Upon arrival, a quick glance out of the stand showed a pitch worse than Turf Moor usually is in January, with very little grass, and lots of bobbles, particularly in the vital (for a team that plays 3) area of midfield. The pitch certainly did not make things any easier, cutting up even further as the game went on.
The Burnley side showed the expected change from Saturday, with Joey coming into the team at the expense of the injured Michael Duff, a move which saw Alexander revert to a role at full back.
Following an impeccably observed minutes silence by all 3 sides of the ground, the game finally kicked off after a short delay. Watford took control right from the kick-off, looking to get it to one of their danger men, Tommy Smith down the right hand side. The ball broke to him, and he played into the centre towards Rasiak (who, as a side note, managed to avoid any of the expert cheating he normally seems to reserve for games against us).
The Pole strode through a worryingly large hole in the centre of the pitch, before playing the ball to the right, to Hoskins. His low pass across the six yard area went to the feet of McAnuff, who from all of 2 yards out, with the Beast diving at his feet, managed to inexplicably scuff the ball up into the air. However, as mentioned, with the Beast on the floor, he was able to then bundle the ball into the net at the second attempt. A terrible, terrible start for the Clarets, who then proceeded to take the game to Watford, going straight up the other end and winning what was the first of many corners.
Loach, in the Watford goal had already contrived to miss-kick the ball out of play, and quite frankly, looked the worst goalie I've seen at this level for some time. He went on to make at least 4 other mistakes throughout the game, looking constantly nervous, and the fact that he was not punished just further highlights how poor this performance was from the visiting side.
We continued to apply a lot of pressure, but without offering much threat. Chris Eagles was seeing a lot of the ball, but was doing precious little with it. Whilst we held a lot of possession, there were few signs of the slick passing moves we have seen in particular this season, in the cup games. Gudjonsson was sloppy in possession in the middle of the park, and Kalvenes' distribution was at its usual poor standard.
A big worry was Clarke Carlisle, who looked uncertain in possession every time he had the ball, and it was he who gifted Watford with their next, and only other real chance of the half. He hit a pass out to the right to Alexander far too hard, giving the experienced fullback a difficult ball to control. He was consequently robbed by McAnuff, who screwed his effort well wide of the right hand post.
After that, it was all Burnley up until the interval. We won a free kick on the right hand side of the box, one of only a handful that we would win off the incompetent official (more on this later) throughout the night. Blake stepped up, and as the away end hoped for a repeat of recent efforts, cleared his effort a fair distance over the bar. Elliott then produced a good cross from the right that McCann just couldn't connect with, before Paterson fiercely tested Loach (who predictably didn't manage to hold the shot) from outside the area.
Carlisle somehow found himself way up the pitch, running into the outside right position. Paterson found him, and after a good touch, he then inexplicably managed to just let the ball run out of play when he had time and space to get in a cross. Worse was to come from the former Hornet, returning to his old club.
Now, Aidy 'Win At All Costs' Boothroyd may have left the club, but clearly his ethos still remains. From about half an hour in, Watford started to do everything they could to waste time, and foul their way to victory. It really is frustrating when so much shirt pulling, and holding is allowed to go unpunished, and Watford seemed masters of this act. They were taking a ridiculously long time over throw-ins, and goal kicks, and more of this was to follow into the second half.
Half time arrived, with the Clarets on top, but still looking to be missing Alexander in the middle of the pitch. Elliott had been doing well, playing inside, running at the defence at every opportunity, but we still generally lacked any consistent threat. Unchanged after the break, we came out and continued where we had left off, in the ascendency, having the majority of the possession. Watford looked nervous, particularly in the full back positions, and were making a few mistakes, whilst continuing with their policy of tugging and pulling, which was becoming more and more obvious, particularly at set-pieces, to everyone except the referee, and his assistants, who did little more than simply agree with him all night.
Paterson was hauled down on the left hand edge of the box, which was almost begrudgingly given. Alexander tried the same set piece we had a go at on Saturday, pulling the ball back flat along the ground to the edge of the box, where the waiting Blake's shot hit the crowd in front of him. This was to be his last action, being substituted for Thompson. Eagles moved out to the left, with Wade taking up his familiar position on the right, where he proved to be even more effective than he already had been.
Watford broke in their next attack, the usually impressive McAnuff breaking away down the right, moving dangerously inside. Kalvenes did his best to deliberately block him off, the winger continued his run, and Kalvenes succeeded in his second attempt to foul the Hornet, resulting in as obvious a yellow card as you are likely to see.
Watford made their own change at this point, the former Burnley left back, Harley coming on to replace Rasiak, who had been far less dangerous than first feared.
It was the away side that had the next chance, and it really should have been the equaliser. A nice move saw Eagles get free down the left hand side, before providing a fantastic cross (probably his only telling contribution of the evening) which Paterson attacked at the far post with some venom. From my seat, it looked in, and Loach certainly thought it was, but it flashed marginally past the post. Seeing how well he had taken a similarly difficult chance on Saturday, I expected better from him.
Brendan Rodgers was clearly a worried man, and made a change at full back, with Arsenal loanee Hoyte eventually leaving the field. I think he was attempting to break the world record in slow-walking off, but sadly this feat was to be bettered by one of his teammates 5 minutes later. Again, there was no hint of any action being taken by the official. This time, Hoskins was replaced by Priskin. A message was passed to the former that he was to be substituted, and he immediately sprinted over to the far corner, so that when his number was held up, he could take the furthest and slowest walk possible back over to the bench, without any sort of encouragement to hurry up by Mr. Linington.
Thompson was making a nuisance of himself, and Watford were definitely sitting back, holding what they had. However, as Burnley prepared to make a double substitution, disaster struck, and it was another head in hands moment from Clarke Carlisle. A fairly routine long ball was hit up the pitch by Watford, and Carlisle weakly headed it into the path of Jon Harley, who slipped it inside for the newly arrived Tamas Priskin to lift the ball over Jensen and into the corner of the net with his first touch of the ball. This really was Doncaster mark II stuff, and killed the game off. The Skip, quite rightly, was furious.
Kevin McDonald made a welcome return to the team from the bench, with J-Rod coming on to replace Paterson. The Northern Ireland international had played well with his back to goal, and tried hard, but got little help from the official regarding the mauling he had been constantly given from the Watford centre halves.
Burnley continued to press, despite the game being effectively over. Thompson was fouled on the half way line, which was not given by the ref, and frustrated, J-Rod barged into the Watford man on the ball. To the amazement of the travelling fans, this was also not given as a foul, allowing the young striker to charge forward towards goal with the ball. He cut inside a few defenders, but dragged his shot wide.
The Clarets won a succession of corners, which led to some wrestling that wouldn't have looked out of place in a WWE ring being done by the men in Yellow, but by this point, there was little point in appealing. Lee Williamson then deliberately kicked a second ball onto the pitch when a ball boy let it slip, delaying the taking of one of these set pieces further. He deliberately kicked it short, it didn't remotely look like he was playing it out to the corner taker, yet of course he was able to continue without any sort of reprimand. Alexander had a shot which Loach managed to make a meal of, somehow pushing the shot, which lacked any real menace, onto the outside of the post.
As the board went up for injury time and with men committed forward, Watford broke, with Priskin throwing a dummy that sent a Burnley defender careering past him, turning inside as he did and finishing past the Beast. The tiring Alexander had made a lung busting run to get back onto the line, but just couldn't stretch to clear it.
3-0 was a complete travesty. At no point were we at our absolute best, but there was no way that Watford were three goals better than us. They were bad, we were worse, but not enough to justify that score line. The officials, whilst annoying to the extreme were not to blame for this defeat. We need to put right the problem that we have in conceding the first goal, and leaving ourselves with too much work to do to rescue something. It has been identified by the manager, but seems yet to be rectified.
Whilst this season has provided us with some memorable moments, some cracking games, individual performances to cherish, and some wonderful football, pleasing on the eye, tonight contained none of these elements. The Championship is a tight league, but I fear this run could have dented our hopes severely. Results and performances like these can be expected every so often in a season, but attached to a string of 4 other defeats, it really is a damaging blow.
We just weren't up to our own high standards tonight, and worryingly we were punished again by one of the weaker teams in the division. Wins against the play-off contenders, and big teams like Reading will mean little, if we cannot pick up points in games like these. Another three goals against is also damaging for our already frail goal difference.
Man of the match is tough tonight, but I think Wade Elliott gets the nod. He made some encouraging runs in the first half, and was often the man running to get on the end of balls in breakaways. When he was moved out to the right in the second half, he looked dangerous for the second game running. I really think he is being missed out in this position. He gave the full back a worrying time, and provided some good crosses.
We need better than this, and we need it soon, if our season in the league at least, is not to drift off into the mediocrity that has blighted so many of our post-Christmas campaigns at this level.