Watford 2 Burnley 1 (04/02/2017) 05/02/2017Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
1- Sunshine makes such a difference. Any nonsense lined up for the day seems less important, it’s possible just to step outside, feel the glow on your face and be happy. I work in a rural environment, that helps I guess. But I think it holds anyway. Sunshine is a good thing.
It’s a gorgeous day, bright and fresh. Fittingly so, since Tuesday’s game cast a new light on the outlook for the rest of our season. Bright new signings, players coming back, a stunning win and now the sun’s shining again. Now a home game against a side that can’t win away. Bring it on.
2- As Evo grinned later, it says a lot that our three January signings have all been pitched in at the earliest opportunity; says something about the deficiencies in the squad given available personnel, says more about the quality of those signings. Early days, but so far so very good… Zárate’s suspension having been served he started on the left with M’Baye Niang switching to the right.
And actually it could have gone horribly wrong… Niang flew into a clumsy early challenge and picked up a yellow, but the speed and mistiming of the incident briefly left you worrying about what colour was coming out of Michael Oliver’s pocket. He got away with it (rightly, as TV replays reveal loss of control but no studs up or intent) but Jeff Hendrick, former Hornets target and scorer in the game at Turf Moor in September, didn’t. His challenge on Holebas was stupid and violent – in the middle of the pitch, studs up and over the ball. No decision for Oliver to make. Burnley travelling support booed the left back’s every touch from then on, presumably for having the temerity to get up again. The sun’s glow took on extra warmth.
3- All three new boys were terrific. Cleverley, again, was a whirling, spinning dynamo in the centre of the midfield, getting his foot in, covering ground, picking up the ball and slipping short passes, swinging long passes. Bossing it. Zárate… perhaps overkeen to do it himself, but capable of committing players, sashaying past them. A threat, a new option, he came within inches of crowning his debut with a goal after yet another cut inside saw him chisel out the space to curl a shot around the post, but narrowly so.
And Niang. Wow. Any concerns that Tuesday might have been a flash in the pan were dispelled very early indeed as, faced with two opponents on the right flank and a third closing in he simply put the burners on and flew off down the wing. Overall the first half performance was excellent; we looked confident and fluid, dominating possession for a change and looking capable of scoring. Niang himself made the first… perhaps he was afforded too much space as Burnley struggled to adjust to their numerical disadvantage but it was still an evil ball from a deep position that somehow allowed Deeney to batter Matt Lowton and crash us into the lead.
Throughout the half we went direct often, Troy murdering Michael Keane in the air and all sorts of options flying in around him. Burnley couldn’t cope with it so we kept doing it; Capoue smashed in a shot that hit Ashley Barnes prompting brief penalty claims, Niang flung in a curling long-range shot that wasn’t quite in the corner enough to trouble Heaton. If there was a problem is that we’d dominated without really stretching the Clarets and so Niang’s second, a carbon copy of Isaac Success’ goal against Bournemouth earlier in the season, was well timed as he expertly directed Holebas’ header into the bottom corner. So our tricky winger, who can hold off a challenge, is also good in the air? And we have the right to buy in the summer, you say?
4- Two-up at half time against ten men, the expectation was that we’d go on to run up what Chris Waddle would at one stage have referred to as an aggregate victory. Burnley’s first half had been far from tame… Joey Barton had gone into the back of Valon Behrami in an attempt to provoke a reaction but just got an icy stare, Ashley Barnes continued to make better use of his arse and his elbows than his feet. But there wasn’t an awful lot to suggest that they had the weapons to claw their way back into it; Gomes had saved well from an excellent Barton free kick after Boyd had earned a generous call but that had been more or less it.
And Tuesday night reprised itself in an undesirable and mercifully, ultimately, inconsequential way. We did the Arsenal thing of playing the game that we expected to be faced with rather than the one that we actually were. It was all a little bit too casual, a bit lacking in focus and urgency whereas Burnley, every inch in the image of their manager, refused to accept their scripted part in proceedings at all and managed to make light of their numerical and psychological disadvantage. It wasn’t one-way traffic… a fine switching ball from Cleverley found Niang who fed Deeney, Heaton performing heroics to keep out his prod back across goal. Closer still, however, was Michael Keane’s monstrous far post header which Gomes, impossibly, got down to to push away from the bottom corner. Barnes looped a shot over Gomes which Cathcart cleared from the line; in the same passage of play a driven shot hit Prödl’s hand… you get the benefit of the doubt with those sometimes, not this time. Barnes took the penalty himself, resisted what must have been a strong urge to take the thing with his backside and proved himself surprisingly adept with his feet by striking an unstoppable shot in off the post.
Robbie Brady was on to provide a new challenge… you had to give Burnley credit, they were making this much harder than they had a right to. It’s worth adding of course that their failure to rescue a point makes it much easier to give credit… everyone loves a plucky loser. Instead the Hornets had the ball in the net again, Success eventually warming into his cameo and setting up Deeney, the referees whistle for handball beating the ball into the net.
5- Slightly frustrating, then, since at half time the rare suggestion of a big win had presented itself. On balance, however, still a fine thing… a very different game against a much tougher opponent than their away record might have suggested. And we won it anyway. In the sunshine.
Beyond which, somewhat inevitably, we now look at our squad, our returning players and new signings, and marvel at the riches suddenly available in attacking positions. Nordin Amrabat is Player of the Season according to some; where would you fit him in when he’s back? Suddenly good problems to have ahead of another free punch at Old Trafford on Saturday.