Performances speak directly to the fans
As I arrived at Vicarage Road there was a sense of expectation fostered by both sets of supporters, for the home fans it was how a quite unlikely result against Arsenal in midweek might influence the rest of their season. An unusual blip or a prophecy of something more inspiring?
As I pondered what it might mean for the Watford fan a strange silhouette loomed overhead, the new stadium, or parts of it, chimed with Watford as becoming an established Premier league club. My fist visit there in 1992 had been with a Watford supporting mate whilst at school, we’d stood where the away fans now sit, on a terrace and watched as Cantona missed a one-on-one with Perry Suckling. Watford won 2-1. The Watford fans that day had given all manner of abuse to Lee Chapman regarding allegations involving a team mate who, allegedly, had his metaphorical shooting boots on in more than one instance.
The ground back then had four stands, for a while one side stood bare (indeed it was the only club in a top league in Europe with three sides covered). In fact I’d sat in the remnants of it when watching us beaten 2-0 in the FA cup quarter final in 2003, Dyche that day had also been in the ground, albeit as an unused Watford sub.
Despondent though I was that day it wasn’t my worst memory of the ground, that had occurred a couple of years earlier when watching the Pie Munchers. My mate had got tickets next to the away fans. The first half we had the PNE fans continually remind us of Elton John’s sexuality, half time beckoned and a chance for respite. That was until Right Said Fred danced into the centre circle to launch their new single. The PNE fans thought Xmas had come early.
But back to the match, what were the Burnley fans thinking? My own view was that this game represented a solid chance for 3 points which were even more desirable given that the teams at the bottom of the table had suddenly decided to stop being so awful. I reasoned that the midweek win might coax some overconfidence. Then there were the new signings we had, I spoke with one fan about how having a winger on his natural side would affect Ward’s game as fewer runs to the inside channel would result in less space for him. This was soon to be a moot point as Burnley lined up with Arfield and Boyd out wide. It must have been our most expensive bench ever.
The game started and immediately we looked to work down our right, the low winter sun had caused a literal headache for the linesman and the Watford left back, Holebas. Alternatively perhaps it was to put pressure on Holebas in terms of his personality as he does have something of a feisty nature. Indeed Holebas was soon to be involved in a heated exchange though not in the way Dyche would have hoped.
The first notable challenge was on Ward from their loanee Niang, feet on the ground ensured it was a yellow despite the howls from our fans. Moments later a clumsy challenge on Holebas from Hendrick saw the Claret walk. It was an ugly challenge with the foot over the ball exhibit A cited in any dismissal of this type. We hadn’t reached the tenth minute and we were down to 10. Worse was to follow, a few minutes later Niang found space on the right and curled a ball into Deeney who got down quickly and headed past Heaton. Barnes was then charged with filling in on the left whilst moving up alongside Gray as an outlet for Heaton or other exit balls.
Given his time as a Luton player I’d expected Gray to have a less than friendly reception but the Watford fans didn’t seem vocal to him, or really anything else. It might also have been because Gray was playing like a man wearing a heavy coat. In an early race with Kaboul he’d been notably outpaced. Barnes was winning headers, yet Gray stood on his heels. In his defence the supply to him wasn’t exceptional yet in games such as this any forward at any level knows to need to make something from the 10% chances, so chase everything down and try to cause problems. Time again Barnes won a header from a ball which was never going to allow a sharp flick on, yet Gray stood expecting it to zip to him. Whether injury or attitude Gray wasn’t helping the cause much and it stood in starker contrast to Barnes who was exceptional in work rate and determination.
We’ll never know how Watford would have played against 11 but against 10 they seemed confused and far from comfortable. Burnley on the other hand had a plan, or at least a way of attempting to square the game. This was led in no small part by Barton who was martialling the midfield superbly. I’ll hold my hands up and say I questioned if he could still cut it at this level, he was proving me wrong with each pass and tackle.
Half time loomed, Burnley were still defending narrow and keeping Deeney quiet. It was going well, yet one lapse (and a superb header) made the half time even less pleasant (and given the crush to the toilets this was quite an achievement). A ball snapped in and a diagonal run from Niang who placed a header into the far corner. It was a beautiful header and against the run of play.
Niang raced to the fans to celebrate and here was one confusing moment, did this warrant a second yellow? A week previous I’d watched as Savage had got into a row on BT with a referee over what qualifies as a second yellow, Howard Webb insinuated that a second yellow needed to be considered in a different context, as it would result in a red. Savage disputed this and I felt unclean in agreeing with him. This instance was brought up with Shearer and Wright on MOTD, both thought it unfair to issue a second yellow.
There we have it in a nutshell, pundits and players want the rules enforced consistently so a foul or act results in the same outcome wherever and whenever it occurs. Except when it’s, well, you know, silly to or something. Glad that’s cleared it up.
Half time involved a 15 minute trek to the toilets, please Watford, do something about this as it was quite scary watching fans with kids attempting the same journey. The few stewards looked bemused as to what to do.
The second half started with Gray moved to left midfield, Dyche presumably appreciating Barnes’ efforts upfront. Gray hadn’t been effective playing off the shoulder so it might have allowed him to hit the channels and get closer to Barnes. This soon bore fruit, I couldn’t see whether the pass was over hit or it was a miscontrol but Gray almost got on the end of another ball Barnes won.
Moving Gray to left midfield had given rise to the suspicion that Brady was about to make his debut for us and in the 55th minute this was the case. From what I could see his instructions were to hit the channel and support Barnes. Watford were still nervous and looked far from a team who were winning 2-0 and who had an extra man. The silence of the home fans fostered a sense that we were not yet out of it.
The set piece seemed our most likely way back in, a couple of corners almost gave a deserved goal with Keane looking very dangerous. Burnley were focused and the man advantage Watford had was increasingly looking as a mere stat. In the 70th minute Watford had the chance to secure the result, another ball from Niang found Deeney in a similar position to where he’d scored the first. Unable to use his head Deeney got a foot to it and Heaton pulled off a wonderful save. Using all his experience and a single hand he read Deeney’s body and knew it had to go back across him. We were reminded yet again why he is England’s best.
With the half moving on Arfield was replaced by our second signing, Westwood. Both our newest team mates were now in the forge of the game and result. Presumably Arfield was tiring which is no surprise given the running he did but to have the new chaps on the field when we were pushing for a result shows faith from Dyche and quickly gives them an understanding of how we play in this situation. It was sound on all fronts.
Another well worked corner (which we had seemed particularly dangerous from) and Prodl, unbalanced by his top-knot, was cut in half by a Barton shot (to borrow a cricketing term) and the ref pointed to the spot. Barnes stepped up and pinged it into the corner, the Watford fans became as a field of snow in terms of noise. We were back in it and had 13 mins plus injury time to get a point.
Fairytales are just that because they don’t happen all the time, the remainder of the game was a tide towards the Watford goal. In fairness Deeney found the net after handballing it which only served to underline how the game had yet to decide in whose favour it might fall. A nice combination from Boyd released Brady who made a solid connection. Vokes came on for Boyd who had been a Trojan in the field, with the last few moments Barnes came close and even Heaton attended the opposition area. There was a moment for Gomes to give his manager consternations (which further underlines the missed opportunity Gray had in not putting him under pressure).
Yet the ref blew and the Watford fans broke into relieved applause, the Claret fans too yet for different reasons. The teams had rallied after Hendrick’s folly and reminded us of that scorelines, though important merely apply to a table on a website, whereas performances speak directly to the fans.Share this page :