Watford’s away attacking juggernaut was stopped in its tracks at Burnley this afternoon, the Clarets becoming the first side to halt the free-scoring Hornets on the road this season as the clash between two sides vying for the spot outside the big six went just the way of the home team.
The bare facts are that Watford lost this match and it will look like Burnley did a job on the Hornets, but that doesn't quite tell the whole story.
The defeat was largely rooted in the sending off of Marvin Zeegalaar, leaving the Hornets to play with 10 men for more than 45 minutes, always a tough ask in the unforgiving world of the Premier League.
The Golden Boys were on the right side of a red card last week and one in the clash between these two at Vicarage Road last season, but today they were on the receiving end. They do say these things have a habit of evening themselves out.
Zeegalaar was shown a straight red card for lunging at Steven Defour just before half-time and within minutes, the Hornets found themselves behind. With Burnley’s home record – they had only conceded three goals before this – it was always going to be tough to get back into it against this triple-bolted defence and so it proved.
Watford had a go, a real go, and played with much more spirit and character than they did here 12 months ago. But it’s hard enough when you come here with 11 men let alone 10, and the Hornets just came up short.
They’ve managed two or more goals in every away game this season but couldn’t muster one here. It would have been fascinating to see how this one would have unfolded had it remained 11 v 11.
It was all so different very early on when the Golden Boys showed no obvious sign of being intimidated by Burnley’s parsimonious record at an imposing Turf Moor. They got into their stride nice and early and almost seemed doubly determined to become the fourth side to score there in the league this season.
They won the first two corners and were very bright and breezy, with Roberto Pereyra summing up their intention to come and strut their stuff by nutmegging Phil Bardsley with his first touch.
The early goal they craved almost came on seven minutes. Richarlison played in Andrè Carrillo down the right then ran into the centre to, at full stretch, stab over the wicked low centre. The Brazilian had his head in his hands. He knew that was a genuine chance at a place where chances don’t present themselves too often. It all came from Daryl Janmaat leading the defensive press high up the pitch, just as Marco Silva likes it.
“Get into them,” was the cry from Burnley fans, which was confirmation Watford were enjoying the better of the opening exchanges.
But then the momentum of the match shifted and, as the snow began to fall, the Burnley storm you expected followed.
Heurelho Gomes easily saved a tame effort from Chris Wood but then produced one out of the very top drawer to stop Johann Gudmundsson dipping a free-kick over the wall and into the bottom corner. It was one of his very best, the sort of save that’s a result of hours of hard work on the training ground.
Adrian Mariappa then produced a superb block to deny Scott Arfield while Gomes had to be agile to prevent Chris Wood lifting one over him on a swift Burnley counter-attack.
After surviving the mini onslaught, back came Watford, with Abdoulaye Doucourè rifling one at Nick Pope after a Janmaat throw fell to him. Bardsley had to take emergency action and hack the loose ball over his own bar.
Janmaat then headed over a Pereyra cross and the signs were starting to look encouraging again.
But then came the sending off and Watford were still reeling from the loss of their left-back for a zealous challenge on Defour and adjusting to the tactical substitution made by Silva when Burnley took the lead. The Head Coach would have been hoping his team could hold out until half-time when Gudmundsson got down the Watford left and cut the ball back for Arfield. He let it run across him, deceiving Janmaat and then planted the ball in the far corner.
It was the last thing Watford needed after going down to 10. They just needed to get to the break and regroup.
It could have been worse for the visitors as Janmaat appeared lucky not to concede a penalty very soon after.
It looked game set and match when substitute Ashley Barnes scored through the legs of Gomes on 70 minutes but the assistant, quite brilliantly, spotted the former Leeds man had strayed offside.
The Hornets kept plugging away, kept trying to play what Silva describes as “our way”, but despite the odd half-shout for a penalty and a couple of efforts from Janmaat, Pope never had a save to make.
You certainly could not accuse of Silva of not having a go, as he paired Troy Deeney and Andre Gray together for the final 10 minutes so at least the Hornets went down with a fight.
HORNETS | Gomes (GK); Janmaat, Mariappa, Kabasele, Zeegalaar; Doucourè, Cleverley; Carrillo (Gray, 79), Pereyra (Holebas, 44), Richarlison; Deeney (C).
Subs not used | Karnezis (GK), Prödl, Success, Watson, Capoue.