Challenged with the task of backing up their seismic win over Manchester United by doing it on a cold night in Burnley, Watford came up some way short tonight and showed they’ve still got some way to go to be a team for all seasons under Walter Mazzarri.
Watford subsidised the fans’ trip to Burnley but they might consider a full refund after Burnley cashed in on some static defending at set-pieces to harvest a fully-merited win that showed how you have to be at the top of your game every week at this exalted level. You can’t pick and choose when you want to turn it on. There was to be no comeback from two goals down away from home against a team in claret and blue this time, no rabona for Watford to feed off.
The Hornets were given a searching examination of their mental and physical fortitude, particularly from set-pieces, by a high energy, high pressing Burnley team. It was as clear a case as you will see of after the lord mayor’s show. Perhaps Walter Mazzarri needs to work on his pre-match teamtalk as this was the third time, following on from Arsenal and West Ham, where Watford failed to turn up in the first half. Things didn’t get much better in the second either.
Watford were as bad in the first half as they were good in the second against Manchester United as Sean Dyche did a number on the club who ruthlessly got rid of him. By playing Sam Vokes as the lone striker, he allowed two of Watford’s centre-halves to be spare men and then flooded the congested midfield with the intention of creating overloads in behind Watford’s attack-minded full-backs.
Burnley played with intensity and were easily the more progressive of the two sides. They didn’t score from their early onslaught but just when Watford looked like they had weathered the storm, they struck on 38 minutes. Watford are the tallest side in the league so it was a surprise they were done from a corner; Jeff Hendrick getting the slip on Jose Holebas to plant a header past the unsighted and stranded Heurelho Gomes from eight yards. Had Watford had someone on the post, they would have cleared it easily. It was, however, the least Burnley deserved.
Holebas was booked for contesting the corner and in a hot-headed mini spell, then conceded another free-kick that Vokes, at full-stretch, almost slid past Gomes. Watford were so off colour that the mild-mannered Roberto Pereyra was booked for dissent and also failed to execute a simple return volley to Holebas from a throw-in. It was the sort of skill he’d usually execute with his eyes shut. It was just that sort of half, one where Watford had just two touches in the opponents box in the first 45 minutes.
The use of his bench has been the biggest feature of Mazzarri’s short reign and he wasted no time in making a tactical switch, dragging off the blameless Craig Cathcart and introducing Juan Zuniga, the hero of the win over Manchester United. It looked to have done the trick as within minutes of the second half, Watford fashioned their first genuine attempt on goal: Troy Deeney stinging the hands of Tom Heaton with a rasping drive. The revival proved shortlived.
On 50 minutes, another delivery from Steven Defour, this time an inswinger from the left, saw Michael Keane out-muscle and out-manoeuvre Britos to head in the decisive second. Watford were looking a shadow of the side who played with such gusto in the previous 135 minutes of football against West Ham and Manchester United.
An animated Mazzarri had seen enough and made his second change soon after, replacing Nordin Amrabat with Isaac Success. Amrabat could count himself unfortunate to be hooked as Pereyra and, particularly, Odion Ighalo were anonymous. Pereyra, in fact, was lucky not to pick up a second yellow for a foul on Hendrick, the goalscorer.
Having said that, Deeney should really have hit the target from a Pereyra cross and then Dean Marney did well to get back and put off the Watford captain from close range as he was about to pull the trigger. Mazzarri made his third attacking sub when he brought on Kenedy for his Watford debut but it made little difference. It just wasn’t Watford’s night.
Burnley: Heaton; Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward; Gudmundsson (Kightly 90), Hendrick, Marney, Defour (Arfield 83), Boyd; Vokes.
Watford: Gomes; Cathcart (Zuniga h-t), Prodl, Britos; Amrabat (Success 59), Behrami, Capoue, Pereyra (Kenedy 75), Holebas; Deeney, Ighalo. Not used: Watson, Guedioura, Kaboul, Pantilimon
Booked: Pereyra, Holebas, Ward, Lowton, Success
Referee: Mike Jones