We’ve had a good relationship with Wealdstone in recent years, although I still feel guilty about the way they were treated during the ground share. But that was in the Petchey years and he also screwed us, so the behaviour was not out of character. This pre-season game had been billed as a Watford development squad, but Dave Hughes’ squad was to be augmented with a couple of first team players.
Don, Trond and I were in the disabled area, so well placed to see who arrived to occupy the VIP stand (if there is such a thing at Wealdstone) as they had to walk past us. I was impressed to see Gino Pozzo arrive with Gianluca Nani. Marco Cesarini was the next to walk past us, so I said hello and he shook my hand and introduced me to his wife and children. I had failed to notice that he was followed by Beppe and the first team coaches, all of whom shook our hands. We had become an unofficial welcoming party.
The starting line-up was Bond, Young, Doherty, O’Nien, Johnson (c), Brown, Tapoko (trialist), Smith, Jakubiak, Rosenthal and Fabbrini. Former Watford youngsters Jonathan North and Elliott Godfrey started for Wealdstone. There was a nice gesture from the excellent tannoy announcer who welcomed Smith and O’Nien back, both having been there on loan in recent seasons.
There was an early scare for the visitors as McGleish came in on the blind side of Johnson but, fortunately for us, his shot was wild and flew over the bar. The same player threatened again soon after, cutting the ball back to Pigden, but Young was on hand to snuff out the danger. Fabbrini had already been knocked over a couple of times, with no sympathy from the ref, when, in the 11th minute, he went down with a squeal of pain, holding his head. He disappeared into the dressing rooms with the physio and we were playing with 10 men for 8 minutes. Wright had a great chance to put the home side ahead, but his air shot gave the Watford defence time to clear the ball.
Watford’s first chance came as Smith got on the end of a low cross from Rosenthal, but his shot was wide of the far post. Rosenthal was the next with a chance for Watford but his low shot from distance was easy for North to gather. A forward run by Fabbrini was stopped rather brutally on the edge of the box, but the referee waved play on. Rosenthal tried another shot from distance, but this time it flew over the bar. On the half-hour, Mills took a free-kick for the Stones that was heading for the top corner until Bond leapt and turned it over the bar. Then Collins broke into the box but Johnson was on hand to block the shot. At the other end, O’Nien took a free-kick that flew just wide of the target. With 5 minutes of the half remaining, Bond was blocked as he attempted to reach a free-kick, which fell to McGleish who shot over the bar. Wealdstone continued to look for the opening goal as an excellent long pass reached Wright who cut it back to Okimo whose shot was repelled by a diving header from O’Nien, McGleish’s follow-up needed a smart save from Bond to keep the game goalless. The last chance of the half fell to Rosenthal who, again, saw a shot from distance fly over the bar. As the teams left the field Johnson and Bond were arguing with the referee. The lino had missed some calls and the ref had been a little harsh on Fabbrini (yes, really), but I hadn’t seen anything that justified the apparent level of their complaint. Certainly, Wealdstone had been the better of the teams in the first half.
The first chance of the second half went Watford’s way, but Fabbrini’s shot from distance was soft and didn’t trouble North in the Wealdstone goal. We held our breath as Collins was tripped in the box, but the referee had been reluctant to blow up for fouls, which was to our advantage on this occasion as he waved play on. On the hour, a Wealdstone corner was met with a header that flew over the bar. Then Fabbrini broke through and was tripped, the ball broke to Jakubiak in the box but he couldn’t quite control it so his first shot rebounded off North, his second attempt beat the keeper but was cleared before it reached the goal. Soon after, a free-kick from Doherty just cleared the crossbar. That was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Mahlondo Martin. Jakubiak found space in the box but could only shoot wide of the near post.
Fabbrini was fouled yet again with nothing given by the officials. I thought it was my yellow-tinted spectacles that provoked my sympathy until the Wealdstone fan behind us commented on the unfairness of the decisions. At this stage Fabbrini was replaced by Folivi and, as he immediately walked to the dressing room, was followed by Sannino walking through the stand the two of them having a lively conversation. On 72 minutes, Carl Stewart replaced Smith. Jakubiak went on a great run and unleashed a shot, but North was equal to it. The final Watford substitution saw Dennon Lewis replacing Tapoko, the trialist, who had a decent game in the midfield. Martin had a good shot saved by Carter, who had replaced North in the Wealdstone goal.
With 10 minutes remaining, Lewis latched onto a ball over the top and passed back to Jakubiak who had a great chance to win the game, but shot just wide. The final action of the game was a free-kick from O’Nien which was just over the bar, so the game ended goalless. It had been a lively contest and Watford definitely had the best of the second half with Jakubiak a constant menace to the Wealdstone defence.
Despite the lack of goals, it had been a lovely evening to watch football and I was impressed to see Gino Pozzo in attendance, as well as Nani, Sannino and all the coaches, supporting the Development Squad.