Explaining my passion for following Watford FC to new acquaintances does tend to make me question myself. I had that experience this week as I told a new colleague, who lives in Woking, that I would be visiting her town for a match. She looked puzzled. “Do Woking have an important team?” “They are non-league.” The puzzled look didn’t leave her face and I had to face the fact that I would be spending my Saturday travelling to a non-league ground and that this would not be my first visit. Last year we had the unique experience of seeing a Watford manager escorted by stewards to the team coach to protect him from the aggressive hoards hanging around (Don, Trond and I). On Friday, it became apparent that Silva wasn’t going to take even that risk as he excused the first team and we found out that our first pre-season game would actually feature the development squad. To be honest, I enjoy watching the youngsters and we are given very few chances these days, as most of their games are behind closed doors, so I wasn’t too disappointed.
Despite the train journey requiring two changes, it was a simple trip and the route to the ground is rather pleasant. As I cut through the park, there was a fair taking place, so it was quite nice to emerge to a more tranquil area where the loudest thing was the wool on the trees and the bridge following some yarn bombing. As I approached the ground, I spotted a couple of familiar backs. Don and Trond were sitting on a bench opposite the ground enjoying their lunch in the sunshine.
On passing through the turnstiles, I asked the operator whether they were disappointed at the late decision not to bring a first team squad. His response was that it would give them a good run out and was probably for the best, as they had recently replaced about half of their team. Another steward that I asked was less happy at the potential drop in revenue due to the younger opposition and the fact that they had to drop the prices. They exacted a slight revenge by charging for team sheets. Only 20p, but it was a new one on me.
As we sat in the club bar, Trond informed me that we had made two new signings Sam Howes and Harvey Bradbury. Further investigation indicated that these were additions to the development squad. We soon found that we were to get our first sight of Howes, a goalkeeper, as he was announced in the starting line-up which was Howes; Eleftheriou, Rowan, Mukena, Mason; Ryan, Stewart; Pereira, Folivi, Trialist; Jakubiak.
It was a gorgeous sunny day as we took our seats in the stand behind the Woking goal. The young Hornets started brightly enough and the Woking goalkeeper, Baxter, had to drop smartly to push a shot from the trialist around the post. At the other end, Howes pulled a shot from Carter out of the air. The home side had an even better chance with a shot from Jones, but Howes was again equal to it. Watford opened the scoring in the 36th minute as Mason crossed for Jakubiak who got the ball stuck under his feet but eventually managed to prod it home. Watford were not in the lead for long as, a minute later, a ball over the top reached former Watford man, Bawling, who volleyed past Howes. Watford had a couple of chances to regain the lead before the break. First the trialist, who had a good game, played a through ball to Jakubiak, but Baxter was quickly out to gather. Then Pereira unleashed a lovely shot that was saved low at the far post. The best chance of all fell to Jakubiak who received a square ball from Folivi with the goal at his mercy but powered over. So the first half finished level. Watford had most of the possession but, despite some decent link-up play, made very little in the way of chances.
The second half started with a number of substitutions, Gartside, Sesay and Charles on for Howe, Stewart and the trialist. For Woking one ex-Watford man (Bawling) went off and another came on as Chez Isaac made an appearance. Jakubiak had a great chance early in the half as he went on a lovely run before having a shot cleared off the line. The young Hornets put themselves in danger as Charles turned a ball towards his own goal, but Gartside was able to keep it out. There were a number of further substitutions with Adejedi, Huja, Rogers, Stray and Cruz Cabera all making appearances. The frequent changes in personnel meant that the play became rather scrappy. Woking had the best chances to win the game. First a cross from Philpots was headed goalwards by Saraiva, but rebounded off the bar. Then there was a mix up in the Watford box, but the defence was able to block the initial shots and Nsimbi’s follow-up was wide of the far post. So, as it did last year, the game finished as a 1-1 draw. It had been a pleasant enough afternoon out and the young lads had a decent workout. One pleasing aspect was that the older opposition did not try to bully the youngsters as can so often be the case in these matches.
So we now look forward to the first glimpse of Silva’s team during the beer festival at Wimbledon next week. What fun!