Match Report: Watford 0-3 Burnley
By Kevin Affleck
Troy Deeney has performed a few acts of escapology in these parts and there might still be another chapter in his extraordinary career at this club to be penned if he has anything to do with it, but turning around this excruciating one at Vicarage Road proved even behind his herculean powers.
The Hornets fell behind on 53 minutes to Chris Wood's sixth goal in six matches and Quique Sánchez Flores immediately sent for the darling of Vicarage Road in a bid to try and turn this one on its head. It was his first competition action since August so it was always asking a hell of a lot of him against a well-drilled and streetwise Burnley team. You need a fully fit Deeney firing on all cylinders against this lot.
You wondered if it was written in the stars that he might ram in a penalty to drag the Hornets level, but it's a sign of the way things have gone at home this season that the spot-kick everybody was craving went the way of Burnley and Ashley Barnes scored it, despite the best efforts of Ben Foster, to ruin Deeney's comeback. It just rubbed salt into the wounds that it was awarded after a VAR check, especially after the one at Tottenham wasn't award. This was not the return he or anyone had in mind and it got worse, much worse, when James Tarkowski slammed in the third.
Things started okay and there was no sign a 3-0 home defeat on the cards for much of the match, particularly during the middle third when the Hornets were easily the more progressive of the two sides. But Burnley did a job on them, executing their plan to perfection. It was classic Sean Dyche stuff, all three goals coming via set-pieces, and they ran out winners with plenty to spare by the end. They soaked up the pressure, preyed on the Hornets' vulnerability and pounced with all the precision of a surgeon at the other end.
They set the tone for their highly-effective spoiling tactics when they come here by turning the Hornets round having won the toss. Unfamiliarly kicking towards the Rookery End in the first half, it took the home side a while to get going and there were extremely slim pickings in the first half. It was horribly stop-start stuff, punctuated by a series of fouls, offsides and generally seeking to find an edge by any means possible. It was a bit of a tough watch.
The biggest cheer was reserved for the sight of Deeney warming up in what was his first home league outing since the opening day of the season and then a remarkable piece of control from Adrian Mariappa who controlled one that dropped out of the sky with the sort of velvet touch Roberto Pereyra would be proud of.
The first 45 minutes was something of a slow burner and it needed someone of Gerard Deulofeu's rare ability to help elevate things above a general level of mediocrity. He was at the hub over everything the Hornets did well.
He had a shot saved by the excellent Nick Pope on 18 minutes; was involved in the move of the first half involving Will Hughes and Abdoulaye Doucouré that led to Hughes getting to within shooting range of Pope; weaved some magic down the left in a piece of play that resulted in Craig Cathcart having a shot blocked from close range by Ben Mee and then saw a free-kicked saved low down by Pope. He was the obvious threat and Burnley knew to the extent that Tarkowski took a yellow card for the most cynical of challenges. It was the one decision the Burnley bench didn't argue with.
The Hornets had eight shots to Burnley's one by the 50th minute and that told you all you needed to know about who was making most of the running. You just felt that Burnley could always pinch one, most likely from a set-piece, and so it proved. Burnley fired a warning shot when Mariappa brilliantly headed one over from under his own bar with Ben Mee ready and waiting to nod one in and that warning was not heeded as from the following corner, Wood hooked one in. It was a goal that sucked the life out of the stadium.
Sánchez Flores knew he needed to generate some momentum, to get the crowd going and no-one does that better than Deeney so he was summoned three minutes after Burnley scored. He barely got a kick, though, and neither did Ismaïla Sarr after he came on ten minutes later. Burnley's defensive unit were a tough nut to crack.
The Clarets closed ranks, retreated and were content to soak up whatever the Hornets threw at them. They backed themselves to close the game out and perhaps, if they were lucky, add one or two more on the counter. They did just that scoring twice in the space of eight minutes through Barnes and Tarkowski, leaving the Hornets with a mountain to climb. Deeney likes a challenge, in fact he loves one, and this is likely to be the biggest of his career to lead the team out of trouble.
HORNETS: Foster; Femenía, Mariappa, Dawson (Masina HT), Cathcart, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes (Sarr 66); Deulofeu, Gray (Deeney 56).
Subs not used: Gomes (GK), Chalobah, Dele-Bashiru and Foulquier.