In an uninspiring encounter at Vicarage Road, Watford and Burnley played out a goalless draw in which neither side was able to take control of the game.
The Clarets, headed by former Hornets manager Sean Dyche, looked the brighter spark for large spells of the game but, like their hosts, were unable to capitalise on numerous chances to break the deadlock.
Results elsewhere mean that Watford maintain their position in 7th, while Burnley drop down to 16th, just two points above the Premier League’s dreaded relegation zone.
Story of the match
Both sets of players were greeted by a sea of scarves at Vicarage Road — the gesture was arranged by Watford fans to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the passing of legendary Hornets manager Graham Taylor.
Watford started well, fashioning a couple of adequate goalscoring opportunities. Troy Deeney’s accurate through ball sent Gerard Deulofeu one-on-one with Tom Heaton, though the English goalkeeper smothered the Spaniard’s low effort. Three minutes later, the ball dropped kindly for Ken Sema little more than 10 yards from goal, but the former Östersunds FK winger saw his effort blocked and cleared.
Two gilt-edged chances squandered proved detrimental to the Hornets who lost all control in the game. A continuous bombardment of long balls up to Deeney was ineffective, playing directly into Burnley’s hands as the Clarets began to gain a foothold.
A pinpoint corner from 19-year old Dwight McNeil found James Tarkowski who headed wide. Following that, Dyche’s side enjoyed a considerable spell of possession — it seemed, strangely, as if Burnley were the home team and Watford the visitors.
On the half-hour mark, another well-aimed delivery from Ashley Westwood picked out Ashley Barnes in space in the box, though the Austrian forward headed straight at Ben Foster. McNeil came close from a direct free-kick four minutes later, while curling efforts from Deulofeu and Chris Wood also failed to trouble either goalkeeper.
After half-time, Burnley continued to look the stronger of the two sides. McNeil had a golden opportunity after some suspect Watford defending from a corner, though the young winger blazed the ball over the crossbar.
With an hour on the clock, the Hornets began to find a rhythm to their play and caused a number of problems for a stout Clarets defence. Roberto Pereyra’s ambitious effort from the edge of the area nearly nestled in the top corner, while chances for Deulofeu and Tom Cleverley in quick succession were both saved comfortably.
The game petered out into a sequence of distasteful fouls and misplaced passes. Watford were too desperate for their own good to find the winning goal, while Burnley seemed ever more content with a point.
Takeaways from the game
Watford lifeless in attack
There may be shortcomings to the football Javi Gracia plays at Watford, particularly in defensive areas, though the one thing that is scarcely questioned of the Spaniard’s side is the effervescence and creativity he has instilled in the attack.
Such a statement could not be uttered when referring to their performance against the Clarets.
Aside from a promising spell in the opening exchanges, the home side’s goalscoring opportunities were few and far between. Talismanic forwards in both Deulofeu and Pereyra were off the pace — the former wasted a number of chances to score while the latter failed to exert a significant impact on the game.
It was a strange day at the office for the Hertfordshire outfit, who will know full well that they were lucky to escape with a point.
Doucouré sorely missed
Danger was spelt out letter-by-letter for Hornets fans when the teams were released, as energetic midfielder Abdoulaye Doucouré was missing from the matchday squad.
The Frenchman has been heavily linked with a move away from the club, with the champions of his native country, Paris Saint-Germain, reportedly the party most interested in securing his signature. However, his apparent truancy was put down to a knee injury sustained in the 2-1 victory at Crystal Palace last weekend.
Doucouré was replaced by former Manchester United midfielder Cleverley, who notched the winner a week ago. It was scarcely a poor performance from the Englishman, though he was not able to account for the ceaseless vivacity and quality on the ball that Doucouré has offered week in, week out.
Supporters will be hoping to see the 26-year old back in action before long, while the result against Burnley served as empirical evidence of his importance to the team and the necessity to keep hold of his services at least until the summer.
Solid showing from Burnley
The Lancashire side arrived at Vicarage Road with three consecutive league wins under their belt, and their performance displayed the confidence and belief which are built up over such a positive run of form.
While at times, not the prettiest side to behold, Dyche and his squad clearly prioritise efficiency over elegance and were good value for the point they earned at Vicarage Road.
Though the Clarets are still agonisingly close to the relegation zone — and would therefore be far worse off were it not for their recent upturn — upcoming games against Southampton, Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United could provide them with ample opportunities to climb up the table and alleviate themselves from the pressure of an ever-intensifying relegation dogfight.
Memorable men remembered at Vicarage Road
Perhaps the main feature on a dull day in Hertfordshire was the commemorative scarf ceremony held before the game in honour of iconic former Hornets manager, Graham Taylor.
The official two-year anniversary of his passing was in fact exactly a week ago, and scarves were also raised in the away end at Selhurst Park last weekend.
Though Taylor wasn’t the only man to be remembered at Vicarage Road. Legendary full-back Duncan Welbourne, who passed away during the week, was given a minute’s applause before kickoff, while Captain Thomas Sawyer, a lifelong Hornet who died ten years ago fighting for their country in Afghanistan, was also honoured.
The Fourth Round of the FA Cup sees Watford travel to Newcastle — it will be their second visit of the season to St James’ Park.
Meanwhile, Burnley visit Manchester City in the same competition.