Watford’s search for a first home win of the season continues as the Hornets were punished for their inability to convert any of their 15 shots. Burnley, on the other hand, provided an attacking masterclass, scoring three of their five shots on target as they recorded their first away win of the season.
Story of the match
Before Watford even kicked off, manager Quique Sanchez Flores found himself handicapped, with Christian Kabasele, Daryl Janmaat and Roberto Pereyra all missing from the match-day squad.
Andre Gray came into the starting line-up following one of his more vibrant displays in the away victory to Norwich a couple of weeks ago, whilst Adrian Mariappa and Kiko Femenia also returned.
Troy Deeney remained on the bench alongside Ismaïla Sarr and Adam Masina.
Burnley's manager, Sean Dyche found himself in the fortuitous position of being able to select an unchanged side following their 3-0 home victory over West Ham United two weeks ago.
The Clarets, without an away win all season going into the game, began the match in their preferred 4-4-2 formation, with Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes looking to add to their five goals apiece for the Clarets going into the game at Vicarage Road.
Watford, looking for their first home win of the season, started the game the stronger, focussing their efforts on the left side of their attack, with Jose Holebas and Gerard Deulofeu looking to link up.
However, the game drudged on for the first ten minutes, with neither team showing much attacking promise. Burnley held a deep line in defence but successfully sustained a system of half-pitch man-marking and condensing the space as they sought to strangle any semblance of a Watford attack.
Watford continued to plug away as the only side showing any motivation to score for the first 45 minutes.
In the 17th minute, Watford nearly found themselves 1-0 in innocuous circumstances.
Following a slip by James Tarkowski in the Burnley defence, Deulofeu carried the ball 20 yards, with Gray and Abdoulaye Doucoure running off him. Deulofeu entered the Burnley box under a conspicuous absence of defensive pressure and tried his luck from 10 yards. Unfortunately, for Watford’s number seven, he found the outstretched legs of 6 foot 3 inches, Nick Pope, who kept the game goalless.
Seven minutes later and Deulofeu had a chance for redemption. Watford countered from a rare attacking free-kick for Burnley and carried the ball 50 yards. As he inched towards the Burnley box, with Gray again providing a useful decoy to the left of him, Deulofeu met the brick wall of Charlie Taylor, who came across and dispossessed Deulofeu as he looked to shoot from 18 yards.
As the half continued, Watford’s wide players in Femenia and Holebas continued to find space but the final product was continually missing. Free-kicks from Deulofeu, crosses from Holebas and Femenia, link-ups between Will Hughes and Doucoure, and an effort by Craig Cathcart that nearly required the intervention of VAR, all failed to find a way through a resolute but uninspired Burnley defence.
For all the will and endeavour in the world, the first half screamed out for the introduction of Watford’s captain, Deeney.
And yet, Watford nearly took the lead on the stroke of half-time through the only player on the pitch showing any threat of scoring a goal, Deulofeu.
In the fifth minute of added time – following two injuries to Craig Dawson - Deulofeu again found himself in acres of space to run at the Burnley defence. Watford’s talismanic Spaniard carried the ball 50 yards before being felled by an unapologetic Tarkowski, on the edge of the Burnley box.
Deulofeu stepped up to take the free-kick, centre-left and 19 yards from goal. However, Pope was again equal to the challenge, diving low to his left to tip Deulofeu’s fizzing effort wide.
Watford continued the second half where they left off from the first.
Deulofeu again proving to be a thorn in the Burnley side as Etienne Capoue, Mariappa and Deulofeu all had efforts deflected wide of the Burnley goal.
But it was Burnley, against the run of play, who scored the first goal of the game. Dyche’s side had struggled to string three passes together for 50 minutes but found themselves 1-0 up in the 53rd minute thanks to Woods’ sixth goal of the campaign.
Burnley had nearly taken the lead a minute prior as a threatening cross was scooped out from under the bar by a brave Mariappa, with Ben Mee breathing down his neck. From the resulting corner, Burnley didn’t need another invitation.
Dwight McNeil curled in a threatening corner for Burnley and Watford’s defence failed to deal with it as Tarkowski was able to head the ball back from the byline into the path of Wood. Eight yards out, alone and on the volley, Woods made no mistake, firing past Ben Foster into the Watford goal in what was Burnley’s first shot on goal in the match.
Watford were not to be deterred and came forth again with the introduction of Deeney on 56 minutes briefly galvanising the Hornets.
Capoue skied a dangerous free-kick centre of goal from 19 yards, Holebas had an effort saved by Pope, following a delightful 40 yard cross-field ball from Capoue, and Doucoure fired over from the edge of the box following more good work from Deulofeu.
But it was Burnley who went closest to scoring another. On 64 minute, Jeff Hendrick nearly made it 2-0 as he danced through the centre of Watford’s defence. This time, Foster was equal to it and denied Hendrick with an out-stretched leg from 8 yards.
Burnley secured their first away win of the season in the 82nd minute thanks to the intervention of VAR.
A loose ball in the Watford box saw Barnes skip in ahead of an unaware Holebas. Barnes went down under minimal contact from Holebas as the latter sought to clear the ball but the referee, Paul Tierney waved play on. Watford countered but as the ball went out of play, it was brought back by Peter Bankes in Stockley Park for the initial contact.
Barnes duly stepped up to secure the win from the penalty spot, although Foster will have been disappointed to see the ball rebound in off the post as he get a strong hand to it.
A half empty Vicarage Road saw Burnley make it 3-0 in the 88th minute.
Tarkowski capitalised on a rebound from Foster to fire the ball in from six yards as Watford’s search for a first home win continued on a dreary afternoon in Hertfordshire.
Takeaways from the match
Watford’s attack continue to draw blanks in front of goal
Going into today’s game, Watford had only scored four goals at home, comfortably the worst record in the league.
In trying to understand why, it is worth considering where Watford’s shots are coming from. 40% of Watford’s average 15.3 shots per game at home were from outside the box, the seventh highest in the league. Only 2% of Watford’s total shots came from within the six yard box - the lowest in the league.
During the warm-up, whilst Burnley practiced shooting first time from 16 yards, Watford practiced playing the ball out to the wings and attacking the resulting cross. Needless to say, it was highly ineffectual as time and time again, Watford’s attacking line failed to hit the empty net.
The performance in the warm-up was soon reflected in the game itself. Watford had 62% possession to Burnley’s 38%, 15 shots to Burnley’s 11, and yet found themselves goalless, with only four shots on target.
Perhaps more concerning is that the introduction of Deeney and Sarr did little to spark Watford’s attacking firepower as Watford’s fruitless frontline drew yet another blank.
Missing Daryl Janmaat
The statistics don’t always tell the full story when it comes to the impact of Watford’s number two.
This season, Janmaat has played eight, with no goals, one assist, one win, and two defeats. But without Janmaat, Watford have lost five games this season, conceding 18 goals in the process.
With Janmaat, Watford have three clean-sheets, conceding only five, making 267 passes, and 24 crosses, with nearly one in three finding a Watford player. Without him, the Hornets are yet to achieve a clean-sheet.
During his 145 appearances for Watford, Janmaat has scored eight, making 14 assists, with 20 clean sheets. But more importantly, Janmaat has been part of 42 victories and provides an attacking and defensive capability to know when to stick or to twist.
In his Watford career Janmaat has a 73% tackle success rate, 347 clearances, 693 recoveries, and has won 600 duals. In attack, the Dutchman has made 4,900 passes, 466 crosses (22%), and created 18 big chances. He is both an attacking threat and defensive stalwart that gives his peers around him more confidence and creative freedom.
Standing at 6 foot 3 inches, Watford fans could be mistaken for thinking Burnley’s commanding goal-keeper possessed the stature of a bus, such was his imposing display this afternoon.
Whilst Watford only managed to fire four of their 15 shots on target today, Pope was athletic and dominant in the Burnley goal, claiming anything and everything that was within 10 yards of his goal-line as Watford’s wide-men were forced to drop their crosses further and further from Burnley’s number one.
In the post-match conference, Dyche described his goalkeeper as the “difference” between victory and defeat:
“Nick Pope was excellent, he was aggressive… a big monster like him… he brings calmness”
He forced Watford to try a different tactic and play more centrally, enabling a centre-back pairing of Mee and Tarkowski to sit back and stifle any Watford attack playing out in front of them.
The bright light in what was a first 45 minutes reflective of the weather in Hertfordshire: gloomy, wet and grey.
Penetrating, threatening runs at the heart of the Burnley defence continued to cause problems but yet again Deulofeu failed to find that magic touch to accompany his marauding midfield creativity.
A powerful strike from 18 yards in added time at the end of the 90 minutes told the story of Watford’s performance as the ball rattled back off the Burnley crossbar and demonstrated the anguish Deulofeu felt seeing victory slip from Watford’s grasp.
In the post-match conference Flores struck a similarly frustrated figure:
“The (first) goal changed everything, the mentality, the energy, the spirit… it’s football, it’s a long race. We’ve got to stay positive.”
On his own future, Flores showed rather more defiance than his side’s second half performance,
“It’s time, time, time, belief, belief, belief, I’m not worried about anything… I believe 100% in this team. We need to start again… we’re fighting against elements”
But fight was the key missing ingredient today, and if Watford are to avoid relegation this season, they are going to have to learn how to land a left-hook.