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watford-1000x500The match previews this season are falling into two categories, the confidence of the home form and the concern of the away form, and it is back to the latter tomorrow when we travel to Vicarage Road to face Watford.

I don’t think anyone could have imagined that we’d move into February with such an outstanding home record yet an away run that, without the home results, would look alarming. That’s how it is though. Nine wins and a draw in thirteen home games have given us 28 points to add to the solitary point won away from home, and that at moaning Mourinho’s Old Trafford.

I do think things will change between now and the end of the season. Five of the six teams we still have to face at home are above us; the exception is West Ham who are currently just one place below us.

Contrast that with the remaining away fixtures. We have to travel to Merseyside twice to play 4th place Liverpool and Everton who are currently 7th, but the other seven away games are against teams in the bottom eight in the league. The only team in that group we don’t face are Leicester who we beat three days ago.

Tomorrow it’s Watford, the highest placed of that group. They are currently 13th in the table just two points below us and that’s our next challenge. What a way to end what has been a brilliant week at our football club by getting that first away win.

George Boyd is certainly looking forward to it. “It’s been a great week,” he said. “It was another big win against the champions and two great additions will strengthen us even more.

“I was with Robbie at Hull and he’s a fantastic player and I know Westy was with Lowts at Villa. They are two great players with Premier League experience. They trained yesterday, will have their little sing-a-long on Friday and will settle straight in.”

Just so we all know how well our club is progressing, Boyd added: “To bring that sort of quality in and to be tenth in the league is brilliant for us. I think last time we didn’t really buy in the January transfer window. To bring that quality in shows how far the club is progressing.

“A new training ground, record signings, it’s a club going places.”

Interestingly, I read the words of Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce on our new signing Ashley Westwood. I thought they spoke volumes about our new midfielder and also of Bruce who really didn’t have to say anything.

He said: “I wish the lad well. He’s a model professional and he’s served the club very, very well. I think it was time for him to move on.

“He’s been through the tough times here which has not been easy for anybody and Ashley is as a terrific professional and he’s the type you don’t really want to lose from at football club.

“I felt at the time that it was right for everybody and I said that to him, that he might need a new challenge, fresh surroundings and I do genuinely wish him the best of luck. I hope it goes well for him.

Westwood and, of course, Robbie Brady will both come into the reckoning with manager Sean Dyche confirming that both will be in contention. Brady looks to have the best chance with a vacancy on that left hand side following the injury to Steven Defour. However, Scott Arfield came on for the last hour or so on Tuesday and did really well which could see him get the nod initially.

If so, we would see the new pair on the bench with the team being: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Jeff Hendrick, Joey Barton, Scott Arfield, Ashley Barnes, Andre Gray. Subs from: Paul Robinson, Jon Flanagan, Tendayi Darikwa, James Tarkowski, Ashley Westwood, Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Robbie Brady, Sam Vokes.

Watford will certainly be on a high after winning 2-1 at Arsenal on Tuesday night. It was certainly a shock result and I don’t think too many teams will go to the Emirates and take a 2-0 lead in the first 13 minutes of the game, but that’s what they did with goals from Younes Kaboul and Troy Deeney.

It was a first league win of 2017 and brought to an end a run of seven league games without a win since their last success in mid-December when they beat Everton 3-2 at Vicarage Road.

Watford are not run in a conventional way. Since the Pozzo family took over, and immediately sacked Sean Dyche, they’ve had no fewer than seven managers. Gianfranco Zola replaced Dyche and he lasted more than a year which is more than any other. Slavisa Jokanovic took them up and immediately lost his job, he’s now at Fulham, and last season Quique Sanchez Flores had a good season in charge in the Premier League before giving way to current boss Walter Mazzarri.

Watford are currently 13th in the table, just a couple of points behind us. Their away record is certainly better than ours, winning at West Ham and Middlesbrough before the win at Arsenal. At home they’ve won four times and lost four times; the defeats have come at the hands of Chelsea, Arsenal, Stoke and Tottenham; that’s the top three with the Stoke defeat the only disappointing result.

Last season their leading goalscorer was Odion Ighalo. He scored 16 Premier League goals ahead of Troy Deeney who scored 13 although six of his were penalties. Ighalo is gone now. Only two of those goals came in 2016 and this season he’d scored only once before a big money move to China in the recently closed window.

Deeney is in front this year with six, including one penalty, and Etienne Capoue has scored five.

Having gone out of the cup at Millwall last Sunday, they opted to play on the Tuesday to allow one extra day preparation for tomorrow’s game.

The Watford team at Arsenal was: Heurelho Gomes, Craig Cathcart, Younes Kaboul, Sebastian Prodl, Miguel Britos, Valon Berhame, Daryl Janmaat, Tom Cleverley, Etienne Capoue, M’Baye Niang, Troy Deeney. Subs: Adrian Mariappa, Ben Watson, Brandon Mason, Giedrius Arlauskis, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Isaac Success, Stefano Okaka.

 

LAST TIME WE WERE THERE

 

Burnley travelled to Watford just seven days after the first home defeat of the 2013/14 season at the hands of Leicester. We remained in second place some nine points ahead of QPR and ten points in front of Derby.

Burnley would face this match without Kieran Trippier, Dean Marney, Danny Ings and Sam Vokes. Some fans were hitting the panic button but, as one Burnley fan said outside the ground: “If we supported QPR or Derby we wouldn’t believe we had any chance of catching Burnley.” That was before some old Watford fan approached me to ask if ‘Old Bob Lord’ was still running things at Burnley, he’d have been around 105 had he still been with us.

1314 burnley scott arfield 00 630x420We started the game well but with only nine minutes gone we fell behind to a deflected Troy Deeney shot. Ashley Barnes thought he’d levelled within a few minutes but an eagle eyed assistant flagged him offside. It was close, but the correct decision.

We were unfortunate to still be behind at half time but we came out and played even better in the second half. Watford did have chances, one remarkable chance which Chris Baird, who had arrived on a short term contract to cover for the injured Trippier, raced back to clear off the line.

Baird, a former Watford player, was to have a say in the fully deserved equaliser as was Michael Kightly, another who had worn Watford’s colours. It was Kightly, on the left, who played the ball inside for Baird who in turn slid it forward for Scott Arfield on the edge of the penalty area.

Arfield opened his body, turned to leave him in front of defender Marco Cassetti and drilled a shot into the bottom corner right by the post. It was a superb finish from Arfield.

We’d got a point and there was good news to come from elsewhere with both QPR and Derby losing at Bournemouth and Middlesbrough respectively.

We were a point closer to promotion. Now ten points clear and with just six games to go.

The teams were;

Watford: Manuel Almunia, Gabriele Angella, Marco Cassetti, Joel Ekstrand, Ikechi Anya, Cristian Battocchio (Almen Abdi 43), Daniel Tozser, Lewis McGugan (Albert Riera 87), Daniel Pudil, Troy Deeney, Mathias Ranegie (Marco Faraoni 75). Subs not used: Jonathan Bond, Tommy Hoban, Samba Diakite, Sean Murray.

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Chris Baird, Michael Duff, Jason Shackell, Ben Mee, David Edgar, David Jones (Brian Stock 76), Michael Kightly, Scott Arfield, Keith Treacy (Ross Wallace 63), Ashley Barnes. Subs not used: Alex Cisak, Kevin Long, Danny Lafferty, Steven Hewitt, Jason Gilchrist.

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