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watford 2 1000x500When I was a youngster the three Ws referred to West Indian cricketers Clyde Walcott, Everton Weekes and Frank Worrall, but we’ve had our own three Ws tour in the last four weeks with trips to West Ham United, West Bromwich Albion and now Watford.

The trip to West Ham saw us win for the first ever time at the London Stadium, last week we recorded our first win at the Hawthorns since 1969 and tomorrow we will be looking for a first ever top flight win at Vicarage Road although, admittedly, it will only be our second ever meeting there at this level.

The win last week at the Hawthorns was our sixth on the road this season and meant that, having also won at West Ham, we’ve recorded successive away victories for the second time this season; the other occasion was when we won at Southampton and Bournemouth in November.

Six, that’s more away wins than in our three previous seasons in the Premier League combined. That total is five with one in each of the 2009/10 and 2016/17 seasons and three in 2014/15. We are also now close to acquiring more away points this season than in those three previous seasons. We currently have 24 points on the road, one less than the total for those three previous seasons.

At this time, only Liverpool, Spurs and the two Manchester clubs have more points than us on the road and it is those results as much as anything that have seen us occupy our lofty position all season.

This week I saw a chart showing our league position throughout the season. It peaked in December when we went fourth for 24 hours but only once all season have we been outside the top half and that was after the home defeat against West Brom back in August when teams had only played twice each.

It’s all made a refreshing change from last season. Then, match previews for home games were full of optimism but for away games there was always that caution given it took us until April to get our one and only win.

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Nothing is left to chance at Burnley and ahead of tomorrow’s game, James Tarkowski, our latest international and who will be guaranteed a superb reception next week on the back of winning his first England cap, explained: “You need to keep putting the work in, which our manager makes sure we do. There’s no foot off the gas here and I don’t think there will be with this manager.”

He added: “It’s been a good few weeks. There’s been a lot of talk  about the winless run, but we’ve won three on the bounce in three tough games and we’re chasing the teams about us. We’ll keep moving forward.

“We just keep doing what we’re doing. It’s got us to where we are now. We’re not going to start changing and thinking we’re part of the top six or anything like that. There’s a reason we are where we are, we’re doing things right and we’ll continue that.”

Tarkowski missed seven of the ten games in that run without a win, but he returned to the side for the Everton game at the beginning of March and continued where he’d left off before the injury with the sort of performances that have won him a place in Gareth Southgate’s England squad.

It’s likely he’ll have a different partner tomorrow in the centre of defence with Ben Mee likely to be ruled out. Ben’s only missed two games so far this season, the home games against Watford and Stoke, both of which ended in 1-0 wins.

It is looking very likely that Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson will be out again too. He missed last week’s win at West Brom having returned from international duty with Iceland with an injury and that saw Georges-Kévin NKoudou make his first start in the Premier League after thirteen previous substitute appearances for Spurs and Burnley.

There is some positive news though with Tom Heaton back in the squad. It’s a long time since he suffered that shoulder injury in the home win against Crystal Palace and he could make a return to the squad via the bench tomorrow. If so it would mean replacing Anders Lindegaard who this week signed a new contract to stay with us next season.

Sean Dyche, on his fourth return to Vicarage Road as Burnley manager, will be looking for his first win there since swapping Watford for the Clarets. The first two games both ended in draws, 3-3 in 2012/13 and 1-1 in the following season, while last season’s game ended in a 2-1 win for the home side.

I suspect he’ll want to change the team as little as possible from that which won at West Brom so I think the only change will see Kevin Long come in for Mee.

We are likely to line up: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, Kevin Long, James Tarkowski, Stephen Ward, Aaron Lennon, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Georges-Kévin NKoudou, Chris Wood, Ashley Barnes. Subs from: Tom Heaton, Anders Lindegaard, Phil Bardsley, Charlie Taylor, Dean Marney, Aiden O’Neill, Jeff Hendrick, Nahki Wells, Sam Vokes.

Watford finished one place below us last season. We both had 40 points but we had by far the better goal difference. We are already well past that 40 points total that is considered safe; Watford are currently just three points short but are more than enough points away from the bottom three to have any relegation concerns.

It’s been a strange season for them. They tend to look to change manager every summer and last summer appointed Marco Silva who had previously been at Hull. Things started well and Silva was linked with the managerial vacancy at Everton when Ronald Koeman was sacked in October.

Silva clearly gave the impression that he wanted to go but Watford, via chief executive Scott Duxbury, made it clear that they don’t change manager during the season. They turned down reportedly big offers from Everton who finally gave up and appointed Sam Allardyce.

Things worsened for Watford. Suddenly they weren’t getting the same sort of results previously and that led to them doing what they don’t do, changing manager mid-season. Silva was sacked, with the club firmly pointing the finger at Everton, and they immediately replaced him with current boss Javi Gracia.

That was in January and they’ve won three, drawn two and lost three Premier League games since his appointment. It’s worth noting though that they’ve only picked up one away point during that time, a 0-0 draw at Stoke, whereas at home they are unbeaten having beaten Chelsea, Everton and West Brom before drawing 2-2 against Bournemouth a week ago.

They’ve had some injury problems but there is some good news for them with Christian Kabasele on his way back. Gracia said: “Kabasele has been training with the team this week. He is in full training. We will see if he is available at the last moment, but he is training with the team and he’s in a good moment.”

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The news isn’t quite so good for Gerard Deulofeu or former Burnley loan player Nathaniel Chalobah (pictured). Of Deulofeu, Gracia said: “I am confident he will play with us before we finish the season. Chalobah is trying to recover, but in this moment I have no more news about him. He is not training with the team, but he is working in the gym.”

Craig Cathcart came back as a substitute last week. “Cathcart is available,” he said. “I think he is very happy because he is back with the team and he wants to help us in these last six games.”

Gracia also confirmed that former Burnley striker Andre Gray, who hasn’t featured too often recently, will play a bigger part in the remaining games.

Kiko Femenia and Robert Pereyra scored the goals against Bournemouth last week in a game that saw Will Hughes return from injury and turn in a man of the match performance.

The Watford team was: Orestis Karnezis, Daryl Janmaat, Sebastian Prödl, Adrian Mariappa, José Holebas, Abdoulaye Doucouré, Étienne Capoue, Kiko Femenia, Will Hughes, Robert Pereyra, Troy Deeney. Subs: Heurelho Gomes, Didier Ndong, Andre Gray, Dodi Lukebakio, Craig Cathcart, Richarlison, Stefano Okaka.

There will be a minute’s applause ahead of the game in memory of former England midfielder Ray Wilkins who passed away this week. A minute’s applause will take place ahead of all Premier League games this weekend for Wilkins who was at as assistant when Gianluca Vialli was manager.

 

LAST TIME WE WERE THERE

 

Early February 2017 and Burnley were still searching for a second away point of the season. A 0-0 draw at Old Trafford against Manchester United had been our only success on the road in ten away games.

The game got off to a dramatic start. Burnley fans were demanding a red card when M’Baye Niang fouled Stephen Ward; referee Michael Oliver, rightly in my view, yellow carded him. I thought Oliver was right again soon after when he did get the red card out for Jeff Hendrick for a foul on José Holebas.

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We could have no complaints at the decision but it left us to play 84 minutes with ten men and things got even worse four minutes later when Troy Deeney gave Watford the lead. And right on half time it was 2-0 when Niang scored although quite why he didn’t get a second yellow for jumping into the crowd to celebrate only Oliver will know.

It doesn’t help when you have the worst away record in the league, you get a player sent off after six minutes and you go in at half time 2-0 down but, to our credit, we gave it a real go in the second half and might just have snatched a point.

New recruits Robbie Brady and Ashley Westwood both made debuts during the second half but the only goal we got was from the penalty spot after Sebastian Prödl had handled a Joey Barton shot. Ashley Barnes converted the penalty but it was another away defeat and a concern for the next game, at home against Chelsea, with Dean Marney and Steven Defour ruled out with injury and Hendrick now suspended.

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.

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, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson.

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