Burnley 0, Watford 0: Chris Boden's thoughts on another desperately disappointing night at Turf Moor
Burnley have been in worse positions and survived.
And when you look at it, three points adrift of safety with three games in hand looks far from insurmountable.
But the reality is that you genuinely struggle to see where the Clarets’ next win is coming from at present, and reaching that safety mark of maybe 35 points plus looks a long, long way away.
This was a game all supporters had targeted, when it was first postponed back in December, again last month, and, third time lucky on Saturday night, as a huge opportunity to significantly boost hopes of staying up.
Watford had had a change of manager since their last outing, a miserable 3-0 reversal at home to fellow strugglers Norwich, and you suspected the first thing Roy Hodgson would do would make them more organised.
That he did, as the Hornets claimed a first Premier League clean sheet in 31 games, since February 29th, 2020, pre-pandemic and six Watford managers ago.
That means Burnley have now failed to score at home to Norwich City - who ended a run of six defeats at Turf Moor - and Watford, as well as at Newcastle United, their main rivals in the relegation dogfight.
Only the Canaries have scored fewer than Burnley’s 16 goals, and the lack of creativity was again apparent.
Expecting Wout Weghorst to hit the ground running on his debut was a big ask, although there were encouraging signs from the big Dutchman, who showed for the ball throughout and indicated he is more adept than Chris Wood at holding the ball up and linking play.
He may not be as mobile, but he might have had a debut goal but for a fine block from Hassane Kamara, which saw the ball loop up onto the bar.
Maxwel Cornet will benefit from his presence, and will offer more himself when back to full match sharpness again, after a lack of action over two months after injury and involvement at the Africa Cup of Nations.
The problem lies in getting the ball to the pair.
Burnley’s width comes from their full backs, with Dwight McNeil and Aaron Lennon given licence to drift inside.
But while McNeil can be effective in the pocket, he isn’t getting into areas where he can hurt teams regularly enough, and we are seeing little of his ability to beat a man and dig a cross out - the type of which Wood used to relish, and Weghorst surely will.
Only Trent Alexander-Arnold, James Ward-Prowse and Andy Robertson have put over more crosses this season than McNeil, but has just the one assist so far this season, and no goals.
On the other side, Lennon grafts, but offers little in the way of penetration at this stage of his career.
And with the central midfielders without a goal to their name, and just three assists - all for Ashley Westwood- between the four, it’s clear to see where the issue is.
It was an area the club tried to rectify in the January transfer window, but even if they had landed an Aaron Ramsey or Jesse Lingard, they would surely have had to play off the front, meaning the success story of the season in Cornet probably being shifted wide.
Burnley often ground sides down through sheer force of will, in sustained periods of high-octane pressure - as we saw in their only league win to date against Brentford.
We haven’t seen that converted into goals anywhere near as often enough, however, even when the Clarets have been in that mode.
Defensively, much of what the side are doing is sound, earning a second-successive shut out here, with a defensive record better than any side in the bottom half of the table, and better than that of Tuesday night’s visitors Manchester United and West Ham.
A fifth clean sheet of the season meant only a draw, however, a 10th of the campaign, and draws are not going to keep the Clarets up.
So many times since 2016, Burnley have edged this sort of game, not at their best, but finding a way, a goal from somewhere; while staying resolute at the back.
That just hasn’t been the case all season, and while Weghorst and a fit again Cornet offer hope, it currently feels like there is little prospect of any light at the end of the tunnel.
The side are now unbeaten in their last five home Premier League games, but in context, have only won one of their last 18 league games at Turf Moor.
That record simply has to improve, but then you look at the next few sides up at Turf Moor - United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, and, after Southampton, Manchester City, and it will take an heroic effort to take any points in those games against the big hitters.
It all feels like something of an end of an era unfortunately, a golden one at that.
Sean Dyche talks of “trying to adapt the side to try and win games”, in his decisions to bring in Connor Roberts at Arsenal and Dale Stephens for the suspended Josh Brownhill against Watford, but can the system be adapted?
In the thick end of 10 years, Dyche has used three centre backs at Spurs and Arsenal and an hour or so of a 5-1 hammering at home to Everton three years ago, which proved a turning point, so you’d expect that would be out of the question.
But what else can you do to stimulate the side? It’s hard to see what a change in shape achieves. The solution, you fear, was improving the side in the transfer window, and now that avenue is closed.
One thing is for sure though, if anyone is going to get the best out of this group of players, it will still be Dyche,
It remains to be seen whether their best will be good enough, however.