The Clarets’ woes were exacerbated by dismissal of Jeff Hendrick in the early exchanges, and despite showing plenty of promise in the second half – during which they grabbed a lifeline through Ashley Barnes’ penalty – they could not salvage what would have been just a second point on the road this season.
Sending off proves costly
For a team who focus on tactical organisation and discipline, Burnley’s approach was severely affected by Hendrick’s red card. It left Sean Dyche’s side lighter in the middle of the pitch – neither Barnes nor Andre Gray were sacrificed, meaning the Clarets soldiered on with just three in midfield.
Consequently, Burnley could not press with their usual intensity; gaping holes would have occurred in dangerous areas, and Joey Barton, at 34-years-old, is not the sprightly figure of old to harass and apply pressure to opposition players.
Watford made their numerical advantage in midfield count: M’Baye Niang was given the freedom of the borough to pick out Troy Deeney with a teasing cross, with the assist coming from an area of the pitch Hendrick would normally have occupied.
Head boys make difference for Hornets
Deeney’s opener and Niang’s superb header will not have been ignored by the onlooking Dyche, whose ire at Hendrick’s dismissal will not have been soothed by the lax approach his defence adopted for Watford’s goals.
For the first goal, Deeney is afforded far too much room to steer a low header home beyond Tom Heaton, with right-back Matt Lowton culpable for some sub-standard defending. The Watford skipper evades Lowton with the slightest of movement, stealing in behind the Burnley defender to convert Niang’s cross.
The hosts’ second goal came through similarly hospitable defending from Dyche’s side. Jose Holebas swung in a delivery to the near post and Michael Keane – goalside of the Watford forward, but not tight enough – watches as Niang glances home a wonderful header. Keane perhaps subscribes to the idea that the former AC Milan man is too far away from goal to threaten with an attempt on goal, but the simple truth is that Keane should never have allowed him the effort, to be safe.
New boys offer food for thought
On a more positive note, Burnley were able to call upon their two January recruits, Robbie Brady and Ashley Westwood, from the bench on Saturday as they intensified their quest for at least a point from the game. Brady was afforded 35 minutes to make an impact, while Westwood was restricted to a more fleeting appearance, coming off the bench with just 13 minutes remaining.
Many had hoped at least one of them to start – more obviously, perhaps, Brady, given Steven Defour’s injury while playing on the left side of midfield last Tuesday – and some fans were equally bemused that, elsewhere, Johann Berg Gudmundsson was not selected to start, given that he and Brady are direct wingers with quality on the ball and speed respectively.
But Brady, along with Westwood, did not have much time to train with their new teammates ahead of the weekend, which may explain Dyche’s rather expected line-up. With a week to prepare for the visit of champions-elect Chelsea, however, both new signings could feature from the start at Turf Moor on Sunday.