It was an afternoon when we played very little good football but an afternoon that looked to be going our way until the game took a dramatic turn early in the second half. We'd just gone into a 2-0 lead; looked as though we might extend it at any time, and then we let Watford back into it before collapsing just about completely in a dire spell that simply handed the points to the home side on a plate.
|Jay Rodriguez scored his 20th goal of the season|
I was reasonably confident ahead of the game. Vicarage Road, over the last decade, hasn't been a bad hunting ground for us, if you exclude FA Cup quarter-finals. It was where both Steve Cotterill and Owen Coyle got their first Burnley wins and last season's success there was just Eddie Howe's third win as Burnley boss.
I know we'd lost our two previous away games, but they were against two of the better teams in the Championship in Southampton and Reading. This was Watford who had conceded seven goals without scoring in their last two games.
The team was probably as expected with Dean Marney and Josh McQuoid both available again. They were straight back in at the expense of Marvin Bartley and Keith Treacy, the latter once again not even on the bench. It's over three months now since he started consecutive games.
Otherwise, Eddie Howe stuck with the team that had been beaten a week earlier by Millwall, giving them the opportunity to redeem themselves after one of the worst performances of the season.
The first half of this game was totally lacking in any quality. Admittedly on a poor pitch, neither side were able to offer too much in a 45 minutes that had precious little to get the crowd excited.
Our attacking intent had been limited to a weak David Edgar that caused Tomasz Kuszczak, who looked suspect, no problems but in front of us we were twice thankful to Lee Grant for keeping the score at 0-0.
He was called upon very early in the game after a woeful back header from Ben Mee played in Troy Deeney. Grant was quickly and smartly off his line to prevent Deeney from opening the scoring.
That, for the most part of the first half was the sum total of the entertainment, but Grant was called upon again around ten minutes before half time, tipping over a shot from Prince Buaben. In fairness it was a shot you'd expect to be saved.
That first half was heading for a 0-0 conclusion, and quite honestly that would have been a fitting scoreline for 45 minutes of football that had offered so little, but then of course we have Jay Rodriguez.
Mee got away with his giveaway early in the half but when we got something of a repeat at the other end there was no chance for the goalkeeper. We'd been reminiscing about that bizarre goal that gave us the lead there last season. This was not quite in that category but was the result of some awful defending.
Nyron Nosworthy tried to clear the ball but it hit Jay Rod. He diverted it towards Adrian Mariappa who made a real mess of a back header. It fell invitingly for Jay who moved forward, took one touch off his chest it down before finishing in some style with a shot low to the goalkeeper's right. That's twenty goals for Jay this season, the first Burnley player to reach that total since Robbie Blake scored 22 in the 2003/04 season. It was also his eighth goal in the last ten games.
Both teams made substitutions ahead of the second half; ours proved crucial. It saw Brian Easton come on for Michael Duff who had a dead leg. That meant Ben Mee partnering David Edgar in the middle with Easton going to left back. This particular back four has started eight league games this season and six of them have been lost.
Even so, in the early stages of the half we looked to have completely taken the game away from Watford. Just five minutes in we doubled our lead when Nosworthy, under some pressure from Mee, headed a Ross Wallace free kick into his own goal. Mee tried to claim it but it was a clear own goal.
At that point I thought we had the points well and truly in the bag. For 50 minutes Watford had been awful and we'd got a two goal advantage whilst offering very little ourselves. A three or four goal victory could have been on the cards against a side that looked so dispirited you'd have thought it impossible not to, at least, go on and win it.
We pushed forward but then came a disastrous twenty minutes when we conceded three poor goals. We looked all at sea. We defended appallingly and we were second to the ball in every area of the pitch.
It started with Watford's first. Whether that gave them confidence or not I don't know but you could visibly see the heads dropping in our team. We'd handed the initiative to Watford and you sensed it was a matter of when and not if as they went in search of another goal and a point.
Howe changed things. He brought on Martin Paterson for the out of sorts Charlie Austin. That was with 22 minutes remaining and with us still 2-1 in front. Seven minutes later we were 3-2 down and the game was up.
We had a decent amount of possession after that but offered little threat other than one shot from Jay that Kuszczak turned round his left hand post.
We picked up another injury with Wallace limping badly although when the third change was made it was the ineffective Josh McQuoid who was replaced by Danny Ings.
It's a worry because quite clearly the last two performances have been nowhere near good enough for a side even in the middle of the Championship, let alone one which harbours any hopes of reaching the play offs.
Those play off places are now eight points away and in truth I can't see us getting anywhere near. "We have to grow up fast," said Howe after the game. Yes we do, it really is a young and inexperienced team, and it is in desperate need of some experienced help. Without it there will be more games and bad results like that.
On the way home I was asked when we'd last held a two goal lead away from home and gone on to lose. To be honest I've no idea. I can recall the cup tie at Darlington in 1998 but in the league I'm not sure. The only one that came to mind was at Sunderland in 1972 when we led 3-1 and lost the game 4-3 with Sunderland scoring three goals in three minutes. At least it wasn't that bad.
The teams were;
Watford: Tomasz Kuszczak, Lee Hodson, Adrian Mariappa, Nyron Nosworthy, Lloyd Doyley, Prince Buaben (Alexander Kacaniklic 45), Jonathan Hogg, John Eustace, Sean Murray (Dale Bennett 89), Troy Deeney, Joe Garner. Subs not used: Scott Loach, Chris Iwelumo, Marcello Trotta.
Yellow Card: Troy Deeney.
Burnley: Lee Grant, Kieran Trippier, Michael Duff (Brian Easton 45), David Edgar, Ben Mee, Ross Wallace, Dean Marney, Chris McCann, Josh McQuoid (Danny Ings 82), Charlie Austin (Martin Paterson 68), Jay Rodriguez. Subs not used: Brian Jensen, Marvin Bartley.
Yellow Card: Ross Wallace.
Referee: Michael Naylor (South Yorkshire).
Attendance: 11,612 (including 908 Clarets).