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watford 2 1000x500Burnley fell to another defeat on the road yesterday, this time losing 2-1 Watford having been forced to play all but the first six minutes of the game with ten men following the early dismissal of midfielder Jeff Hendrick.

Referee Michael Oliver came under the spotlight with two big early decisions in the game. He firstly yellow carded Watford’s M’Baye Niang for a foul on Stephen Ward and within a minute produced the red card for Hendrick after a foul on José Holebas.

Oliver was subsequently the subject of abuse from some Burnley fans for his decisions. At the time I was too far away from the first incident to get anything like a clear view but with the red card, I have to admit I was not surprised when it was shown having seen Hendrick’s movement towards the challenge.

It’s easy to criticise the referee, and I do it often enough, but television pictures have shown that he got these two decisions absolutely correct and, perhaps, the only finger you could point at him was his reluctance to give Niang a second yellow card for his over enthusiastic celebration of a goal.

That Hendrick dismissal came in only the sixth minute and we were always up against it once Troy Deeney had scored the opener for them four minutes later. The game looked up for us when Niang scored their second in stoppage time at the end of the first half but, to be fair, we gave it a real go in the second half and might just have come away with a point before succumbing to a tenth defeat on the road this season, a seventh in successive games and a fourth 2-1 reverse in the last four.

The journey down for us was a good one, reaching Watford a good two hours before kick off. The only problem we encountered was on the M1 when a car which was five or six in front of us came to a stop in the inside lane. To my amazement I saw the driver get out. She went to the boot, opened it and appeared to get something out to give to a workman on the hard shoulder.

For other Burnley supporters things weren’t quite so good as the M6 became a car park just south of Birmingham after an accident and it meant some Clarets were late arriving. Mind you, some who were there in good time were struggling to get inside with the stewarding causing chaos outside the away stand on Vicarage Road.

As the queues mounted up, all Burnley supporters were being searched. Even once through that, the small number of turnstiles were seemingly inadequate. Suddenly, senior stewards in a panic were running in telling the searchers to stop and only make random checks to try and improve the through flow.

I got in just as the teams were about to come out as the Z Cars theme blasted out. It’s the oldest entrance music in English football I believe. Everton have used it for well over fifty years now and started at a time when players just used to run out without fanfare. There’s some logic to it being used at Goodison Park but I’d never quite understood why it was adopted at Watford. I have found the reason and it goes back some years to when Bill McGarry was manager. He liked the tune and asked for it to be played. They immediately went on a long unbeaten run and so has remained.

The Burnley team coming out was that which had played the bulk of the game against Leicester last Tuesday with Scott Arfield in for the injured Steven Defour. That meant bench places for new signings Ashley Westwood and Robbie Brady who were both to make their debuts later in the afternoon.

There seemed to be a lot of optimism within the away end. Despite having the worst away record in the Premier League, the win against Leicester and the fact that, with no disrespect to Watford, we had just come through away games at Tottenham, Manchester City and Arsenal, there was more confidence than I’d picked up in any other away game this season.

How all that had changed by ten past three. Watford are not a pleasant team, they niggle at you all afternoon and it really is no surprise to see they have collected more yellow cards in the Premier League this season than any other club with only Manchester City having more red cards.

They got that early yellow card, the first of five they picked up, and then came the first key moment of the game when Hendrick received his marching orders. Despite being told at half time by someone who had, shall we say, had a drink, that I don’t support the club and never have anything positive to say about Burnley Football Club, and this all because I had dared to suggest the red card might have been the correct decision, there is no doubt in my mind now that it was the only decision Oliver could make.

Immediately you sensed it might be a difficult afternoon but, ten men or eleven, the defending for Watford’s opener was poor. We’d moved Arfield inside with Barnes initially going on the left in a 4-4-1 formation, although Barnes would swap with Andre Gray soon after. The goal was no more than a routine ball into the box but Troy Deeney got the better of two Burnley defenders to head home. He makes a habit of scoring against us down there and had already kept up his record of scoring on every occasion he’s played against us at Vicarage Road.

For much of the remainder of the first half it was, despite the promptings of Joey Barton, a matter of hanging on and trying not to concede again. Tom Heaton made one outstanding save to deny Niang, they had other opportunities and the only time we really threatened was when Heurelho Gomes tipped a Barton free kick over the bar.

When the board went up to signal two extra minutes at the end of the first half it was still 1-0, but by the time we went off at the interval they’d scored again when Niang got away from Michael Keane to head home a cross from Holebas. I have to admit I did wait for Oliver’s yellow card for the over exuberant celebrations but it didn’t come and they went into the interval with just three yellows and, of far more significance, a 2-0 lead. We couldn’t have any complaints. It’s difficult when you are a man short but we had been second best for much of the half.

With nothing to lose, we gave it a good go in the second half. Right from the off we pushed forward and started to put the home side under pressure. We made an early change with Brady replacing Gray and Gomes had to make a couple of saves, one from Barnes and one from Arfield while Barnes had another chance but delayed and didn’t get a shot in.

Despite all that, the closest we came to seeing a third goal of the day was at the other end when Heaton saved well to deny Deeney a second. Still, we pushed forward knowing one goal could give us a real chance of potentially taking a point.

Westwood came on for Arfield with 13 minutes remaining and almost immediately we won a penalty. Barnes had a spectacular effort cleared off the line. It eventually found its way to Barton outside the box and his goal bound shot was handled by Sebastian Prödl. Oliver didn’t hesitate in pointing to the spot and Barnes converted with a shot off the post.

Now we had a chance, and we got it when Craig Cathcart gifted Barnes an opportunity but unfortunately the striker fired straight at Gomes, and it proved to be our last chance.

In stoppage time, Keane got caught on our right and they broke with Deeney turning in the cross having clearly handled. As the goal was ruled out his expletives suggested he didn’t agree but Burnley broke down the left.

Watford did what they do; Cathcart hacked down Brady, he got carded and we had a free kick. Up went Heaton but it came to nothing and before Watford could clear the ball it was all over, it was yet another away defeat.

The talking will continue for some time longer of our inability to get results away from home. It’s three weeks before we are next on our travels as we kick off that much talked about run of four successive away games, although that could yet be reduced to three because of cup commitments.

We can’t keep putting ourselves under pressure to win our home games. It’s worked admirably so far but a couple of decent results away from home wouldn’t half help.

The major concern now is the midfield. We know we don’t have Dean Marney any longer this season, Steven Defour remains out with a hamstring injury, Hendrick is now ruled out for three games and what sort of action the FA take against Barton is anyone’s guess. It could be a central midfield pairing of Westwood and Arfield for the forthcoming games.

At least our home record is keeping us in a relatively comfortable position. I still don’t think we need too many more points but the sooner we get them, the happier we’ll all be.

It’s some time since we last had to play with ten men; Michael Duff was the last player we had sent off at West Ham back in May 2015. That one was successfully appealed; this one most certainly won’t be.

The teams were;

Watford: Heurelho Gomes, Craig Cathcart, Younès Kaboul, Sebastian Prödl, José Holebas, Valon Behrami (Abdoulaye Doucouré 65), Mauro Zárate (Daryl Janmaat 81), Étienne Capoue, Tom Cleverley, M’Baye Niang (Isaac Success 81), Troy Deeney. Subs not used: Giedrius Arlauskis, Ben Watson, Miguel Britos, Stefano Okaka.
Yellow Cards: M’Baye Niang, José Holebas, Étienne Capoue, Sebastian Prödl, Craig Cathcart.

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd (Sam Vokes 86), Jeff Hendrick, Joey Barton, Scott Arfield (Ashley Westwood 77), Ashley Barnes, Andre Gray (Robbie Brady 55). Subs not used: Paul Robinson, Jon Flanagan, James Tarkowski, Johann Berg Gudmundsson.
Red Card: Jeff Hendrick.

Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).

Attendance: 20,178.

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