While in Austria, there had been speculation that this weekend would see us playing a couple of games in Scotland. Late last week, the bizarre prospect of playing Osasuna at Meadow Park raised its head. But the final outcome was a trip to St Albans, which was rather lovely.
The main topic of discussion when the team was announced was the presence of Deeney on the bench. None of our party really believe that he will be with us come the end of the transfer window so it felt like a treat to see him in a Watford shirt again. It would also be our first chance to see Keith Andrews as the starting line-up was Gomes; Hoban, Tamas, Ekstrand, Pudil; McGugan, Andrews, Abdi; Anya, Ranegie and Dyer.
There was an early scare for the visitors as Andrews gave the ball away in midfield leading to a shot from McBean that Gomes collected. A counterattack from the Saints finished with a shot from Kyriacou that flew well over the bar. Watford then began to assert their authority. Ranegie did well to beat the defender but, with only the keeper to beat, his shot was wide of the target. A lovely Watford move finished with a shot from Dyer that beat Coulton in the St Albans goal, but the celebrations were cut short as the linesman’s flag was raised.
We were not to be denied for long, though, as the next move saw Dyer outpace the defence, put a square cross to Ranegie who played it back to Anya whose powerful shot hit the back of the net. Soon after, a lovely cross from Hoban went begging as McGugan couldn’t reach it. Then Dyer tried to play Ranegie in, but the keeper was first to the ball. There was a bit of pinball in the St Albans area as multiple shots from McGugan and Anya were blocked. Then Andrews played a ball over to Dyer who teed up McGugan but his shot rebounded off the crossbar with the keeper beaten. Abdi went on a forward run and crossed, but Ranegie could not connect with a header. At the other end, a spectacular dive from Gomes seemed to be more to give him something to do than to reach a shot from Corcoran that was well wide of the target.
Anya went on another run down the left and beat a defender before crossing for Dyer who generously passed to McGugan, but the shot was weak and easy for Coulton, which left us wishing that Dyer had buried it himself. Dyer and Anya combined again, but there was another weak finish, this time a poor header from Ranegie. McGugan and Ranegie then played a one-two but the shot was blocked. With 5 minutes to go to half time, we finally got a second goal as Tamas played a long ball to Hoban on the right wing, he put in a lovely cross and Ranegie was there to nod it past Coulton. His celebration indicated his relief at finally capitalizing on one of his chances. Abdi was the next to threaten, but his shot was blocked. At the other end, Gomes had a chance to demonstrate his ball skills as, with two players closing in, he played himself out of trouble beating the forwards and clearing. On the stroke of half-time, the Hornets were 3 up as Ekstrand headed an Abdi corner goalwards. As the ball hit a defender on the way in, it was given as an own goal, but it looked like Ekstrand’s goal to me.
After the paucity of goals in most of the pre-season games, it was great to reach the interval with three to discuss. St Albans may be playing in the same league as Boreham Wood next season, but the quality of their team was not a patch on their rivals and the Watford team had played very well.
At half time, we decided to swap ends to remain behind the goal that Watford were attacking. It was roasting at that end of the ground, but worth it to see the goals.
Sannino made five substitutions at the start of the second half, with Bond, Doyley, Angella, Tozser and Fabbrini replacing Gomes, Hoban, Ekstrand, Abdi and Dyer. Early in the half, Anya went on a run and put in a cross that Coulton intercepted before it reached Fabbrini. McGugan, who had taken the captain’s armband, played a ball over the top for Fabbrini to run on to, he received the return pass and unleashed a shot that Coulton turned around the post. McGugan took the corner which was headed over by Angella.
On 55 minutes, Ranegie and Andrews made way for Vydra and Battocchio. Vydra was involved immediately as he received the ball from Doyley then exchanged passes with Anya before shooting, but Coulton was equal to his effort. Just after the hour, Deeney made an appearance in place of McGugan while Johnson came on for Pudil. The next Watford chance came as Fabbrini cut into the box and hit a shot which required a good save to keep it out. At the other end, St Albans had their first chance for some time as Pires, who had just come on as a substitute, shot just wide of the far post. Bond was called into action soon after and pulled off a great save to tip Ward’s strike over. This inspired the St Albans fans into a chant of “We’re the pride of Hertfordshire.” Sannino’s final substitution saw Smith replacing Anya.
Battocchio tried a shot from too far out that was caught before it got anywhere near the goal. He made up for that soon after as he latched on to a ball from Vydra and coolly chipped the keeper. A lovely goal. He scored his second, and Watford’s fifth, soon after as he ran onto a ball from Deeney, outpacing the defence, and hit the ball past Coulton. With 10 minutes remaining, the game was stopped for a drinks break. I suspect that the Saints players were hoping for something rather strong in theirs. Bond was in action again with 6 minutes to go, but he dealt comfortably with Frendo’s shot. Smith tried a shot from distance that was well wide of the target.
Then Deeney, who had berated the lino for an earlier decision, was flagged offside but he chipped the ball past the keeper for the entertainment of the Watford fans in the crowd. In the final minutes, Jallow had a chance to get a consolation for the home side, but his shot from wide right flew past the far post. The last chance went Watford’s way as a shot from Fabbrini was blocked and the ball fell to Deeney whose cross was headed over by Vydra.
With goals having been at a premium in most of the other games, it was a treat to see so many in this one. It was also rather pleasing to see the strength in depth that we have this season as every change was positive rather than weakening the team as the game went on. All in all a fun pre-season afternoon.