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Watford 0 Burnley 3 (23/11/2019) 24/11/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- It’s odd.  Everyone has bad times, I guess.  Everyone has difficult spells, when things get overwhelming.  In such periods, when life’s challenges lurch out of nothing, football is put into perspective.  Quite how little it matters in the grand scheme of things.

And perversely, it suddenly matters more than ever.  It mattered today.

2- It mattered in the more fundamental sense too, of course. The win at Norwich was huge fun and so needed but here’s where we were to get a steer on whether a corner had truly been turned.

And we started well enough.  With Troy still on the bench we couldn’t compete with the visitors’ physicality and so we didn’t try to.  This has been an issue a number of times over the past six months or so when Troy has been missing and we’ve looked far less potent than we did today in such circumstances.  We didn’t create a load of chances – this disciplined, aggressive Burnley side isn’t going to make life easy for anyone –  but criticisms of our inability to convert are slightly unfair here.  That we’re struggling for goals is no secret, but here we worked chances and got behind the Clarets.  Deulofeu was everywhere, simultaneously the man most likely to craft something through artistry and the man most likely to get onto a loose ball and scuttle off in a beeline goalwards.  This he did to open up our best chance as Doucouré did his best to keep out of the way, Pope saving with his feet.  Earlier, Dawson had dropped a header narrowly over from a set piece.  Some snappy passing resulted in an underwhelming finish from a dynamic Capoue.  No, it wasn’t a rout and we didn’t score but we were comfortably on top and there were few in the home stands who weren’t positive as we approached the break.

That the Clarets themselves had offered so little owed a fair bit to the defending and courage of Craig Dawson.  His role at the centre of the three involves getting his head to things;  this he did, despite the not inconsiderable threats of Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes.  Much more confident and convincing since we moved to a back three, Dawson bossed the back line here until the second of two head injuries – possibly a broken nose given the amount of blood – forced him off.

Immediately obvious that we were in trouble. On came Masina who wasn’t quite a square peg in a round hole, left of the three you kinda feel he could do.  But we were deprived in terms of make-up of that back three, no big brute to win the headers like Dawson, or Prödl, all the more vital against this opponent.  Centre back was the area that most transparently needed strengthening more than it was over the summer and that was before we switched to three at the back – five men covering three spaces doesn’t leave you a lot of wriggle room.  Let alone when you have players off injured before the break in six consecutive games, limiting flexibility as well as manpower.  For the record – Welbeck at Spurs, Cleverley vs Bournemouth, Quina at Everton, Cathcart vs Chelsea, Pereyra at Norwich and now Dawson.  Quique could be forgiven for thinking the fates were against him.

3- As for Burnley, a win here would take them up into the top six.  In reality they are in the ever-churning mid-table morass that encompasses most of the division and which we gaze up at nostalgically.  They are as likely to finish fifteenth as sixth, but will be absolutely fine anyway on the basis of this resolute performance.

Their biggest threat would seem to be approaching over the Christmas period when their ginger Widow Twankey on the touchline will surely be called up for East Lancs pantomime duty. At the vanguard of the visitors’ militarised, choreographed game management, Dyche sprung forward with arms outstretched in apparent outrage at every perceived slight against his side be it that delicate flower Ashley Barnes rolling over in anguish at the suggestion of bodily contact, or James Tarkowski being pulled up for yet another hack at Deulofeu.  Burnley were slowing the game down from a minute in, kicking the ball carefully out of reach on rotation to prevent quick free kicks.  Ashley Westwood stood in front of every free kick feigning the alignment of a defensive wall until finally booked in the second half, James Tarkowski took a yellow for cynically chopping down Deulofeu on his way into the area.  It was all designed to generate an edginess to the game that the Clarets, with their defensive discipline, less fragile confidence and steady side (this was after all the same ten outfield players that clubbed their way to a 0-0 here in January) expected to be able to cope with better than we would.  It nearly backfired on them as Gerry had the temerity to go down softly in the face of yet another clump and the collective Clarets’ composure wobbled visibly, players losing their collective rag, but only briefly.

“Antifootball! Antifootball!” cheered the away fans with what presumably passes for irony in Burnley.  In reality there’s nothing wrong at all with the way Burnley play – defensively disciplined, robust and direct in attack with enough quality to make it all work.  Great fun to support a team with that work ethic, enjoyable to watch them upset other teams playing that way.  But the cheap, indoctrinated gamesmanship (including the whining about refereeing decisions and how dishonest everyone else is that marred Dyche’s time here also) is very crap indeed.  Few tears will be shed when it’s Burnley’s turn for a season to go against them.

4- The lack of a dominant centre-back was quickly significant.  The second of successive corners saw Tarkowski nod back for Chris Wood to hook the opener with the visitors’ first shot of the game.  Foster appeared to be blocked off on both corners but certainly the second one was his own fault, blocked off by his own player;  there was a nervousness, perhaps in part emanating from the keeper, perhaps a collective awareness of our vulnerability, that hadn’t been there before. The air went out of our performance almost instantaneously.

On came Troy for his much awaited return, and then Ismaïla Sarr.  Dawson’s injury had perhaps increased the urgency for Deeney to be introduced; he’s arguably our most reliable defender from set piece situations in any case.  Unfortunately he looked far too far short of fitness and mobility to live up to our hopes, but he’ll get there.  Sarr meanwhile looked mobile and frightening but simultaneously slight, too easy to bully, and not quite sure where his place was in the whole thing.  With the ball at his feet and running though he’s a threat, the more so when attacking empty spaces behind an opponent forced to come forward one suspects.  More to come, but not today.

The second goal, the penalty, summed up our season in so many ways.  A loose ball in the box, Ashley Barnes so much more mobile and alert than Jose Holebas who swung a boot at where the ball had been and caught the player instead.  It wasn’t a deliberate foul but it was careless and clumsy.  The ball progressed upfield to what would have been a corner only for VAR to call it back.  Paul Tierney’s performance was flimsy in the face of so much contempt from the visitors, but no cause for criticism here.  Ashley Barnes put the spot kick to Ben Foster’s right,  the keeper got both hands to it but could only force it against the inside of the post and in.  Our best efforts insufficient, again.  A third followed, Foster saving well from Tarkowski only for the centre half to knock in the rebound unchallenged.  The most pathetic goal of the three, underlining the answer to the “have we turned the corner or not?” question.

5- Jose Holebas ended the game by dumping Phil Bardsley onto his backside; difficult not to sympathise, Bardsley is typical of the gnarled old boot that filled up Burnley’s bench and squad and had been studiously understudying his manager’s pathetic routine throughout. That Holebas somehow avoided a booking made it the more enjoyable, but precious little to show from a miserable afternoon.

Difficult to be positive after this.  Quique has done a job in making us more solid, but today demonstrated the limits of that in the face of injury and misfortune. Whatever Burnley’s obstructiveness we remain far less than the sum of our parts as an attacking threat.  And whilst 3-0 is a slightly perverse scoreline not reflecting the balance of play, it’s impossible to avoid the fact that, as with the games under Javi earlier in the season we played kind of OK and got stuffed anyway.  That’s not a healthy place to be.


Foster 2, Femenía 3, Holebas 2, Cathcart 3, Dawson 4, Mariappa 3, Doucouré 2, Capoue 3, Hughes 3, *Deulofeu 4*, Gray 2
Subs: Masina (for Dawson, 45) 3, Deeney (for Gray, 57) 2, Sarr (for Hughes, 67) 3, Foulquier, Dele-Bashiru, Chalobah, Gomes



1. Peter - 24/11/2019

Great write up as always. The first goal is always so important in football but with Sánchez Flores at the helm it is absolutely pivotal – score it and we can sit back and counter concede and …. well…. not a lot really. Dawson has been excellent since the switch to a back three and he carries the air of a centre back that won’t be intimidated by the likes Wood and Barnes. The loss of his physicality was really telling.

I am less damning than most of the gamesmanship and dark arts that aDyche has his team play (and yes Burnley are the Slytherin of the Premier League) this is a team that scratches and claws it’s way to every result and it is this attitude and street wise battle hardened exterior that we lack (especially when Deeney is not fit/playing). No I don’t want us to turn into Burnley but we need a bit of the nastiness that sees us being horrible to play against. The Spanish have a word for the darker side of football “morbo” and they think that if you don’t play football with cunning, then you’re an idiot – from the bottom of the table it feels like they have a point.

Sarr is still an enigma – where and when to fit in a wide player when you have adopted a formation with no wingers. Out wide he could, as you say exploit the space behind a full back but not in this shape. Also how strange to be unfit for weeks due to (leg) – not calf, thigh or hamstring but (leg)! He then goes on international duty, gets injured and is then available!! No idea what that is about but feels very odd.

If QSF is in charge next week then only three points could keep him in post – in my opinion.

2. Harefield Hornet - 24/11/2019

After the chink of light afforded by the win at Carrow Road this was particularly hard to stomach. There’s no doubt in my mind they deliberately targeted Craig Dawson as they knew damn well he was the key to us surviving their inevitable onslaught of set pieces. Cynical but effective I suppose, which sums Burnley up perfectly. I really fear for us now after this defeat – it was so bloody morale sapping.

3. Peter Ryan - 24/11/2019

Phil Bardsley got up smiling after Holebas’ late challenge. As did Ashley Barnes several times. They played us and we fell for it.

4. David - 24/11/2019

I’m not sure what we try next. Playing the kids with the kinetic energy attached to this team could ruin them and yet I’m starting to believe that Doucs, Hughes, Grey, Maps, Cathcart, (an unfit) Deeney, Kiko, Massina, Success, Chalobah from the first team squad have got it in them to get 30 points from 25 games.

5. Ray Knight - 24/11/2019

Top quality write-up as always Matt. Yesterday was painful on many levels. I am not going to rant n’ rave. Looking beyond niggly Burnley’s time-wasting anti-football tactics and our manifest shortcomings, VAR is ruining the game. Mike Riley has been given Carter blanche to run his experiment. What’s wrong with looking at the pitch-side monitor? Instead the fans are teased by decisions made by officials made many miles away. What rhythm the game finally achieved mid-second half evaporated in an instant. Falling out of love rapidly with a game I love as well as watching my team suffer. Last chance next week for QSF in my humble opinion. He never had a plan B in his first season and that pattern is being repeated. Will he be bold next week and set us up for attack, or just keep shoring up the defence. Sarr should feature as we must be a threat on the break. Deeney looks completely unfit so believe it or not would prefer Gray and Del Boy at the moment. Rant over guys!

PEDantic - 25/11/2019

Hear, hear on VAR. As fans we should all be railing against this abomination but, in truth, its introduction heralds the change of football into a TV sport not one that serves the fan in the stadium, all because of where the money lies.

6. ROYSTON ROF - 24/11/2019

What have Kirby, Keen, Harrison, Jackett, a bit of Basset, Bootroyd, even Taylor and a bit of Garcia, flores and who ever takes his place got in common?…..been there, seen it got the tee shirt with the heart ache

…at least Wycombe, Brentford, QPR, The Kennel, Fulham, Millwall, Reading and Charlton arent much a drive, cos unless we get 10 points by the end of the year thats we are heading, where are they coming from?

I would have put Holbas in at right back and Masini on the left, gone flat back 4, taken Kiko off whose only job was to stop Taylor on the left brought on Sarr and push Taylor back to have to mark him

Burnley did their job, nasty, horrible, turds…and 3 points …horrible…lets go down fighting, we are better then this but the rot started when Deeney was sent off vs Arse last year

… and it will be bye bye, Troy, Doucoure, Geri and Bobbi next year…start getting used to it….all imho

PEDantic - 25/11/2019

Greatly enjoyed your typo: Bootroyd indeed!

7. Fez - 24/11/2019

Deulofeu, our best player on the day, had several opportunities to play in Sarr who had made decent space in wide positions. He didn’t. Our most infuriating player too. Going forward we need him to improve his decision making. PDQ.

8. drdavewatford - 24/11/2019

Excellent report. We’ve lost a few this season, obviously, but this one felt worse than all but Man City and possibly Brighton – two weeks of false hope were unceremoniously wiped away and replaced with a realisation that our wretched luck with injuries continues unabated, Troy Deeney is currently a shadow of his former self and will need a number of games to get match fit, and we still don’t have a clue where the goal is or how to locate it.

Our decline from cup finalists and European hopefuls to impotent relegation fodder in the space of less than half a season is a depressing reminder that other than the Big 6 every team in the Premier League is just a few injuries and a bad run from relegation and potential financial ruin.

9. Sequel - 25/11/2019

After witnessing this latest turgid home performance, I consoled myself by leafing through Tales From the Vicarage volume 2, and in particular, Ian Grant’s excellent chapter about our doldrum years in the 90’s. I then couldn’t resist moving on to Matt’s chapter on that wonderful, if gut wrenching, night in Birmingham. Almost made me want to be back in the second division. The good times (remember those?) really are better for having had to suffer to get them.
Be careful what you wish for, eh?

10. Watford Will - 26/11/2019

I must confess that I didn’t share Matt’s optimism at the start of the season (although I have been pessimistic for every season we have been in the Premier League….). Our deficiencies have been well documented, and we are paying a heavy price for spending so poorly in the summer. I do wonder how many of the current squad would remain if we were to get relegated, but there is no doubt in my mind that the squad needs a total overhaul – maybe rebuild around Hughes and Chalobah (if he has still got it?).
For me the choice of QSF as manager was bewildering, certainly not the kind of manager I would have gone for for a relegation dogfight. Matt clearly doesn’t warm to Sean Dyche, but give me him any day over every manager we have had since he left. However I doubt our owners would ever recruit a manager they can’t control…..
I really hope we don’t go down, but the only silver lining for me is that I haven’t been to watch us since we got promoted ( I don’t leave near Watford and my habit over the last 20 years or so has been to just turn up at nearby away games, which probably wouldn’t work in the Premier League). It would be good to come and watch again, but here’s hoping against hope that somehow we turn it round.

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