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watford 4 1000x500The wait for a first away win of the season is over as is the wait for a first clean sheet on the road since January. That previous clean sheet came at Watford and it was back at Vicarage Road yesterday where the Clarets came through, after a difficult first half, to comfortably win 3-0 and dump the Hornets back on the bottom of the league.

Until we scored our first goal in the 53rd minute, it is fair to say that any sort of win wasn’t looking particularly likely but once Chris Wood opened the scoring there was never any real doubt and two goals in the closing period, a VAR farce penalty from Ashley Barnes (yes really, a penalty) followed by a James Tarkowski strike, completed the 3-0 victory to send us, for now, up to sixth in the Premier League table.

The day had started with some serious concerns, not so much about the game itself but getting there and back with our planned choice of train under severe disruption because of strikes. Getting there was, we thought, should be fine. We arrived later in Watford than perhaps we would have liked but still in plenty of time to walk down Watford’s version of the yellow brick road and into the away end in good time ahead of kick off.

We were greeted with the news that Burnley were unchanged and I don’t think we expected anything else but I was keenly awaiting the opposition line up and was, I have to say, pleased to see the name of Troy Deeney, who hasn’t played since August, only on the bench. He’s had a habit of scoring goals against us over the last few years although when he did eventually come on he looked a long, long way from fitness.

We played towards the away end in the first half, although it is probably fairer to say that we defended the far end of the ground from where were situated. In some ways, the first half was not really any better than that poor performance at Sheffield United. We struggled to put anything together on the ball and I can’t recall us having anything looking like a shot at goal, on or off target, and watched most of the play unfold at the far end.

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One difference from the previous away game is that Watford are nothing like as good or effective as Sheffield United and, on this occasions, after a couple of early scares, we defended well. Watford dominated us although, thankfully, there weren’t too many scares. James Tarkowski had a very difficult opening to the game but otherwise formed a reliable partnership alongside Ben Mee at the back and then, behind them, was the inspiring performance of goalkeeper Nick Pope. He made some routine saves in the first half, but also twice denied Gerard Deulofeu, their best player in that first half, once with a good stop with his foot and then, close to half time, with a save down to his left from a free kick.

At Bramall Lane, we went in at half time with a three goal deficit; here it was still 0-0 and that was the real key. We had struggled though with the midfield really disappointing and I don’t think any of the four of them across that midfield were anything but hugely disappointing.

The opening few minutes of the second half didn’t really suggest there was going to be much improvement either as Watford came forward and won a series of corners, but it was a fortuitous corner at the far end that helped change the whole game.

The left wing corner, taken by Ashley Westwood, almost brought the opening goal but Adrian Mariappa did really well to get ahead of Ben Mee to head it out for a second corner, this time on the right. This time it was Dwight McNeil. He found Tarkowski beyond the far post. He won his header for Chris Wood to hook the ball home left footed. We were in front and in all honesty we never looked back from the moment and Watford hardly threatened to get back into it.

Jeff Hendrick was close to a second. With some terrific footwork he got himself into a shooting position only for Ben Foster to save really well to deny him. It was mainly Burnley now as once again most of the play was at the far end.

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Probably the one occasion I was most worried was when they won a free kick just outside the box for what was apparently a foul by Tarkowski. It wasn’t a foul; it was an appalling decision by appalling referee Paul Tierney and he made matters worse by pushing Westwood and then yellow carding him for Westwood having something to say about it.

Goal number two was so close when Jay Rodriguez, on as a sub for Wood, almost sensationally scored with his first touch only to see it come back off the bar. We didn’t have to wait too long though for the next goal.

I said we never looked back but at 1-0 there is always a concern so it was with some relief when we did get two goals in front it was the farce called VAR for once in our favour. Barnes went down in their box. It was so far away from us it wasn’t clear what had happened but the reaction of the Burnley players suggested there was something in it.

Tierney waved play on as Hendrick got the ball back into the box. That was cleared and Watford broke, eventually winning a right wing corner. The Burnley players were still not happy and we assumed there was a VAR check because there appeared to be a delay.

We were told just over a week ago that there would be improvements for those at the game. That did not happen here. There was an announcement of a VAR check but I only heard that on the television re-run. The message on the big screen was long delayed and even then did not carry the promised improved information.

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Suddenly Tierney gave us the television signal and a Watford corner at one end became a Burnley penalty at the other end. Barnes, who had been the player fouled, stepped up. I’m confident with him taking penalties but this time Foster got to it and tipped it onto is right hand post only for it to across the line and in. We were 2-0 up so that meant there wouldn’t be too much nervousness in the closing minutes.

Then came the icing on the cake with Tarky getting number three. Hendrick was fouled down our right. Westwood took the free kick which was won by José Holebas but all he could do was head it into the path of Tarkowski. The central defender saw his right foot shot saved by Foster but it went back to him and this time he fired home left footed.

That was it; we were 3-0 up and now I really did want to ensure we kept that clean sheet. We nearly didn’t when Deulofeu, who had disappeared from the game considerably in the second half, picked up a ball in stoppage time and fired an incredible shot at goal that Pope got his finger tips to before it rattled the bar. By then we’d deserved our clean sheet and we’d deserved our victory, a victory I never even remotely saw likely at half time.

Now all that was needed was to get home and, to our astonishment, our cancelled train out of Watford actually turned up which enabled us to get our connection to Manchester. Then it was the X43, a packed X43 at that, to Burnley. That bus was packed and I think some of them must have been on the Glühwein at the Christmas Markets as we made our way out of Manchester with passengers singing The wheels on the bus go round and round. So finally home around 9:45 p.m. and it had been a good day, even more so when staring at the league table.

The first half had almost been forgotten although that midfield will change next week with Ashley Westwood suspended. But there is so much to enjoy about this Burnley team. We defend so well (most of the time); that was so much on show yesterday, and let’s not forget our front two. Between them they’ve now scored 30 Premier League goals since last Christmas. That’s remarkable.

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We’ve some tough games coming up in the next few weeks but that’s 18 points and a reminder that we reached that total last season at Huddersfield in January. What an improvement.

The teams were;

Watford: Ben Foster, Adrian Mariappa, Craig Dawson (Adam Masina 45+1), Craig Cathcart, Kiko Femenía, Abdoulaye Doucouré, Étienne Capoue, Will Hughes (Ismaíla Sarr 67), José Holebas, Gerard Deulofeu, Andre Gray (Troy Deeney 56). Subs not used: Heurelho Gomes, Dimitri Foulquier, Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nathaniel Chalobah.
Yellow Card: Andre Gray.

Burnley: Nick Pope, Phil Bardsley, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor, Jeff Hendrick, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Dwight McNeil, Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood (Jay Rodriguez  75). Subs not used: Joe Hart, Matt Lowton, Ben Gibson, Erik Pieters, Aaron Lennon, Robbie Brady.
Yellow Cards: Ben Mee, James Tarkowski, Ashley Westwood.

Referee: Paul Tierney (Wigan).

Attendance: 19,711.

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