In the Herts Senior Cup there is an expectation of nice local (to Watford) fixtures but drawing Royston meant a journey to the opposite end of the county. I work 30 miles from Watford, so it was a bit of a shock to the system when, after picking Don up, I entered Garden Walk into my sat nav to be told that I still had another 35 miles to go.
Having called Royston Town and been assured that there was a disabled parking space available (and hoping it hadn’t been nabbed by someone else), I pulled up to the gates at Garden Walk and knocked. I was greeted by a quizzical look from the steward who then kindly directed me to a parking space right by the club house. His only request was that I leave a space next to me. When I looked, I saw that the disabled space was next to the President’s, so the space was duly left.
When we arrived, the players were warming up and, while queuing at the tea bar, I turned to see a yellow-shirted player returning to the dressing room. I did a double take when I realized it was Diego Fabbrini. Now these foreign players are all very well, but how will they do on a cold Tuesday night in Royston? We were about to find out.
The starting line-up was a nice mixture of youth and experience: Gilmartin, Kyprianou, Doherty, Smith, Rowan, Hoban, Fabbrini, Byers, Lewis, Murray and Martin.
There was an early scare for the Hornets as Gilmartin came to catch a free-kick, was impeded and dropped the ball which was, thankfully, cleared off the line. Watford immediately launched a counter attack which finished with Fabbrini tumbling in the box. I couldn’t help laughing, but Diego soon redeemed himself. His next action was to cut the ball back for Byers to shoot, but the Royston keeper, Ron Yates (yes, really), saved. Byers broke into the box again passing to Lewis whose shot was parried to safety. It wasn’t all Watford as a cross from Watters was headed out for a corner. Lewis got on the end of a cross from Murray heading it goalwards but, again, Yates was equal to it. Lewis then turned provider cutting the ball back for Smith to shoot but the shot was blocked.
Royston won a corner and Gilmartin had to stretch to push the ball clear. Then a ball was played over the top to Fehmi who shot wide of the near post. A cross field ball released Fabbrini, but he couldn’t find room for a shot. Royston took the lead in the 18th minute as a cross from Bradshaw was headed home by Fehmi. This provoked chants of “Championship, you’re having a laugh” from the home fans. Watford tried to hit back immediately but Lewis failed to connect with a decent cross from Smith. The equalizer came on 26 minutes as Martin did well to keep the ball in on the left touchline, he released Lewis who beat his marker for pace before crossing to Fabbrini who, with his back to goal, found time to turn and bury the ball past Yates. Two minutes later, the Hornets were ahead as Fabbrini hit a lovely shot from the edge of the area. Royston had a couple of chances to break back as Fehmi tried a shot from distance that hit the side netting, then Bradshaw put a shot well over the bar.
Lewis connected with a Byers free-kick, but his header was weak and straight at Yates. Watford had a great chance to increase the lead but the Royston defence was resolute in blocking shots from Lewis and Martin before Murray’s shot was put out for a corner. The visitors continued to threaten as Lewis broke forward with Fabbrini in close attendance but the attempted through ball was cut out. So the visitors reached half time a goal to the good. It had been an enjoyable first half with some lovely football from the Watford team, all of whom were working hard on a very heavy pitch.
At half time, there was an eerie atmosphere in the ground as the entire crowd (apart from Don and I) disappeared into the clubhouse and there was no music was playing over the tannoy. Heaven knows why we decided to stay outside as it was bitterly cold. But I feared that, if I ventured inside, I wouldn’t want to return for the second half.
Royston had the first chance of the second period as substitute, Ingrey, shot over the bar. Normal service resumed as Murray broke forward and fed Fabbrini whose shot was blocked. Murray then launched a cross which flew over the head of the leaping Lewis. For the home side a free kick from Fehmi was headed clear by Hoban. A cross by Lewis to the far post was hooked clear. On the hour, Folivi replaced Murray for the Hornets and Lockett came on for Watters for the Crows. The indefatigable Fabbrini went on another run before passing to Martin whose shot was blocked. Folivi played a short corner to Smith who returned the ball and Folivi hit a lovely shot that required a terrific save from Yates to keep it out. A follow-up shot from Rowan was deflected over the bar. It wasn’t all Watford as a cross from Dobson was hit goalwards by Ingrey but blocked. Then Lewis fed Folivi whose shot was blocked. With 15 minutes remaining, Stevens, who had replaced Kyprianou for the Hornets five minutes earlier, was booked for a foul on Dobson. Bradshaw hit a hopeful shot straight into Gilmartin’s arms. There was danger for the Hornets as Dobson broke into the box and unleashed a great strike that Gilmartin pushed over the bar.
At the other end, Fabbrini and Martin combined to feed Folivi whose shot was blocked. With 5 minutes remaining, Martin pulled Dobson down just outside the box. Fabbrini did an effective job as the only man in the wall, “intimidating” Dobson into curling the free kick wide of the far post. Endacott fell under a challenge in the Watford box, his claims for a penalty were given short shrift by the referee who may have been lynched if he took the game to extra time. Watford continued to press with a Martin run into the box where he played a square ball to Fabbrini who shot wide of the target. Diego wasn’t to get his hat trick, but he did have a hand in the third goal, exchanging passes with Folivi who shot past Yates to seal the win in the last minute of the game.
Too often in these games, we have fielded an Under 18 team which has been beaten by the physical strength of the men fielded by the opposition. The team fielded last night was a nice mix of youth and experience that continued to play lovely passing football in difficult conditions. Royston certainly had their chances, but the Hornets were worthy winners and Fabbrini was a revelation on a cold night in Royston.
As Don and I came off the A1M a car came up beside us at the lights on the roundabout and sped off on green. I noted that it had an Italian number plate. When I caught up at the next set of lights, I glanced over to see Fabbrini in the driving seat of the least flash footballer’s car that I have seen since Jay DeMerit had that old mini. Not for the first time that evening, my opinion of Diego went up a notch.