By Kevin Affleck
Still pig sick after Bournemouth's late show last week, Watford experienced that horrible nauseating feeling once again this afternoon after somehow throwing away a game they looked to have had in the bag.
Leading 1-0 after an hour, the Hornets should really have spent the next half an hour closing out the game, or even adding to the scoreline, so it reflected their control of the match. But then, from absolutely nowhere, Sam Vokes came off the bench to score with his first touch, in a goal eerily familiar to the one Jermain Defoe poached last week and then, three minutes later, Jack Cork scored what turned out to be the winner. Burnley couldn't believe their luck while Watford just rued theirs. At least the Hornets could console themselves with a point last week. Here they had nothing from a match they bossed for two thirds.
The fact both opposition goals, again, came from set-pieces will rankle with Javi Gracia who spoke after last week's game about learning the lessons of defending balls into the box. Burnley didn't open Watford's defence up, they just slung the ball into the mixer, and reacted quickest to the knockdowns. It was simple in its origin, but devastatingly effective. The Hornets need to be harder to breach than that.
Defeat meant an end to Gracia's unbeaten home record, and leaves the Hornets still with a bit of work to do before everyone can properly plan for a fourth straight season of Premier League football. You just didn't see defeat coming in this one, not with Will Hughes in such majestic form. The result was particularly rough on him. If anyone deserved to end up on the winning side, it was the impish playmaker.
There was a nod to the past, as there always is at this club, with Aidy Boothroyd and Malky Mackay in the stands, while Sean Dyche was in the opposition dugout, but Hughes provided a glimpse into the future, and how this Watford side might look with him as the creative hub. Hughes pulled the strings quite superbly, popping up in pockets of space all over the pitch to link the play with a nimble touch here, a deft flick there. Boothroyd was in attendance as England Under-21 manager, but it might be worth Gareth Southgate - the main man - popping down to take a look if he continues to play with this sort of confidence.
With Hughes at the heart of everything, Watford made nearly all the running first half in a really bright and inventive first 45 minutes, where they did everything except score. Watford have been quite slow starters under Gracia, but this was probably their best opening 45 minutes under the Head Coach.
They were given a huge scare after just two minutes when Chris Wood headed in, only to be ruled offside, but thereafter it was virtually all Watford as they enjoyed more than 60 per cent of possession, won the shot count seven to two and won eight corners to Burnley's nil.
It was a crunching tackle from Hughes, of all people, that set them on their way and got the blood flowing. A steady stream of chances followed thereafter.
Troy Deeney glanced a header just wide from a Daryl Janmaat cross, and then Roberto Pereyra began a mini duel with Nick Pope that lit up the first half. Pereyra first tried to catch him out by firing through the defender's legs and sneaking one in at the near post, but the newly-called up England man got down to save smartly.
Pereyra tried his luck minutes later from distance, but Pope was again equal to it before the pair became involved in the moment of the half and indeed the match. The Argentine playmaker drifted in from the right, steadied himself before unleashing one with his left foot that was bound for the top corner until Pope tipped it over with a flying one-handed save. It was an effort of the highest class, and it needed a save of equal quality to match. Pereyra couldn't believe he hadn't scored.
The fact Georges-Kévin N'Koudou was booked for hauling down Kiko Femenía was a sure sign Burnley were on the back foot, and worried about Watford on the counterattack, and it was definitely Dyche who went down the tunnel at the break the more concerned of the two managers.
The break did nothing to halt Watford's momentum. The second half had barely started and Hughes was again prodding and probing, this time creating a chance for Janmaat.
You just hoped Watford's attacking intent would get its just reward, and eventually it did after an hour. Hughes, surprise, surprise, was again at the epicentre, exchanging passes with Deeney and creating a chance for Pereyra which the Argentine rammed low past Pope. It was the least Watford deserved.
Now the Hornets had to show a bit of game management and either close the game out or go for a killer second. They didn't really do either. Burnley sensed an opening and pounced.
Vokes hooked in the equaliser, and while everyone was still recovering from that body blow, Cork struck against the club he played on loan for in 2009. It should be said that Orestis Karnezis almost kept the ball out with a quite brilliant recovery save, but the referee gave the goal with the aid of goal-line technology. All of a sudden, in the space of three extraordinary minutes, the game had been turned on its head, and Burnley had their noses in front.
The Hornets were now chasing the game, and Gracia threw on André Carrillo, Stefano Okaka and Richarlison in search of an equaliser. Sebastian Prödl was also in the attacking line as Watford threw caution to the wind, but Burnley stood strong and stood firm to cannily see the game out. It will take a while to figure out how Watford didn't win this one let alone salvage at least a point.
HORNETS | Karnezis, Janmaat (Okaka 76), Prödl, Mariappa, Holebas, Doucouré (Carrillo 85), Capoue, Femenía, Hughes (Richarlison 85), Pereyra, Deeney.
Subs not used: Gomes, Britos, Cathcart, Gray.