Tom Cleverley’s goal the difference as Watford edge out battling Burnley

Tom Cleverley marked his 33rd birthday with the only goal of the game as 10-man Watford defeated Burnley to move top of the Championship. Captain Cleverley slotted home on the stroke of half-time to put the Hornets ahead in a match between two teams looking to make an immediate return to the Premier League following relegation last season.

Hassane Kamara was shown a straight red card for a professional foul nine minutes from time but the Clarets could not get the better of the home goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann and succumbed to their first defeat under Vincent Kompany. Watford handed a first start to the former Spain defender Mario Gaspar and an immediate debut to the Leicester loanee Hamza Choudhury, while summer signing Manuel Benson started for the first time for Burnley.

There was no sign of the Nottingham Forest-bound Emmanuel Dennis in the Watford squad, however, with his move to Nottingham Forest “progressing”, according to the Watford manager Rob Edwards. Watford have also loaned the forward Ashley Fletcher to Wigan for the season.

The heat was likely a factor in the low quality of play early on, with Ismaila Sarr, scorer of a wondergoal from the halfway line at West Brom last week, blasting over the Burnley bar. Fortunately for Watford Cleverley was not as profligate when he was presented with his chance in first-half stoppage time, and he slotted home to put the hosts ahead.

Sarr found Ken Sema in space on the right of the box and his cutback was perfect for the Watford skipper to sidefoot in from 12 yards. Cleverley was hurt by a challenge in the act of scoring, however, and did not reappear for the second half.

Burnley almost equalised five minutes into the second period when Samuel Bastien played Josh Brownhill in on the left of the box but Bachmann stuck out a leg to make the first of many excellent saves. Bastien fired wide on the turn from Burnley’s next attack of note and Brownhill spooned another chance over from the edge of the box.

Bachmann denied Brownhill once more with his legs as Burnley pushed forward looking for an equaliser. Kamara was sent off with nine minutes remaining for a professional foul on the Burnley substitute Vitinho. The left-back’s poor touch allowed his opponent to sprint towards goal and Kamara pulled him back by the shirt before he could reach the box.

Burnley fans thought their team had scored from Brownhill’s free-kick but Bachmann reacted superbly to tip it round a post. It was not Brownhill’s night as he finally beat Bachmann in stoppage time only to see the ball bounce back off the bar, and Burnley’s final chance was side-footed straight at the keeper by the substitute Luke McNally.

Edwards hailed Bachmann’s performance as “magnificent” after the final whistle. “He is doing his job, which is to keep the ball out of the back of the net, but he is doing it very well – he is a top pro.

“We needed everyone including our goalkeeper to get something. We were tested, as we knew we would be, but I’m obviously delighted with the three points.”

“In the first half they were better than us but in the second we could feel the tide was turning,” Kompany said. “To win games you have got to create chances. I think we have goals in the team but it will happen from players understanding each other better.”