It was a gorgeous day for a football match, even better that the Football Manager Cup between Wimbledon and Watford had been scheduled to coincide with the beer festival. It seemed appropriate to start the afternoon with a pint of Plough Lane Ale and rather lovely it was too. To add to the pre-match treats, there was a German würstl stand and, later, an oompah band appeared which started their repertoire with “Staying Alive.” I must say that I love a man in lederhosen.
When we finally dragged ourselves away and entered the ground, it was packed, but we managed to find space in the shade where the vertically challenged among us could see the game.
Team news was that Flores had made two changes from the line-up at St Albans with Vydra and Prödl in for Watson and Angella. So the starting 11 was Gomes, Pudil, Cathcart, Prödl, Anya, Capoue, Abdi, Ighalo, Forestieri, Vydra and Deeney. So, four forwards in the starting line-up. What could possibly go wrong?
There was a promising start to the game from the Hornets as Pudil played a ball into the box but Vydra and Ighalo got in each other’s way. The first action of note came in the 11th minute as Elliott appeared to be tripped by Anya. Kennedy made no mistake with the penalty as Gomes went the wrong way. Watford’s first goal attempt fell to Deeney as Anya played a one-two with Vydra before cutting the ball back for Troy whose shot took a deflection and flew over the target. Then Vydra cut the ball back to Deeney who moved it on to Ighalo, who was in a better shooting position but was not expecting the pass, so the chance went begging.
After 25 minutes, the game stopped for a drinks break as it was a scorching afternoon. The next chance fell to the home side as Akinfenwa rose to meet a cross from Kennedy but headed over the bar. Watford’s equalizer was ridiculous. A clearance from Dons keeper, McDonnell, hit Ighalo and looped into the net. Odion looked rather embarrassed as he retrieved the ball, but they all count. Watford had a decent chance to take the lead after a quick free kick reached Forestieri whose shot was saved by the legs of McDonnell. At the other end Elliott cut inside Prödl and shot, but Gomes pushed the ball over the bar. Then Vydra found Ighalo whose shot was parried before being cleared. Forestieri had a couple of great chances to send the Hornets in ahead at the break. First a Vydra header reached him in the box but he shot wide of the target. Then Fernando tried a shot across the keeper that appeared to be scuffed and was stopped by the feet of McDonnell. Then he hit a shot into the turf which was deflected behind for a corner. You had to feel sorry for him as he was trying so hard and nothing was coming off.
At the start of the second half, the home side made 10 changes, while the visitors brought Arlauskis and Watson on for Gomes and Vydra. Watford’s first chance of the second half came from an Abdi free-kick which hit the crossbar and came down but, sadly, bounced away from the goal. A minute later, the visitors took the lead as Deeney headed an Abdi cross goalwards, McDonnell blocked the header but Forestieri followed up to, at last, get his name on the scoresheet. The Dons nearly equalized immediately as Arlauskis failed to gather a cross which reached Barcham whose header was cleared off the line by Prödl. Anya went on a run down the wing and crossed, but it was a bit too far in front of Ighalo who could only direct it wide of the target. The Dons thought they had equalized through Azeez, but Pudil had been fouled in the build-up, so the goal was disallowed. A promising run and cross from Barcham came to nothing as Watson appeared in the box, pulled the ball out of the air and cleared. Watford’s third substitution saw Paredes on for Anya.
Watson then had a chance at the other end, but his shot from distance was easily gathered by McDonnell. Forestieri was the next to threaten the Wimbledon goal, but McDonnell dropped to save his shot. Despite rumours that Sheffield Wednesday had had a bid accepted for him, McGugan made an appearance in place of Ighalo and new boy, Holebas, came on for Pudil. Forestieri hit a free-kick that was on target but was saved by McDonnell. At the other end Oakley tried a turn and shot, but the attempt was weak and straight at Arlauskis. With 10 minutes remaining, there was a further Watford substitution as Prödl made way for Hoban. There was a dangerous scramble in the Watford box as a shot was blocked and the follow-up from Reeves flew over the bar. The last minutes of the game saw two further substitutions for the Hornets as Fabbrini and Lewis replaced Forestieri and Abdi. Just as Watford thought that the game was won, Barcham attacked down the left wing, Paredes appeared to have the measure of him but slipped and, when he recovered, made a silly challenge and conceded a penalty which Francomb scored to ensure that the Football Manager cup was shared, which was probably the ideal result for Miles Jacobson.
There were mutterings from Watford fans both during and after the game about the performance, which always seems a bit pointless at a friendly, which is very far from a competitive game at this stage of pre-season. I’m sure that Flores learned something from the game (particularly that playing our four frontmen is not a guarantee of goals).
Post-match, it was back to the beer festival where the polite early applause for the oompah band had been replaced with a passionate crowd singing along. The football apart, it was a lovely afternoon and I hope that this becomes a regular fixture in our pre-season calendar.