Affleck's Angle: The Run-Around
By Kevin Affleck
Spare a thought for Scott Cunliffe.
Scott who? He is the brave soul who is running to every single one of Burnley's away games in the Premier League this season to raise money for Burnley FC in the Community, the club's official charity. He will have clocked up nearly 3,000 miles by the time he drags his weary body to Goodison Park in the Clarets’ final away game of the campaign.
On his JustGiving page, Cunliffe describes how he was left with the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression after two spending 20 selfless years carrying out charity work in some dark corners of south-east Asia. He found running helped his mental health and combated some negative thinking cycles.
He must have felt like running all the way back to Burnley as an antidote to what was served up at Vicarage Road on Saturday. He left Turf Moor the previous Saturday for his second longest run of the season so far and stopped off in Derby, Leicester and Northampton on the way. Imagine running 231 miles over the course of a week at a filthy time of the year only to end up watching two sides playing out a goalless draw that was so dull it should have been after the credits on Match of the Day let alone last in the running order.
Ben Foster was being overly kind when he called it “a scrappy game”.
Cunliffe has raised £9,700 of his £25,000 target and deserves a few more donations after his exhaustive weekend exertions. I’d have let him ride back on the luxury team bus. Or he could have hitched a ride with Sean Dyche, who left Vicarage Road in his high-performance Range Rover.
Dyche pulled out of directors’ car park and indicated to go right, but thought better of it as he saw the traffic snaking along Vicarage Road and went left instead. He knows this manor, you see, like the back of his hand and he knows how to do a job here. He was at it from the outset, using his local knowledge.
For starters, how many teams come here, win the toss and turn the Hornets round, denying them the chance to play towards their favourite end in the second half? Most can’t be bothered to switch ends so just stay as they are. Dyche knows first-hand how the Rookery End can almost suck the ball in during the second half, how Troy Deeney can get the crowd going with a gesticulation of his arms. Kicking towards the Vicarage Road end, split between the family section and the away fans, doesn’t quite have the same inspiring, rousing feel to it.
Along with his trusty assistant Ian Woan, he was also in the ear of the fourth official before a ball had even been kicked. It’s an art form these days, cajoling the guy largely there to keep order in the technical area, and Dyche and his team have got it down to a fine art. It wasn’t quite as insufferable as watching Bournemouth’s Jason Tindall do it, but it was still an unnecessary sideshow. Perhaps Javi Gracia and his assistant Zigor Aranalde should start playing the game as being the nice guys and never criticising officials has cut very little ice this season.
It would be a tough watch following Burnley home and away and it’s difficult to see how Matej Vydra fits into their philosophy, but you’ve got to admire Dyche in a way. He figures there is more than one way to skin a cat and his side do exactly what it says on the tin. There are definitely no thrills to their approach. You have to dig to the very bottom of your soul to withstand what they throw at you and it's as much a test of your mental and physical fortitude as it is your footballing ability.
“Burnley’s game-plan was to break up the rhythm, break up the play, taking ages on set-pieces,” said Derek Payne on BBC Three Counties Radio. “Watford have to learn from that and have to be more clever. We were a bit naïve. It’s a lesson learned.”
Added Geoff Doyle, the BBC Three Counties Sports Editor: “Watford got sucked into Burnley’s game.”
Dyche got his tactics spot on, but he could have done with a bit of help from Alastair Campbell, the former Labour spin doctor and big Burnley fan, when he said pre-match that Watford had gone “from a community club built on the community to now built on a model.”
The fitting tributes on Saturday to Captain Tom Sawyer, Duncan Welbourne and, of course, the great Graham Taylor blew a giant-sized hole in that theory. It’s why there were a smattering of boos when Dyche was welcomed back just before kick-off.
“I know an element of the fans respect my time here,” he said post-match. “I thoroughly enjoyed it. The fans were terrific with me as a player and as a coach.”
What Dyche did get absolutely spot on was his recognition of the significance of the day. He ordered his entire bench, complete with subs and support staff, to line up in unison on the touchline to observe the pre-match minute’s silence. It was a classy move. “We do that for all the occasions, whether it be at our club or away,” said Dyche.
He then joined in the applause on 72 minutes to mark the second anniversary of the passing of GT. “That one had more meaning for me because of the relationship I had with Graham,” said Dyche. “He was a top fella.”
The collective holding aloft of scarves pre-match was a sight to behold. It was another reminder of just how much GT meant to the people of this town.
“Walking out and seeing all the scarves will live long in my memory,” said Foster. “I was talking to Troy about it as we walked out. It was lovely to see and they did him proud.”
Gracia hoped it would inspire his players and it did, briefly. But then it wore off and the game descended into an arm wrestle. It was similarly anti-climatic in the first game after GT died, against Middlesbrough, and then on the first anniversary against Southampton. The emotional significance of the day perhaps hinders the players.
“It’s a shame as we wanted to get a win,” said Gracia. “Today was a special day for all Watford supporters. We try to do it better next time.”
What will slightly mystify Gracia is that, in terms of the statistics, Watford outdid what they did at Turf Moor. They had 13 percent more possession on Saturday, enjoyed one more shot on goal and only engineered one less corner. And yet they drew 0-0 whereas they won 3-1 at Turf Moor in the second game of the season. Perhaps it was because Burnley were much better this time round and Watford didn’t score after three minutes like they did on that August day in Lancashire. It makes such a difference when you get that all-important first goal.
“Deulofeu should have scored and when you get that [early] goal, it changes the whole dynamic of the game,” confirmed Payne.
Gracia is backing his countryman in his new-found role. “I think he is going to score other chances,” said the Head Coach.
Newcastle, in the FA Cup on Saturday, would be a good place to start as we know how Rafa loves to squeeze the life out of the game if the Hornets don’t get their noses in front.