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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 13/11/01
Hell's waiting room
By Pete Fincham

Before I get to the match, can I give you a piece of advice? Always avoid a trip to Burnley if humanly possible, because, quite frankly, when God created a waiting room for all the evils bound for Hell, he twinned that place with the town of Burnley. Furthermore, if you ever feel hungry in Burnley, try to resist all temptation of food. Most notably avoid the Shalamar Tandoori Restaurant found at 56 Church Street, Burnley, whose unpleasant attempt at curry has left my car rather noxious, not to mention virtually incapacitating many of those unfortunate enough to partake of its delights.

Frankly, however, the curry was not the worst part of the evening, as yet again Watford were humbled by absolutely shocking opposition. Forget the fact that this victory puts Burnley joint top with Wolves, because if this is the best Division One has got, the Premier League will be laughing at next season's newcomers. Both sides looked too poor even for Division One.

Issa's return led to the yet to be explained omission of Glass, as yet again 3-5-2 was employed. The backdrop to the game was that Burnley was freezing (-1 degree according to the car thermometer), and continues to be populated by knuckle-dragging Neanderthals visible at every turn. But before one's toes had even the opportunity to start freezing, Vega managed one of his usual errors wide out on the left. While Row Z beckoned, a gentle tap to a Burnley forward gave Glenn Little time and space to curl a shot into the top left corner of Chamberlain's goal. One-nil after two minutes and an error worthy of the days when Watford were a team made up of laughable individuals on meagre wages. One expects something more than this continued pathetic incompetence from individuals purporting to be internationals.

As the game opened up, it was clear that both sides were equally clueless in defence. Hughes sent a delightful ball through the gaping chasm that was the Burnley defence, putting Vernazza in the clear. One on one with the keeper his finish was weak, and the keeper parried into the path of Smith, who from a tight angle should have done better. Helguson had a clear opportunity from six yards out, but stretched to put the ball over the bar, and from a Hughes corner, Cox' free header was woefully wide.

At the other end however, the defending was equally comic. Quite frankly, Issa and Vega were jokers, as Burnley's strikers made them look as terrible as they have been made to look at any time this season. Believe me, that took some doing! It seemed every time Burnley attacked, at least one would fall over, and for all the pre-match preparation of pasta, hotels and masseurs, someone should be employed to find out if the players are at least wearing studs! The pitch was not frozen, yet the gangly duo played like they were on ice, and with Doyley imitating his more illustrious colleagues, the defending threatened to descend into farce.

To their credit, Smith and Helguson continued to try hard, whilst Cox played The Daddy, ensuring that the catalogue of errors his defensive colleagues made were not to prove costly. Half time arrived to a chorus of frozen sighs from around three hundred heavy travelling souls.

The second half replicated much of the first in as much that it was a mess from start to finish, with the same players making the same mistakes, and the same lack of spirit being shown by large parts of the team. While Burnley remained absolutely awful, Watfords midfield were lacklustre and clueless. Hyde tried, and as on Saturday, was let down by his failure to shoot anywhere near the target. Vernazza looked painfully unaware as to which direction he should be going, while Hughes failed to effectively challenge for a single fifty-fifty ball. It was abhorrent. Even as supporting players, the midfielders were desperately out of sorts. Whether the crosses came from Robinson, Smith, Helguson or Doyley (on the odd occasion his crosses stayed within the field of play), the same absence of attacking midfielders lay before the travelling fans.

The substitutions of Hughes and Issa with twenty-five minutes to go did little to change things, as Wooter and Gayle failed to make any sort of impression upon the proceedings. In fact, Gayle's introduction yielded not even a hope of a half chance! Burnley themselves tried to take advantage of the away side's inadequacies, but a combination of Cox's magnificence and the referee's inability to spot a hefty challenge by Vega in his own area resulted in the score line remaining unchanged.

With time running out, Burnley clearly were in no hurry to rush proceedings, but one wonders whether Vialli's ongoing reaction to the events was the sort of impression he should have given to players and fans alike. While it was acceptable to disagree with a linesman's call at a throw-in, it is unnecessary to hold onto the ball to further your point, and the melodramatic outburst that greeted Burnley's dubiously awarded free kick did nothing but waste more precious seconds of this disappointing match. But to centre on these indiscretions would be unfair, as it would detract from the thoroughly lamentable performance Watford put up this evening.

The players almost sneaked off at the end, not to the chorus of boos that has featured at so many final whistles this term; instead, it was almost a sense of disbelief that hung over the away end. How long will they continue to mix sparkling with appalling in alternate weeks? Rather than letting so many of tonight's team sneak off down the tunnel at the end, perhaps their energy would be better used kneeling in front of the away end begging for forgiveness for such a performance. For perhaps enforced humility is the only way this grotesque shambles of a side will be remedied.