged the question… do Burnley score a lot of goals because of Ings and Vokes, or do the forwards score a lot of goals because of the players they’re playing in front of?  The truth appeared to be somewhere in between, for whilst Burnley on the day could be summed up as “a striker or two short of a very good side” and struggled to turn their possession into clear cut chances, they didn’t look blunt and, as one would expect from a Dyche side, were utterly single-minded and focused on their task.  The significance of Battocchio’s departure was that we lost that chasing-the-ball-down thing that was proving so helpful in disrupting a heavily loaded Clarets midfield before the break.  Abdi was selected to replace him, Murray perhaps the more obvious like-for-like choice.  Great to see Almen back on the pitch, and if this really is it then nobody’s going to object to giving him time to play himself back to fitness, to test his injury.  In the context of the game however, a midfield pairing of McGugan and Abdi in front of the Kaiser suggests domination of possession, and that was never the case here despite us creating vastly the better chances.

4- And create the better chances we undoubtedly did. McGugan had a half-volley pawed round the post, Deeney drove narrowly wide, Ranégie nearly got his head to a wicked cross in a first half during which we were much the better side.  At the start of the second Burnley got hold of the ball and had us chasing them as they switched possession across the midfield, visibly attacking the gaps behind the wing backs with Michael Kightly’s direct running and tendency to force a pressured decision out of a defender evident.  There wasn’t an awful lot to show for it though… the odd set piece, some borne of a genuine foul some not although as Paul was to point out afterwards decisions against the visitors were equally arbitrary – in this respect at least Attwell couldn’t be accused of not being consistent. The Hornets, however, still had a goal in them and threatened on the break… Daniel Tözsér strode around the midfield sweeping passes around with the flourish of an artist brandishing a paintbrush.  Abdi inevitably looked a little rusty but soon reminded us what we’d been missing, not least when he dispossessed an opponent and released Anya – switched up front to chase the spaces behind the pressing Clarets – with a perfect ball that demanded intervention from Tom Heaton.  The keeper came out  to deal, was beaten to it by the Scottish/Romanian/Nigerian winger/wingback/striker who prodded the ball past him and clipped goalwards… with just a smidgeon too little power, permitting a dramatic goalline clearance from former Hornet Chris Baird.

5- My younger daughter is four.  At storytime she delights in re-hearing one of a limited number of favourites, even if we read it the previous evening.  And the evening before. (In some cases – such as that of “Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy” – the scope for silly character voices make this tolerable; in others – “Evie and her bloody Magic Ponies”, this means you – less so).  Elder daughter – seven – rolls her eyes, demanding greater variety.  I can cope with the whimsical demands of a four year old, but am less able to respond calmly to this same old story being played out in front of us at Vicarage Road.

It should be acknowledged that the visitors did play a role.  They had turned up the pressure a little, inevitably, and threatened for the first time… Brian Stock’s free kick from wide on the right was whipping inside the post until Abdi’s forehead intervened.  From a corner, Ben Mee’s header was clawed out of the top corner by an astonishing Almunia. Worth noting, too, that it’s tempting to attribute every late goal to our inability to concentrate for the full ninety-plus-whatever.  Sometimes opponents do just score late goals.  In context, however, this was a complete pain in the arse… Scott Arfield, a fringe player at Huddersfield and an odd-looking recuit by Dyche in the summer, hit his eighth in the season, turning sharply in the box and driving low past Almunia, who got a hand to it but not enough.

And so are stamped out the dying embers of our season. Before the game, as for the last few months, the margin we needed to close – eight points behind sixth with a game in hand – was not beyond the realms of possibility.  What prohibited it was our continued inability to string a run together, our inability to see leading positions out.  So it proved again – although that final realisation aside it was a fine afternoon.  Excitement, drama, some fine performances in yellow and good portents for next season albeit there’s work to do and some bloody-mindedness to find.

But no promotion. Not this time.

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Comments»

1. Jimbob - 06/04/2014

Good report. My only contention would be over the Battochio injury. It’s easy with hindsight having seen him carted straight off to a waiting ambulance to say the injury ‘looked more than just another knock’. Just how does a referee tell in this day and age? It was a nothing collision and the player flung himself in the air as they all do now. Also, clearly it didn’t look like more than just another knock to the rest of our team who carried on trying to attack rather than kick the ball out to enable treatment.

2. Roger Smith - 06/04/2014

“Nothing wrong with the challenge” on Battochio? From the Rookery it looked like a blatent body check, and I wondered if there had also been a clash of heads.

And “criticism perhaps”?!! If a player is lying motionless, he must receive immediate attention. If Christian had swallowed his tongue, he would have been dead before help finally arrived.

Referees have a duty of care to the players, and Attwell failed. He isn’t fit to referee in any league.

Matt Rowson - 06/04/2014

I was in the Rookery too and didn’t share that interpretation. To clarify I took a straw poll of those around me and got the same verdict – accidental collision. Which doesn’t mean I’m right necessarily, but mine wasn’t a unique take.

As for the ref’s behaviour… this post and Jimbob’s above illustrate the conundrum I guess. My thinking was… the players across the pitch can’t necessarily see or judge the situation. That’s the ref’s job, consistent with the directive not to put the ball out unless the ref so directs. So… far from clear cut, but the player’s wellbeing didn’t seem to be his highest priority.

drdavewatford - 06/04/2014

Shame I didn’t participate in your straw poll Matt or I’d have helped to level up the numbers – it looked like a blatant body check to me. And contrary to Jimbob’s comment a number of players protested, both at the time and for some time afterwards; not that Stuart Attwell pays any attention to player reaction, of course….

Robin Walters - 07/04/2014

I am another who thought it was a blatant foul – plus I thought he lifted his foot to knee height in moving across and did for CB’s knee. On another day and another ref I thought he could have seen red.

Just as well Atwell didn’t book every challenge as ‘bad’ as Faraoni’s, else we’d have been down to 5-a-side.

Jimbob - 06/04/2014

But he wasn’t motionless. I could see that from halfway up the Rookery. Granted he wasn’t rolling around all over the shop but he was clearly conscious. Anya was also in close proximity and didn’t feel the need to signal furiously at the referee or bench which is normally the unwritten code for ”help, my teammate is actually seriously injured”. Frankly if Attwell hadn’t have been the referee I’m not sure nearly half of the vocal protests would have happened.

Anyway, it’s not something worth arguing about really as we all just want Battochio to be in good way ASAP.

Roger Smith - 06/04/2014

I should have gone to Specsavers…oh, I did!

3. Nick John - 06/04/2014

Well-written article. I’m a Burnley fan who wasn’t at the game.

Matt Rowson - 06/04/2014

thx Nick

4. Leggatts 'orn - 06/04/2014

Based on how he sets up his teams and the type of player he seems to like, assuming the Clarets do go up, I wonder if Dyche will come, cheque book in hand, to test the Pozzo’s resolve as far is Denny is concerned. Anglea has got to be another the scouts are scribbling positive notes about.

5. Peter - 06/04/2014

Great report as always. Agreed that Murray was the more obvious choice to replicate battochio’s industry but seeing almens ability to put his foot on the ball and weight a pass was worth the admission price alone. Some around me were still having a go at McGugan which I found very perculiar.

Would recommend that people listen to the interview with Scott Duxberry on “from the rookery end” podcast – really gives a fantastic perspective on the this and last season and the way ahead under the pozzo’s.

I do think that with bhappy and from the rookery end we are incredibly well served by the fan based media at the club often far better and more insightful than the watford observer.

NickB - 06/04/2014

Would contend that the WO has improved considerably of late and is now well worth following. Frank Smith has grown into the role and has also got an excellent sense of humour. Your remarks about BH and FTRE are spot on, of course.
As for the game, much as I want to see Dyche rewarded with promotion for both his unfortunate exit from the Vic and his brilliant management of a pretty thin squad this season, I have to say I was pretty disappointed with Burnley, injuries notwithstanding. Thought we should have put them to bed long before the equaliser.

6. Andy - 06/04/2014

Another Burnley fan here. Enjoyed your report and a very fair reflection on what was an exciting game. Excellent result for us considering the injury problems we have – thought you were one of the best sides I’ve seen all season on the counter. Very impressed with the tall dark, haired centre half as well.

All in all an almost perfect day for us Clarets. Best of luck for next year.

7. Paul Caruso - 06/04/2014

Leicester, the beaten semi-finalists last season, clinching promotion this weekend a whole 36pts ahead of the Hornets, discuss? I am looking forward to the end of season review as ever as the barometer of truth, but in sum don’t think the Championship has been as good in terms of overall quality this season as last and we have found wanting with the numerous personnel changes. In reference to the comment above as to whether Dyche would make an offer for Deeney if / when Burnley go up, I think a splash of cold water is required. I am afraid Troy is a tryer but is like sooo many Watford strikers that enjoy a purple patch and attract interest, he does not have the technical quality for the Prem like, Heidar, Smudger, Graham etc. There has only been Messrs Barnes, James and Young who have made the step up from the Vic in the last 25 years!

Matt Rowson - 07/04/2014

Deeney… I dunno, we might well find out. He’s got a lot going for him and like H I suspect he might do OK in the right team.

You can add Robbo and probably Mariappa to the list of those that established themselves, but Barnes left 27 years ago…

James - 07/04/2014

Phillips did pretty well, and Furlong did ok.
I agree with you about Deeney though.

8. Goldenboy60 - 07/04/2014

I have to question the thought process of allocating Attwell to any game at the Vic now or in the future after the belligerence he demonstrated 6 years ago. Unfortunately he referees for himself and not the game and the players.

As for the game I saw massive effort from our players all over the pitch. I don’t understand this current barracking of McGugan. He is a real talent that can conjure up match winning situations. Sometimes his decision making isn’t right. That can be corrected by the coach on the training field, but he is always a real threat.

The team have never reached that fluidity that we had last season, but are battling like mad to get there. I wonder if last season was just a natural thing that happened with the right balance of players that came in. This year they have had to work very hard to get there and am not saying they didn’t last season. But they have had to deal with huge expectancy. For me less players but some with more quality in a settled squad would do very nicely.

Not sure about Nani’s decisions on players. Battocchio has so much going for him, and for me we will miss him massively. He plays with so much heart and desire and no little skill.

Matt Rowson - 07/04/2014

The criticism of McGugan isn’t really with regard to the reliability of his decision making. It’s his contribution when things aren’t going well, that he disappears or doesn’t put a foot in. It remains a valid concern I think, tho he was terrific on Saturday, especially first half.


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