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Burnley 0 Watford 0 (06/02/2022) 06/02/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- The thing about social media is that, notoriously, it tends to polarise opinion.  You’re thinking… well probably A but maybe B, perhaps.  Then you read a strident, one-sided posit in favour of B, probably made by someone half-thinking on the way to somewhere or in the middle of something and you wade in to balance the argument and both entrench your position and spark off a heated exchange of views.

You’ve all been there.  It’s grotesque.  I’ve avoided it in recent weeks, mercifully, more or less. Anyway… with every change of head coach (or manager…) comes an opening of the windows and a ventilating of everything which, whether the preceding decision was needed, merited, A, B, right or wrong does give you the opportunity to breath in the fresh air and prepare yourself for whatever degree of reset and to go again.  

There can be little debate that it was needed this time, in the end, however much some of us had been trying to imagine otherwise before Norwich.  After Norwich, no discussion.  Sometimes a performance is just so wrong as to comprehensively end any debate.  Had we been in the Championship we would have been facing Huddersfield of course, as is traditional on such occasions (see eg here, here and also here if you have the strength) but we’re not and so Norwich it was.

And in come Roy and Ray, the former with a track record of imposing the sort of structure and resilience that we’ve been manifestly lacking (a reactive appointment then?  maybe, but you’d rather have it than not) and speaking an endearing lack of bullshit.  The latter, well.  I’m guessing those reading this are largely of a vintage that permits them to remember his own tenure as the main man and will have their own opinions, won’t need reminding of the circumstances and the spirit.   “Better off as a number two”… well, perhaps.  Nonetheless, after the obvious my second favourite Watford boss.  I’m delighted he’s back in whatever capacity,

2- The sense of there being something new in the air, of stuff having been reset since that Norwich disaster is re-enforced by the fact that it’s Daughter 1 accompanying me up the M6 rather than Daughter 2, whose hitherto perfect away record this season was interrupted by our COVID-induced absence from Newcastle and who now deems Burnley “too far north”.  Daughter 1’s presence then, in defiance of a slightly less fixated attitude towards football attendance than her sister, is an unforeseen fringe benefit of my unhealthy obsession with irrelevant statistics, the same obsession that informs me that this is somehow my tenth visit to Turf Moor (despite it being “too far north”).  Daughter 1, you see, has seen her lead over her sister, three years her junior, cut to 2 games through the apprentice’s belligerence.  110 games vs 108.  This would never do.

If she had any regrets after a drive spanning four and a half hours as we pulled into Burnley cricket club with the wind flinging the rain in violent circles around us she would have been forgiven but she didn’t let on.  Burnley’s an odd place (a judgement which I now feel qualified to make after ten visits).  In contrast to a side whose identity has been set in stone (or granite) for nearly a decade the locals are hugely varied spanning both the most one-dimensionally hostile and the most unreservedly friendly.  It depends where you look of course, and the cricket club predominantly hosts the latter.  Daughter 1 declines in favour of a bee-line for the away end, but if we do end up going down retaining this away venue on the schedule will be a silver lining.  Sorry, spoiler alert.

3- Football then.  Finally, after two weeks and two thunks of blithering.  And if Roy’s team selection is so on brand with a 4-4-2 boasting the most obdurate midfield in recent memory (Kucka, Kayembe, Sissoko, Sema leaves little room for compromise or for anything much) then the need, here, to lay down a marker, to deprive Burnley of space to deliver from the wings in the absence of our two most potent routes to causing damage at the other end (Sarr finally fit and playing but in Cameroon not Lancashire, Dennis suspended) justifies it entirely.  “It’s almost like having Sarr back” notes Will as Kucka lines up on the right flank.

The match itself is carnage.  The extraordinary wind is urgent but directionless – we realise at one point that the corner flags are almost horizontal, but pointing in a variety of different directions.  The game itself follows the same pattern with everything – ball, players, officials, tumbling haphazardly around the pitch as if the whole surface is tipping. At times it resembles Flash Gordon’s confrontation with Prince Barin more than a football match…  I’ve not read any reports, but I’d imagine that “low on quality” features prominently, and that those watching on TV, certainly those uninvested, would have been reaching for the remote control as quickly as Prince Vultan.  In the stadium, fuelled by the wind and the rain and the frantic urgency it’s utterly brilliant, and Daughter 1 – in between sassing at the comments behind us (“yeah, sure, like he could do better”) – is rapt throughout.

After an early flurry for the Hornets it’s Burnley who find the table tipping in their favour at the start of the match.  Hassane Kamara is exposed early on and there’s a risk that he’ll get bullied as the enormous Wout Weghorst pulls right and batters him but as a portent this is deceptive.  Kamara is far tougher a cookie than his skinny frame suggests, he’ll do a fine line in precision covering tackles delivered with an endearing violence and a smile that’s bigger than his face.  He’s handy bringing the ball out as well, dogged in retaining possession up the line and delivers perhaps the pass of the game to release King for a chance on the break.  Weghorst meanwhile shows glimpses but will need time to adapt to his new environment;  here his biggest impact is on Ken Sema who catches a stray limb (which, in fairness, is going to happen when your elbows are at the same height as a normal person’s head).  Weghorst doesn’t live up to his billing… it’s not quite the Emperor’s New Clothes but he’s certainly underdressed and as a consequence, unsurprisingly in the circumstances, looks freezing.

His new partner Maxwell Cornet – linked with us on at least three separate occasions before joining the Clarets – is also rusty having been warming the Ivory Coast bench in Cameroon but presents a more obvious immediate threat, forcing Foster into a decent save up to his right in the first half.  Nonetheless, the home side are earning little in the box itself thanks to our own refreshingly uncomplicated bloody-mindedness.  Samir has clearly read the brief, dumping a clearance onto the roof of the Bob Lord stand to our right to terminate the Clarets’ first attack but it’s Craig Cathcart who stands out,  Getting in the way is his trademark and he excels here at both ends of the pitch but particularly in defence, being where he needs to be and clearing without deliberation in the knowledge that, despite physical presence and long throws, Burnley aren’t going to threaten us from the flanks.  We start shouting “have it!” to greet every clearance.

Cathcart’s spiritual equivalent in the midfield is Edo Kayembe.  The game is characterised by both sides giving the ball away a lot (more forgivable given circumstances and meteorology) but by the time a stray Clarets ball find Kayembe for the seventh time you begin to wonder whether this is more than mere happy coincidence.  His low centre of gravity means that he’s not being buffeted around either and it’s building from this solid foundation that we turn the tide.  By the end of the half we’re probably shading it and might have been given the chance to cement this suspicion when Connor Roberts handled Ken Sema’s cross in the box. The officials between them seemed to conclude, generously, that the full-back had been attempting to withdraw his outstretched arm from the path of the ball rather than blocking it.  We’ll be equally generous in assuming that Pawson, who had an excellent game overall in difficult conditions, wasn’t influenced by Sean Dyche sending his many backroom staff scuttling across the pitch as the half-time whistle blew in advance of the VAR review, perhaps presenting a psychological obstacle to any reversal of decision.  You win some, you lose some.

4- The second half featured more of the same, but whilst Burnley had chances both at the beginning of the half, when an effort dropped onto Ben Foster’s bar as he scrambled beneath it, and at the end, when Cornet lined up a free kick that was repelled, the Hornets were the better side without quite turning that superiority into clear cut chances.  Josh King was in his element, winning the physical confrontation with Burnley’s centre-backs on points, holding the ball up, bringing people into the game.  João Pedro’s ability to bring the ball into his orbit irrespective of angle, height or velocity was useful in both relieving pressure and in switching the focus of the play… one of several scampering breaks crashed on the rocks of their contre-temps against Norwich, as Will observed.  With the ball at his feet and defenders scrambling around him the Brazilian chose the worst of both worlds, delaying a lay-off to King and then overhitting it late rather than taking on the shot himself.  Femenía and Kucka – who did a more than passable job on the right in the end – combined for the latter to drop a cross onto João Pedro’s head but the connection was too deliberate, too close to Pope.  Like later efforts it suffered from the lack of conviction of a side that still hasn’t won for a very long time – only Cucho’s overdue introduction introduced a bit of “f*** it” to proceedings.

By that point we’d surrendered a bit of midfield control by replacing Kayembe with Cleverley, a move that had Will hopping nervously with anxiety until the final whistle.  Presuming no injury to Kayembe it was a gamble with a neutral pay-off as it turned out;  Burnley regained a footing. their best chances a Cornet shot after Cleverley surrendered cheaply and a break when Tarkowski won possession deep in Burnley’s half and thundered forward like a Scud missile before crashing into the lack of space on the edge of our box.  Cleverley’s potential for mischief gave us something else further forward in theory, though the closest it came to being realised was when Cucho bundled into the box, seeming to run towards every challenge rather than away from it before kicking the ball into the wall of shins that surrounded him.  The rebound fell to Cleverley on the edge of the box, his low drive – with the sting taken out of it by a deflection, with the benefit of a replay – was pushed around the post by Pope.  The game ended with the Hornets in the ascendancy, but we hadn’t quite done enough.

5- For all their traditional obstinacy, for all that their star turns up front will warm up, Burnley are a terrible side and are going to be relegated. That we didn’t beat them, taken in isolation, might be regarded as a(nother) missed opportunity, Sarr or no Sarr, Dennis or no Dennis.  

Nonetheless, that first clean sheet of the season is hugely significant.  We’ll face tougher games (starting Tuesday, where I fear squeezing in a report will be difficult) but a bloody-minded defensive side with a bit of magic dust up front isn’t a bad recipe in any division.  Sean Dyche knows this all too well – his Watford side (not to mention his Burnley incarnations since) were improbably mid-table in 2012 with Sean Murray’s brief hurrah providing that magic dust.  We’re not short of magic dust this time, and just perhaps we can be solid too.  The locals trudging back to the cricket club behind us in the extraordinarily persistent blustering drizzle grumbled about their boss, his inflexibility of approach, the dullness of the whole thing.   A bit of “win good, lose bad” in action there (or “draw at home to team you need to beat bad”) but we’ve all done it.

Thing is, a bloody-minded and ugly clean sheet after ten years of similar is one thing.  A bloody-minded ugly clean sheet when you’ve been waiting for one all season is something else.  Further encouragement, as ever, is offered by the Other 14 Table – performance vs par of winning your home games against all but the big six and nothing else – which has us well clear of the bottom three.  This reflects our remaining fixtures where the “unwinnable” games – City, Chelsea, Liverpool, United? – are away from home meaning the home fixtures are kinder.

We love you Watford, we’ve only got fourteen hours (seventeen games) to save the earth.

But we’re not done yet.


Foster 3, Femenía 3, *Kamara 4*, Cathcart 4, Samir 3, Kayembe 4, Sissoko 3, Kucka 3, Sema 3, João Pedro 3, King 4
Subs: Cleverley (for Kayembe, 70) 3, Hernández (for João Pedro, 83) NA, Fletcher, Louza, Kabasele, Troost-Ekong, Ngakia, Bachmann


1. PEDantic - 06/02/2022

The incident at the end of the first half was a great example of why VAR will never satisfy the advocates of it, who crave absolute black or white decisions. A matter of opinion has just been transferred from the on-field referee to an off-field one.

Meanwhile I’m happy to agree with you on two things: Ray Lewington as my second favourite Watford manager and Burnley as a great away trip. I’ve only done it three times, with a fourth aborted at the start of the pandemic, not including last night. Kudos to you and all who made it.

2. Harefield Hornet - 06/02/2022

Laugh out loud moment from yesterday came from Ben Foster when questioned about how long it was since the last clean sheet. “About six Managers ago?” – absolutely priceless !

3. David - 06/02/2022

2 points from the recent games against Newcastle, Burnley and Norwich will Probably send us down but we still have a possible chance which will keep us interested for a while yet.

I childishly never liked Boothroyd because of my anger at Ray’s dismissal. Lovely to have him back. I hope he and Roy don’t regret it.

4. Tadcaster Hornets David & Flora - 06/02/2022

Stupid time for a match but otherwise very worth the trip. I think that the friendliness of the locals has stepped up a notch (and I live in Yorkieland…) and there’s even a proper good cafe in town now. The weather really added to the occasion if not the football quality and those watching on TV missed what the game is really all about. A win and a goal or two next time wouldn’t go amiss mind. Thanks Matt for your reports week after week after…

5. Crisb - 06/02/2022

I liken Ray to Prince Vultan, his booming voice egging on the proceedings. And not averse to giving one of the opposition a little bop on the head with his club if the ref isn’t looking.

Well if we were flying blind on a rocket cycle bound for the championship, I hope we’ve steadied the course ever so slightly.

“Match them – like this!”. Oh what a fun film.

Matt Rowson - 07/02/2022

“What do you mean, Ken Sema approaching….?”

6. robpayne79 - 07/02/2022

As usual a great report, which was needed as I couldn’t watch the game as I was at Pride and Prejudice (Sort Of).Thanks for the recommendation, a joyous and wonderful couple of hours! I feel I possibly had quite a lot more fun than anybody watching the game! However, a clean sheet and something to build on. Ray is absolutely my second favourite manager as well, and I’m thrilled that a man of such honour and integrity is back at the club. Now I just need to get, “Every Day I Write The Book,” out of my head!

Matt Rowson - 07/02/2022

I am delighted by this? Was your decision to go based on my recommendation? If not, please lie. Glad you enjoyed it, criminal that it’s left the west end. All the football stuff – yes.

robpayne79 - 07/02/2022

Yeah, when you mentioned it in a report a few months ago it was the first I heard of it, I then used that information to book tickets for my Austen loving girlfriend’s Christmas present! I scored major Brownie points and as a bonus it was fantastic! Tragic that it’s run has ended early, but apparently it is going out on tour. Thanks again for your excellent taste, and naturally for your always fantastic reports!

Matt Rowson - 08/02/2022


7. jtbodbo - 07/02/2022

Great report – well done for making it there. I only went from Stoke and the driving conditions were atrocious.
We are clearly better than Burnley on that showing , and have far more potential to come. They ( Clarets) seemed clueless in the second half. Are we better than 2 other sides. I think so , but who else does ? Danny Mills for one apparently.
Anyway, dreadful conditions, decent attempts by the players , and quite enjoyable. Not only is Kamara a really good acquisition he is already a Watford legend in our house – not just because of his smile, and his attitude on the pitch, but that our grandson was given his shirt. And as he had to go into school this morning, surrounded by Burnley fans, he would have been buzzing.
I like the cricket club , even though their sequence of photos of Charlie Griffith bowling somehow misses out the one which shows he threw the ball ! However, I can recommend ‘The Loom makers bistro on Bank Parade for good food/drinks/ and very likeable Burnley fans. They still miss McllRoy in these parts. Nol Sammy !

8. John Ford - 08/02/2022

Really chuffed at Ray’s return.
It always rankled that he was required to penny pinch and the chequebook (do they still exist?) opened for Boothroyd…

Matt Rowson - 08/02/2022


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