Tag Archives: Alex Jakubiak

A Pre-season Double-header

A lovely present from the club

Although I tend to make the most of my Summer break from football, it is always good when pre-season comes around.  Unusually, the first games for the first team were on the pre-season tour, which I didn’t make this year due to work commitments that also prevented me from making the trips to Welling and Hemel to see the U23s.  So my first chance to see the lads was to be the trip to Stevenage.

Oddly, Watford had arranged two games in two days that both appeared on the first team page, so a lot of fans stayed away on Friday night thinking that it would be a run out for the U23s.  My attendance was also looking a little in doubt as technical difficulties meant that the 4pm meeting at work started 15 minutes late.  That and disruption on the East Coast line had me a little nervous about making it, but I arrived at King’s Cross in time for the planned train which was running on time, so I was in the pub not long after 6 enjoying my first pre-match pint of the season.

After the heatwave, most of which I have spent stuck indoors (partly through choice), there was an irony in the fact that my return to football watching coincided with a thunderstorm.  It started rather gently, so we decided to stay outside in the beer garden but were persuaded to take shelter when the forked lightning appeared.  The walk to the ground was in a downpour, but after the oppressive heat that we have had, the soaking was rather lovely.

Masina and Sema join the fray

Team news was that Gracia had picked a very strong first XI which would give us a chance to see some new faces as the starting line-up was Gomes; Navarro, Prödl, Mariappa, Masina; Hughes, Rodwell, Wilmot, Sema; Jakubiak, Deeney.  Pete and I had turned up wearing the lovely new green away kit.  Mine had arrived by special delivery the week before in a presentation box with a letter from Troy thanking me for attending all 19 away games last season.  A really lovely gesture from the club that made me feel appreciated after turning up on a Wednesday night in Stoke.  We had assumed that it would get a run out, especially when we saw the officials warming up in yellow kits, but the lads emerged from the tunnel wearing the home stripes to confound us.

 

 

Ben Wilmot

Watford started the game very brightly with Wilmot almost opening the scoring against his old club after some good work from Sema on the wing, but his shot was just wide of the target.  The Stevenage goalkeeper, Farman, then pulled off an excellent flying save to keep out a shot from Hughes.  From the resulting corner, Farman again did very well to save a header from Prödl.  Watford continued to dominate without creating much in front of goal until near the half hour mark when Jakubiak found the side netting.  Hughes was the next to threaten the Stevenage goal, but Farman pulled off another decent save and was then out to frustrate Jakubiak as he bore down on goal.  The home side didn’t test Gomes until just before half time when Nugent rose to meet a free kick with a powerful header that the Brazilian stopper did well to keep out.

So we reached half time goalless, but it had been a decent showing from the Hornets who had been unlucky to find the Stevenage keeper in top form.  At the other end of the pitch, it was pleasing to see that Gomes was being shown a lot of love by the Watford fans who had made the journey.

Congratulating Gray after scoring the winner

At half time, Gracia must have been alone in the dressing room as all the substitutes appeared to be warming up and the first half team warming down, but there were actually no changes for the Hornets at the break.

Stevenage were much the brighter team at the start of the second half and had a great chance to take the lead with a header from Revell, but Gomes did brilliantly to keep it out.  On the hour mark, Gracia made nine changes bringing Janmaat, Britos, Cathcart, Holebas, Charles, Capoue, Pereyra, Success and Gray on to join Hughes and Gomes, who would play the entire 90 minutes.  The Hornets got back on top after the substitutions and should have opened the scoring when Pereyra unleashing a lovely curling shot, but Farman was again equal to it.  Just as it seemed that the night would end goalless, Farman made his first mistake of the evening allowing Pereyra to cross for Gray to head home from close range and the Hornets left Stevenage with a slightly fortunate win.

Challenging on the goal line

It was a game of two halves.  The first half had been all Watford with some lively play that should have given us a comfortable lead, if it wasn’t for the performance of the keeper.  The second half was less convincing, but improved after the substitutions.  I liked the look of the new players although I have yet to put a name to most of them.  One bizarre aspect of the evening was the involvement of Kabasele, who took no part in the game but was doing timed sprints on the sidelines.  I swear he ran as far as some of those who actually played.

After a restful night’s sleep, I had a Saturday lunchtime trip to West London to see the Hornets play at Brentford.  In contrast to the previous evening, we found ourselves sitting in a pub garden in blazing sunshine.  Our choice of pre-match establishment wasn’t one of the four on the corners of the ground, but it was rather lovely, if very partisan, with the staff wearing Brentford shirts and flags up all around.  I wondered whether it was a good omen when one of the flags fell off the door.  Oh the straws we clutch on to as fans.

Janmaat and Charles waiting for a throw-in

Pete and I thought we had left in plenty of time to get to the ground for kick-off and there wasn’t much of a queue outside, but it took an age to get through the turnstiles as, instead of just taking your tenner, they then grabbed a ticket which was scanned and the counterfoil torn off before you were permitted into the ground.  With the choice of sitting or standing, we opted for the terraces and took our place at a crush barrier behind the goal.

As was expected most of the starting XI were those that had played the last half hour at Stevenage.  So the line-up was Foster (GK); Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos, Holebas; Pereyra, Charles, Capoue (C), Sema; Success, Gray.  Foster was given a tremendous welcome by the Watford fans with chants of “Foster’s coming home.”  My main concern with the line-up was that Kabasele would be worn out after the workout that he was given on the sideline the night before.

Pete and I had persisted with wearing our green shirts so were happy to see the team were also resplendent in the emerald.  Unfortunately, it had taken so long to get through the turnstiles that we missed kick-off, but arrived on the terrace behind the goal in time to see Foster parry a free-kick from Marcondes, it dropped to Watkins who finished to give the Bees an early lead.  Watford had a chance to break back almost immediately, but Success undid the good work of his run by shooting straight at Bentley in the Brentford goal.

Pereyra takes a free kick

There was a better chance for Pereyra whose cheeky flick bounced off the top of the crossbar.  Gray then had a decent shot that just cleared the bar.  The opening goal came on 25 minutes as Pereyra tried a shot, the keeper was equal to it but Dalsgaard mishit his clearance which found the net to draw the visitors level.  Ten minutes later, the Hornets took the lead as Gray finished from the edge of the area.  I am ashamed to say that I missed the goal as the substitutes were walking in front of the away terrace and I was distracted by how blond Prödl seems to have gone this Summer!  I sensed I wasn’t the only one to miss the goal as there soon followed a chant from the kids to the right of me of “Let’s pretend that we have scored.”  The Hornets had a chance to increase their lead before half time, but this time Gray’s shot was just over the bar.

At half-time Masina replaced Holebas then, on the hour, Gracia made wholesale changes bringing Navarro, Prödl, Rodwell, Wilmot, Mariappa, Deeney and Jakubiak on to replace Janmaat, Kabasele, Britos, Charles, Capoue, Sema and Gray.  Soon after the substitutions, Success had a great chance to increase the lead for the Hornets but, as too often, a tremendous run finished with a terrible shot.  Watkins had a couple of chances to restore parity for the home side, first with a shot across goal and then with a long range shot that was caught by Foster.  The Hornets had the ball in the net on two more occasions, once from a Pereyra header, and then a shot from Deeney who got ahead of the defence before poking home, but both were adjudged to be offside, so the game finished with a narrow win for the visitors.

It had been a typical pre-season game.  A run out that gave few clues to what we can expect for the rest of the season, but it was an enjoyable enough afternoon.  Bizarrely, the atmosphere in the away end was livelier than I am used to at pre-season games, although the chanting was dominated by anti-Luton songs, being delivered by kids who, if I am any judge of ages, are too young ever to have seen Watford play them up the road.

Post-match it was back to one of the pubs on the corner to confirm that none of us was any the wiser, but the beer was good.  Some wonder why we bother with pre-season games.  Personally, I enjoy getting back in the swing of things with the chance to see the new players or the new hair cuts on the old players and to have an afternoon out with friends knowing that the result won’t make much difference to the enjoyment of the day.

 

A Quiet Start in Woking

Yarn bombing in Woking Park

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.

Brandon Mason on the attack

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.

Jakubiak congratulated on his goal

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.

Young Player of last season, Pereira, on the ball

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!

The U21s Start their Season at Clarence Park

Jakubiak and Ovenden waiting for a corner

Jakubiak and Ovenden waiting for a corner

The main Watford news on Saturday morning was the signing of Colombian international, Zuniga.  While I don’t tend to get too excited about new signings until I see them play, the signing of an experienced wing back could only be a good thing.  But, with the first team flying out to their pre-season training camp in Austria, Saturday’s focus was on the U21s first game at St Albans.

I met Toddy in our usual pre-match pub for a lovely lunch in the beer garden before heading for the ground.

On arrival at Clarence Park, we bumped into Jon Marks and had a good catch up.  With many of last year’s U21s having been released, I wondered what the team would look like and was not surprised to see two trialists and a number who were in the U18s last season.  The starting line-up was Trialist GK, Eleftheriou, Stevens, Belkalem, Trialist, Murray, Ovenden, Stewart, Pereira, Jakubiak and Adeyemo.  The U21s had a very disappointing season last year and there was an impression that there was quite a distance between them and the first team.  Given that Mazzarri is a proponent of 3-5-2 and the U21s were lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, the first indications were not positive that there will be more of a collaboration between the development squad and the first team this season.

Lining up to defend

Lining up to defend

The young Hornets started brightly with Jakubiak setting up his strike partner, Adeyemo, who shot over the bar.  But, on a very warm afternoon in Hertfordshire, chances were at a premium.  The best came when Murray unleashed a volley that tested the City keeper, Russell.  Towards the end of the half, Jakubiak broke into the box and forced another save from Russell, but the first-half ended goalless.  The home side had had chances of their own, but none that tested the unknown goalkeeper.

There were a number of substitutions at the start of the second half with Watford bringing on two more trialists and replacing Jakubiak and Adeyemo with Folivi and Obi.  The substitutions for St Albans were a bit of a blast from the past as they introduced former Watford youngsters Matty Whichelow and Billy Gibson.  Whichelow, who was a player that I had a soft spot for, had the best chance of the game with a cracking shot that the Watford goalkeeper had to tip over the bar.  St Albans dominated the first period of the second half as captain, Theophanous, hit a shot wide and Whichelow again drew a save from the keeper.

Belkalem bandaged after the clash of heads

Belkalem bandaged after the clash of heads

The most notable event of the half for the Hornets was a clash of heads between Belkalem and his team mate Ryan.  The youngster had jumped late for the ball, causing the clash but, as he fell to the ground with blood pouring down his face, I thought Belkalem should have made sure he was all right.  It was then that I noticed that the Algerian, who had shrugged off the challenge, was also bleeding.  The St Albans physio saw to his injury and, being made of stern stuff, he was soon bandaged up and returned to the field.  Ryan, sadly, was unable to continue and, because Watford could not make any more substitutions, they were down to 10 men.  But the Saints’ manager, Ian Allinson, made the very sporting decision to withdraw one of his players (his captain) to even things up.  In the last minutes of the game, both of the Watford strikers had chances to win the game as, first, Folivi broke through and hit a shot that was blocked by the keeper.  Then Obi received a lovely pass from Stewart before shooting straight at the keeper’s legs.

So the game finished goalless on a very hot afternoon in St Albans.  It was not a happy start to the U21 season and I was disappointed to hear that their next game would be held at the training ground and so would not be open to fans.  I really hope that the U21s are given more opportunities to play in front of supporters next season and that they are integrated further with the first team as there are some great youngsters there that deserve that opportunity.

Young Blades Win at the Vic

The captains meet before kick-off

The captains meet before kick-off

After the last game was played behind closed doors, it was very pleasing to hear that the U21s would grace Vicarage Road.  Playing at the professional stadia is good for the youngsters’ development and it was all done properly with the teams coming out to Z-cars, although it was a bit baffling that the ‘respect’ line-up faced a couple of young players sitting in the SEJ stand rather than the paying customers in the Upper GT.  Kewell named another young team (apart from the goalie), the starting XI was Gilmartin, Sesay, Young, Rowan, Mason, Byers, Mensah, Stewart, Lewis, Jakubiak and Folivi.  As the teams were read out, their respective coaches were also named as Chris Morgan for the Blades and Harry Kewell for the Hornets, which prompted the guy in front to comment that the visitors all looked to be the size of Morgan while our lads were more in the mould of the diminutive Kewell, which was a little worrying.

The young Hornets started brightly with Jakubiak playing the ball back to Byers who unleashed a terrific strike that drew a great save from Eastwood in the United goal.  Mason then found Folivi who shot just wide.  Folivi, who is a tremendously exciting talent, then entertained the crowd with an audacious nutmeg, it was a pity that his forward pass went begging.  Watford threatened again as Sesay whipped in a cross that was headed just over by Jakubiak.  The visitors look the lead against the run of play, as a ball over the top reached De Girolamo in the box, Rowan was in close attendance but the forward was too strong and out-muscled him to shoot past Gilmartin.

Lining up the defence

Lining up the defence

The Hornets then put themselves in trouble as Folivi played a lovely pass to Jakubiak, who let it run not knowing that there was a United player behind him who picked up the ball and released Philips to run down the right wing, round the back of the Watford defence and cross for De Girolamo to score his second.  Sheffield United were in control at this point, but the young Hornets tried to strike back as Jakubiak and Mensah exchanged passes but, sadly, the resulting shot was weak and deflected for a corner.  At the other end, a free kick was headed on to Kennedy whose shot was also deflected wide.  The crowd in the Upper GT thought that their side had pulled a goal back as Lewis unleashed a shot but, unfortunately, it found the side netting.  Mensah then did well to hold the ball up, turn and release Folivi whose shot was well saved by Eastwood.  Just before half time, the visitors had a great chance to increase their lead but Gilmartin pulled off a magnificent save to deny Wright.  So the Hornets reached half time two goals down.  There had been some lovely play from the home side but the visitors had gained the upper hand with their superior strength and finishing.

Bernard Mensah

Bernard Mensah

Kewell made a substitution at the start of the second half bringing Ashley Charles on for Carl Stewart.  The first action of note was an altercation.  I didn’t see what started it but did see Rowan holding one of the United players down.  There were minor afters, but a yellow card was shown to the Watford man accompanied by a shout of “handbags” from the crowd.  The first real chance of the second half came on the hour mark as Lewis went on a terrific run before skipping past a couple of defenders in the United box, sadly his shot was just wide of the near post.  De Girolamo had a chance to get his hat-trick, but Rowan stood tall to block the shot.  Kewell’s second change saw Mason replaced by one of the three trialists on the bench.  The visitors had another decent chance to increase their lead but Gilmartin again did well to deny Flynn.  There was another booking for the home side as a rather desperate late tackle earned Byers a yellow card.  A forward break by Flynn was stopped as Sesay did well to get back and make the tackle.  Flynn had another chance to get on the scoresheet, but a defender was on hand doing just enough to put him off so his shot flew wide of the target.  With 10 minutes remaining, the Hornets went down to ten men as Byers lunged at an escaping player and was shown a second yellow card.  Watford had one more chance to pull a goal back as one of the trialists curled a free kick goalwards.  It was a tremendous strike, but Eastwood managed to keep it out.

So the U21s have yet to win a game this season, although that record has more to do with the lack of players in this age group than the quality of the youngsters.  In the games that I have seen, the Watford players look considerably younger and smaller than their opponents.  Still there were positives to take from the game.  Jakubiak and Mensah were lively.  Sesay, who is a first year scholar, made some impressive runs from the back.  And the lads on the wings, Lewis and Folivi, did well.  Of the Watford players on show, Folivi continues to attract attention.  He is now in the second year of his scholarship and shows a lot of skill married to a fearlessness that augurs well for his future.  He’s certainly one to watch.

Palace Give the Youngsters a Harsh Lesson

Welcome to Imperial Fields

Welcome to Imperial Fields

Another day, another match. There were things I should have been doing this afternoon, so I toyed with giving the game a miss, but then I found out that the Palace U21s played at Tooting and Mitcham’s Imperial Fields and the opportunity to visit a new ground was one I couldn’t pass up. I alighted at Mitcham Junction and followed the directions that I had obtained which sent me through an industrial estate where I met a dead end. The only way out appeared to be an umpromising looking dirt track which, thankfully, took me to the road that I needed and I was soon at the ground. One glimpse of the Watford team coach and all was right with my world.

Since an entrance fee was charged for the game, a team sheet was provided, which was just as well as there were a couple of unfamiliar faces in the Watford line-up. Since the Hornets have a League Cup game tomorrow, the line-up was very young. We started with Gartside, Doherty, Sesay, Johnson, Young, Obi, Orsi-Dadomo, Montavez, Lewis, Folivi and Jakubiak. I had assumed that the two central midfielders that I hadn’t seen before were young scholars, but later found out that they were trialists.

Jakubiak prepares to take the first penalty

Jakubiak prepares to take the first penalty

The home side had an early chance as a ball over the top reached Allassani who was clean through but Gartside saved the shot with his feet. Gartside came to meet the corner and pushed it clear but the whistle was blown for a foul on the keeper. Allassani was allowed to break clear again, but this time his shot was well over the target. Jakubiak did really well to retain the ball which he played out to Obi whose cross was blocked. The home side took the lead in the 13th minute as Bissaka played the ball to Anderson, a former Watford youngster, who coolly shot past Gartside. Rather surprisingly, Watford struck back almost immediately. Folivi was tripped as he ran into the box. Jakubiak stepped up and sent Gregory the wrong way to level the scores. Soon after, Obi was fouled on the edge of the box, earning Akiotu a booking, but the free-kick came to nothing. A corner from Gray was met with a header from Croll which flashed wide. Gray then had a decent chance himself but Gartside’s legs came to the rescue again. A good Watford move finished with a poor header into the ground from Jakubiak which was easily gathered by the Palace keeper. Allassani advanced down the left and unleashed a shot which rebounded off the crossbar. The rain had been steady to this point, but now the heavens opened.

Lewis takes a free kick

Lewis takes a free kick

The home side continued to dominate as Akiotu cut the ball back to Allassani whose shot was heading for the corner until Gartside dropped to make the save. Watford attacked through Folivi but the keeper came out to save at his feet. At the other end, a header from Anderson was straight at Gartside. George then battled into the box before finding Anderson whose shot was saved. Palace regained the lead on 25 minutes as Watford lost the ball from a throw in, Allassani crossed for Anderson who I believed had an easy tap-in past Gartside, but the ball actually came off a Watford player. At this point, the bloke sitting behind me, who was also labouring under this misapprehension, started speculating when Anderson’s hat-trick would come and drawing comparisons with a game in which they had scored a shedload. It seemed a bit premature given how wasteful their finishing had been. A powerful shot from Gray was blocked by Gartside, who also saved the follow-up shot. Anderson had a couple of decent chances to increase the lead, but he failed to connect with a free-kick from Gray and then sent a free kick of his own wide of the target. A break from Gray was stopped by a push from Sesay who received a yellow card for the offence. The home side scored their third just before half-time as an Allassani free-kick was turned in at the far post by Bissaka.

Half-time was greeted with thunder and lightning to match my mood. I decided to move seats at the break to sit at the end that we were attacking and also so I didn’t have to listen to the chap behind me cheerfully celebrating any more goals (I’m a sore loser).

Waiting for a corner

Waiting for a corner

As at the Sheffield Wednesday game, the home side were out early for the second half and waited some time for the Watford team to emerge. The young Hornets may have been better to have stayed in the changing room as they were soon 4-1 down as Anderson scored his second. I didn’t see the build-up to the goal as I had been distracted by Keith Millen coming to talk to Alec Chamberlain who was sitting a few rows in front of me. The Hornets could have been further behind as Allassani broke through on goal, but Gartside spread himself and saved the shot. Anderson had a chance to claim his hat trick as he got on the end of a cross from Allassani but he crashed the ball wide. He made no mistake on 52 minutes after Gray broke free of the defence before finding the striker in space to shoot across Gartside and in. At this point young Nathan stayed lying on the turf. He’d made some great saves but still seen five goals go past him. From my perspective, I was very happy that I had decided to move seats. Watford’s first substitution saw Charles come on for Orsi-Dadomo. Just before the hour mark, Watford had a decent attacking spell. First, the impressive Montavez played the ball out to Lewis whose cross was blocked. Then a corner fell to Johnson on the edge of the box and his shot hit the corner of the post and crossbar.

Folivi takes a corner

Folivi takes a corner

A good ball from Montavez found Lewis who crossed for Obi who ended up in the net while the ball drifted wide. Next Jakubiak played the ball back to Obi who hit a weak shot straight at the keeper. Palace substitute Berkeley-Agyepong found George in the box, where he was upended by a late tackle from Sesay. The referee pointed to the spot and Dymond stepped up to shoot past Gartside to put Palace 6-1 ahead. Watford’s second substitution saw Makaka replace Montavez. A corner from Folivi was headed back by Obi to Johnson who attempted an overhead kick that flew wide. Palace won a throw-in which was taken as Folivi was tying his laces, so I was impressed when Allassani sportingly played the ball back to his keeper rather than mounting an attack with a Watford player out of commission. Folivi then had the ball on the edge of the Palace box, but hesitated so Obi took the ball off his feet and hit a shot that was blocked. Watford won a second penalty as Obi ran into the box, he fell over as Forte ran behind him. I didn’t see any contact, but the referee pointed to the spot and Jakubiak stepped up to score his second of the game. Substitute Charles tried a shot from distance that was blocked. Palace had a late chance as Anderson went on a run and crossed for Allassani who was unable to connect so the ball flew wide and the game finished with a 6-2 win for the home side.

As I left, I caught Alec’s eye and he observed “That was tough.” “It was tough to watch.” The young Watford lads had been given a lesson. The opponents looked older and more experienced and didn’t give the young Hornets much space on the ball. The conditions didn’t help as the pitch became very slick which led to a number of players falling, but both teams had to deal with the same conditions. Special mention should go to young Nathan Gartside who made a number of great stops and I really felt for him having conceded 6. Of the outfield players, I liked the look of Montavez who has no little skill and did a decent job in the centre of midfield.

To add insult to injury, the rain continued to bucket down as I walked back to the station and I made the mistake of following a sign which took me down a path which had turned into a stream so I ended up squelching on to the train. A miserable end to an unhappy afternoon.

The Development Squad Arrives in the Premier League

Welcome to Wednesday's Training Ground

Welcome to Wednesday’s Training Ground

I have to admit to being delighted at the news that Watford were upgrading their Academy to EPPP2 status, if only because it meant that the Development squad would be playing in a league. I wasn’t quite so thrilled to find out that many of the games would be early afternoon, but the first coincided with some time off work so, what better way to spend a Summer Monday than to take a trip to Sheffield Wednesday’s training ground.

I thought I had left loads of time to get there, but there was no sign of a tram to Middlewood so I took the blue line to Hillsborough and started walking. Needless to say, I soon spotted the Middlewood tram behind me so ran to the next tram stop and managed to catch it. Instructions on how to reach the training ground had been ambiguous, so I asked the young tram conductor whether I should get off at Leppings Lane or Middlewood. She suggested the latter, although wasn’t totally convinced. I had just spotted the sign for the ground when she came back with a relieved smile to point it out to me and the Middlewood stop was just around the corner. Perfect! As always when reaching an unfamiliar venue, I was very happy to see the team coach. The car park was full, but there was only a little space to watch the game that wasn’t behind a net.

Kewell and McGuane

Kewell and McGuane

When I arrived, the players were warming up. It was good to see Alec Chamberlain there working with the goalkeepers. I then saw Harry Kewell. Good heavens, coaches are getting very young. To my aged eyes, he could have been one of the U21s. As Alec returned to the changing rooms before the game, he was greeted by a Wednesday player, our old friend Lewis McGugan.

The starting line-up was a mix of young professionals and scholars plus a trialist … and Gilmartin. The team was Gilmartin, Doherty, Trialist, Johnson, Hoban, Martin, Smith, Byers, Lewis, Jakubiak and Mensah.

Prior to kick-off there were no arches on show, but there was the ‘respect’ handshake. Watford started brightly with shots from Mensah and Lewis blocked in quick succession. At the other end, our trialist blocked a shot from Croasdale, the follow-up from Mufata was hit well over the target. Jakubiak won a free kick on the edge of the box, which Byers blasted over the crossbar. Mensah went on a run through the middle and passed to Martin on the left but the winger’s shot was gathered by Dawkins. At the other end a cross from Stobbs was straight at Gilmartin. After about 10 minutes, there was a long break in play due to an injury to Croasdale. I didn’t see the tackle, but the Wednesday fans around me were not impressed. Sadly the lad was taken off on a stretcher buggy.

Captain Johnson on a run down the wing

Captain Johnson on a run down the wing

After the restart, Martin made an impressive run down the left wing but his cross was disappointingly long. Hornby beat Watford’s trialist and bore down on goal, he really should have scored but hit his shot wide. A cross from Smith was blocked but reached Martin who headed down to Mensah who was offside. Martin played the ball out to Doherty whose cross was headed clear but came back to Martin whose shot was poor and flew wide of the near post. An impressive run from Connor Smith came to nothing as his shot was blocked. Then a Wednesday free kick was comfortably caught by Gilmartin. Confusion in the home defence gifted the ball to Mensah, but he was frustrated by a last ditch tackle from De Haviland. There were appeals for a penalty as the trialist seemed to bundle one of the Wednesday players over in the box, but the lino had the flag up and explained to anyone that was listening (I was) that the offside had occurred first. Mufata tried a shot from distance that was well over the bar.

Jakubiak on the ball

Jakubiak on the ball

I was then distracted by some action near the dug outs as a lad who, judging by the fact that he was wearing gloves, appeared to be Wednesday’s substitute keeper climbed up a wall alongside the pitch to retrieve a ball that was stuck in the branches of a tree. You wouldn’t see that in the Premier League. Martin did brilliantly on the left beating a couple of players and then advancing along the byline beating another before cutting the ball back to Jakubiak whose shot was blocked. Martin exchanged passes with Mensah before hitting a cross that was too long for Lewis to reach. Despite the long break for the injury to Croasdale, there were only a couple of minutes added at the end of the half and the teams went in scoreless.

Wednesday were out early for the second half and even the officials were on the field before the Watford squad appeared although it was only 2:01, so they’d taken their normal half time break.

The visitors had the first chance of the second half with a shot from Mensah that lacked power and was touched back to the keeper by one of the defenders. A decent shot from Jakubiak was saved by the keeper’s legs. Gilmartin was in action at the other end, pushing a corner clear. The follow up was headed away before a cross came in that eluded all the players in the box. Just before the hour, Martin passed the ball out to Lewis whose cross was just too long for Mensah to reach. Booker broke down the right for Wednesday but Doherty was on hand to block for the corner.

Martin takes a corner

Martin takes a corner

A lovely passing move upfield finished disappointingly as Jakubiak’s flick to Mensah found a defender blocking the Watford forward’s progress. At the other end, Hirst shot straight at Gilmartin. Watford threatened again as Lewis hit a long cross that reached Martin whose cross was just missed by the head of Mensah. A Wednesday free kick came to nothing as it cleared the wall but flew straight into the arms of Gilmartin. Watford’s first substitution came in the 65th minute as Obi replaced Lewis. Another Watford chance went begging as Jakubiak touched the ball back to Mensah who hit it over the target. Then a Smith pass was intercepted, Wednesday advanced upfield where Meadows received the ball in space, Gimartin caught the shot, but the linesman was already flagging for offside. A cross from Jakubiak was put out for a corner by Wildin. With 15 minutes remaining, Byers was booked for a cynical trip to prevent a lad progressing down the wing.  Watford’s second substitution saw Makaka replacing Smith. Then Martin found Obi whose shot was blocked, as was the follow-up from Jakubiak.

Substitute Ogo Obi

Substitute Ogo Obi

Another lovely move saw Martin breaking into the box and finding Mensah who juggled the ball to Obi who was in an offside position. Mensah then played a pass for Jakubiak to run on to, but the keeper, Dawson, got to the ball first. Watford should have taken the lead as Jakubiak broke into the box and his shot rebounded to Byers who unleashed a tremendous strike that Dawson did really well to push over the bar. The corner was a little too high for Hoban who could only head it over. Watford had a further chance of a late winner as a cross from Martin reached Makaka who headed wide when he should have tested the keeper.

So, despite the dominance of the visitors, the game ended goalless. There was some lovely approach play from the Hornets, but they were dreadfully wasteful with their finishing. The trialist was a bit ponderous in the centre of the defence so didn’t impress me greatly.

As the Watford coaches left the pitch, Alec was able to catch up with another old friend as Terry Burton was in attendance. I also took the opportunity to thank our former coach for his sterling work in difficult times. He said that Watford had been one of his best experiences in football citing the semi-final as justification. It was lovely to hear that he has good memories of his time with us.

On the way out, I also had a good chat to Academy head, Chris McGuane, so, despite the result, I left Sheffield with a good feeling about the whole of the club.

A Stunning Comeback Against the Gills

The GT poster in the Lower GT

The GT poster in the Lower GT

It was a cold, wet evening in November so what better way to spend it than watching the Under-21s in the Premier League Cup.  Entry to the ground was through the Hornet Shop and there was more than a touch of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to the passage through a small door into a magical kingdom, although Narnia has nothing on Vicarage Road under the lights.  I had arranged to meet Don in the Lower GT disabled area and, as I descended the steps, I was delighted to see a huge poster with a quote from the great man.  Don then sent me back to see what I had missed.  On the steps up from the Rookery and those to the Upper GT, the great man’s achievements were commemorated.  A lovely touch, which brought a nostalgic tear to my eye.  But we were there to see the next generation (and Almen Abdi).

As with the trip to Bristol City our team looked strong, it was certainly good to see Abdi on a team sheet again.  The starting line-up was Ammann, Rowan, Hoban, Young, Doherty, Abdi, Murray, Byers, Smith, Jakubiak and Ikpeazu.

The corner that led to Gillingham's first goal

The corner that led to Gillingham’s first goal

The game started in the worst possible way for the home side as, in the fourth minute, a corner was headed goalwards by Davies, Ammann could only parry the ball and Norris turned it in at the near post.  Jakubiak tried to strike back but his shot was blocked for a corner.  Watford had the ball in the net in the 11th minute as a shot from Ikpeazu bounced up off the Gillingham keeper, Morris, and Hoban headed it into the empty net, but the linesman had his flag raised, so it didn’t count.  Norris threatened again with a header but Ammann got a hand to it.  Byers went on a run and fed Smith but the Irishman’s shot was straight at the keeper.  At the other end, Linganzi took a shot that flew over the bar.  Watford had a great chance to equalize as Jakubiak went on a run and played a through ball to Ikpeazu whose shot was blocked by the keeper’s legs.  At the other end a shot from Norris was blocked by Smith.  Watford should have equalized on 35 minutes as a corner from Abdi was met with a header from Ikpeazu in front of goal.  It looked easier to score but the header flew over the bar.  The home side continued to threaten as a lovely through ball from Jakubiak reached Ikpeazu but his shot was gathered by Morris.  Byers then received the ball in the box but his shot was deflected for a corner.  In time added on, a wonderful ball over the top from Abdi released Smith who found space for a shot, but Morris was on hand to block.

The two goal scorers celebrate together

The two goal scorers celebrate together

At the start of the second half, Folivi replaced Ikpeazu who didn’t look fully fit.  Folivi has been banging the goals in for the youth team, so I was looking forward to seeing him play.  Jakubiak broke into the box but seemed to be indecisive about whether to shoot or cross and ended up hitting a wayward pass that went out for a throw.  The Hornets went two down three minutes into the half as Blanchard hit a stunning volley that gave Ammann no chance.  It was a real blow to go two goals down and the chances of the young Hornets getting back into the game looked slim, which made what followed all the more enjoyable.  Ten minutes into the half Folivi released Jakubiak who hit a shot on the run that was smothered by Morris.  The next move involving the two front men resulted in the Hornets pulling a goal back.  Folivi closed down a clearance, the ball flew into the box where Jakubiak was on hand to shoot past Morris in the Gillingham goal.  On the hour, Abdi made way for Stewart.  It was great to see Almen back in action.  But back to the youngsters and Watford were level soon after as Murray played a ball out to Folivi on the right wing, he played a low cross into the box where Jakubiak took a touch to control the ball then blasted it into the net.  Delighted as I was with the equalizer, I was begging for a third goal at this point as it was freezing and the thought of extra time and penalties was not appealing.  Gillingham tried to hit back with a cross-cum-shot from Freiter but Ammann parried it to safety.

Congratulating Folivi

Congratulating Folivi

It was the substitute, Folivi, who completed the Watford come back receiving a pass from Byers and hitting a shot from distance into the top corner.  It was a thrilling goal.  Folivi had a chance to grab another as he latched on to a pass from Byers into the box, but a defender was in close attendance and he tumbled.  The referee indicated a free kick for the visitors and appeared to be about to book Folivi for a dive (which it wasn’t), but instead showed the card to Romeo who had clattered Folivi earlier in the move.  Sellens was the next to threaten the Watford goal but his shot was wide of the target,  At this point we were visited in the disabled enclosure by a lovely man from the catering department who gave us each a portion of chips.  Crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, just what the doctor ordered on a cold night.  Back to the action on the pitch, a shot from Freiter was deflected wide.  From the corner Staunton headed over the target.  At the other end Murray tried a shot from distance that was saved by the Gillingham keeper.  The visitors launched a counter attack but Ammann was down to save the shot from Pritchard.  With 8 minutes remaining, Murray made way for Lewis.  Byers had a chance to increase the lead but shot well wide of the target.  At this point, there was suddenly a burst of song from the Upper GT.  Most uncharacteristic.  In the dying minutes of the game, Freiter broke forward but Hoban was on hand to clear.  Connor Smith was booked for a rather reckless tackle on Blanchard and the final action was a Gillingham corner that was headed over the bar by Staunton.  So the young Hornets reached the final 16 after a lively second half performance achieved a result that had looked highly unlikely early in the half.

 

Arie Ammann

Arie Ammann

So a very impressive come from behind win by the under 21s.  Despite the appearance of players with first team experience, it was the kids that caught the eye.  Charlie Rowan put in a good shift in the centre of defence.  George Byers worked hard creating a lot of chances.  Alex jakubiak never stopped working and was a constant threat on the Gillingham goal.  Michael Folivi was super sub scoring one and providing assists for the other two goals.  So, on a cold wet night, I left Vicarage Road with a huge smile on my face having been royally entertained.