Tag Archives: Bernard Mensah

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.

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.

No Shame in Defeat at St Mary’s

Pre-match formalities

Pre-match formalities

The quarter-final of the Premier League U21 Cup saw a young Watford side travelling to Southampton.  The game had been rescheduled from the previous week due to the Saints’ involvement in the FA Youth Cup, so I found myself torn between a visit to the Royal Court to see Maxine Peake in a new play or to St Mary’s to see the young Hornets.  I opted for the latter.

On arrival in the stadium, our lads were warming up and I noted a couple of very young looking boys were taking part.  Jon Marks very kindly informed me that these were U13 players who had been rewarded for hard work with the chance to travel with the U21 team, which was a nice touch.  There were only a handful of Watford fans in the crowd so we all acknowledged each other and I made the acquaintance of a couple of other WML members, which was rather lovely.

This was the youngest U21 team that I have seen this season, with all the outfield players within the age group.  The starting line-up was Gilmartin, Doherty, Savic, Johnson, Young, Byers, O’Nien, Martin, Folivi, Lewis and Mensah.

Folivi waits to take a corner

Folivi waits to take a corner

The game started disastrously for the young Hornets as Djuričić, recently arrived on loan from Benfica, played a through ball to Sinclair who timed his run perfectly so had only the keeper to beat, which he did with a casual dink.  The goal was timed at 70 seconds.  At this point, I was regretting my choice of entertainment for the evening but it soon improved immensely.  Our first chance came from Luke O’Nien who tried to chip the keeper from distance, but the ball cleared the crossbar.  There was a frantic spell around the Southampton box as first Folivi was stopped from shooting, then Mensah’s cross was blocked, finally the ball came out to Martin whose shot was wide of the near post.  Soon after, Martin broke forward and tried to find Mensah in the box, but his pass went behind his team mate.  Mensah then turned provider for Martin but the shot was blocked.  Next Folivi played a high ball to Mensah in the box which he couldn’t control.  At the other end Hesketh found Seager who blazed his shot over the bar.

Celebrating Mensah's goal

Celebrating Mensah’s goal

Johnson played the ball out to Lewis whose cross was blocked and flew out for a corner.  From the set piece, Savic got under the ball and directed his header over the bar.  The dangerous Djuričić broke forward and ran the length of the pitch before passing to Sinclair whose shot was blocked by the feet of Gilmartin.  Mensah tried a looping shot that fooled the keeper who could only put it out for a corner.  Savic, again, got his head to the delivery but Gazzaniga caught it comfortably.  A lovely passing move found Doherty on the left but his cross was cut out.  On the half hour, Hesketh played a through ball to Gape whose shot hit the side netting.  The visitors were level on 34 minutes as Folivi played Mensah in, he beat the defence and finished coolly.  It was no more than the young Hornets deserved as they had been excellent since the goal.  The Saints fans were shouting for a penalty soon after as O’Nien, who was on the ground at the time, appeared to use his arm when clearing the ball but the referee didn’t agree.  Folivi made a good run, but was stopped by a robust challenge on the edge of the box.  Into time added on at the end of the half, Hesketh shot from the edge of the box but Gilmartin was equal to it.  At the other end Byers released Folivi whose shot was straight at Gazzaniga.

So, honours even at half time.  It had been a terrifically entertaining half with a lot of attacking play from the young Hornets and the home side mostly restricted to counter attacks.

An attacking corner

An attacking corner

The second half started in the same manner as the first as Seager broke down the right, his cross was parried by Gilmartin but fell to Djuričić whose first shot was blocked on the line by Jorell Johnson, but the Serb made no mistake with his follow-up.  It was harsh on the Hornets who now had to start again.  They responded well as Young played the ball to Folivi whose cross was just a bit too high for Mensah in the box.  A cross-field pass reached Mensah on the right, he played it back to Martin who showed too much of the ball to the defender and the chance was lost.  Djuričić had the ball in the net again, but the flag was up.  Lewis played a deep cross to Mensah but the young forward headed over the bar.  Martin cut inside to get himself into a great scoring position, but his shot was weak and wide of the near post.  Martin’s next attempt to break was stopped by Gape, who was booked for the offence.  Byers took the free kick which was firmly held by Gazzaniga.  On 67 minutes Young made way for Obi and the Hornets went to three at the back.  Soon after Djuričić made way for Little, much to the relief of the visitors.

Byers and Mensah line up a free kick

Byers and Mensah line up a free kick

With 10 minutes remaining on the clock, the Saints increased their lead as Sinclair broke forward before playing the ball to Hesketh who squared for Sims to slide the ball past Gilmartin.  The scoreline didn’t reflect the balance of play.  Just before full time, Sims appeared to have scored a fourth for the home side but, again, the flag was raised.  Watford grabbed a consolation in time added on as Doherty fed Folivi who shot past Gazzaniga.  The 3-2 final score was a much fairer reflection of a game in which the young Hornets had put in a great performance that was let down only by slow starts to each half.  They should certainly hold their heads high after what was a thoroughly entertaining evening’s football, which was well worth missing the theatre for.

Frustration on the South Coast

Jon and Rene in the media area

Jon and Rene in the media area

A Friday night game in Bournemouth meant that I had to take the morning off work to travel and then spend the afternoon in my hotel room calling into work teleconferences.  All of that ensured that there was no time for a walk on the beach, which was rather sad.  But the pub of choice in Bournemouth was delightful even if the cider was a little strong.

Team news was that there were two changes from the magnificent win over Blackpool with Munari and Watson replacing Paredes and Vydra.  The starting line-up was Gomes, Hoban, Angella, Cathcart, Anya, Tözsér, Watson, Munari, Layun, Deeney and Ighalo.  As we took our place in the stand, I was surprised to see that we were adjacent to the press area and that Jon and Rene were required to commentate on the game while sitting between the banks of home and away fans.

Layun's extensive pre-match prayer

Layun’s extensive pre-match prayer

We’d been looking forward to this game all week, but it went horribly wrong in the first minute when Kermorgant dispossessed Tözsér, played Miller in and Angella took the escaping player down.  The whistle went and the Bournemouth players surrounded the referee who emerged brandishing a red card.  It seemed very harsh, especially as Cathcart was covering.  You have to wonder what the sea air does to referees facing Angella.  Although, at least on this occasion, he wasn’t dismissed for his remarkable resemblance to Fitz Hall!!!  With such an early dismissal, it felt like the game was over already.  Kermorgant took the free-kick himself which deflected off the wall for a corner from which Pugh headed over.  Watford rejigged the defence with Layun and Anya dropping into a back four.  Bournemouth threatened immediately with a curling cross from Ritchie that was palmed away by Gomes.  Then Deeney broke down the other end and played the ball out to Anya who shot wide of the far post.  The lovely Ighalo then indulged in a spell of showboating to cheer up the travelling Hornets.  Bournemouth threatened again as Ritchie cut inside and shot wide.

06 - Ighalo tries to beat FrancisBut Watford also had chances as Ighalo fed Munari who tried a shot from distance which was blocked.  Then Anya floated a high cross into the box that was caught by Boruc.  The home side had a great chance to take the lead in the 24th minute, but Kermorgant’s shot rebounded off the crossbar.  A great run from Deeney was stopped by Cook who only received a yellow card for the offence, which was greeted with anger from the Watford fans.  From Tözsér’s free-kick, the ball broke to Watson who shot just wide.  Soon after, the ball flew into the Watford crowd signalling a Bournemouth throw.  The away fans decided to indulge in a spot of volleyball and showed no sign of giving the ball back, so Ighalo came over and requested that it be returned in such an endearing manner that the ball was immediately thrown back onto the pitch.  With 10 minutes remaining in the half, Wilson was tripped by Cathcart in the box and the referee pointed to the spot.  With the team down to 10 men and working their socks off, a penalty against us seemed just cruel.  Kermorgant made no mistake from the spot to give the home side the lead.  Arter was very lucky not to follow Angella to the dressing rooms as a two-footed tackle on Munari was deemed worthy of only a yellow card.  Bournemouth had another goal chance but Wilson’s header flew wide of the far post.  Watford could have been in further trouble as Gomes parried a cross, but Cathcart was on hand to put it out for a corner that was easily gathered by the keeper.

When the half time whistle went, there were loud boos from the Watford fans targeting the referee for his appalling decision in sending Angella off.

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a corner

Deeney and Ighalo waiting for a corner

At the start of the second half, Munari made way for Pudil, allowing Anya to move to the right and Layun to move up to the midfield.  Bournemouth had a good chance to increase their lead on 50 minutes as a Cathcart clearance fell to Ritchie who shot wide of the target.  At the other end a shot from distance by Tözsér was caught by Boruc.  Bournemouth increased their lead in the 56th minute as Ritchie received the ball on the right of the box and buried it in the far corner.  As much as it pains me to say it, it was a quality goal.  Watford tried to hit back as Ighalo played a through ball for Deeney, but he was tackled before he could shoot.  A lovely Bournemouth move finished with a shot from Francis that Gomes dropped to smother.  It looked as if Bournemouth would increase their lead with a powerful header from Kermorgant that Gomes did brilliantly to push wide.

Tozser and Layun line up a free kick

Tozser and Layun line up a free kick

Jokanovic made his second substitution bringing Vydra on for Ighalo.  I must say that I didn’t see that coming.  Bournemouth threatened again with a low shot from Francis that was gathered by Gomes.  Ritchie tested the Watford keeper again, but Gomes was equal to his shot.  Watford had a rare attack as Vydra played a square ball to Deeney who shot wide of the far post.  Bournemouth’s final attack started with a push on Anya that should have been penalised, but they broke forward resulting in a shot that needed another excellent save from Gomes.  In injury time, Mensah replaced Deeney, presumably for some first team experience.  After the final whistle, the Watford players all came over to thank the Watford fans who had continued to sing in support of their team for the entire 90 minutes.

We went into this game anticipating an exciting top of the table clash.  The sending off in the first minute meant that we will never know whether we could have overcome Bournemouth with eleven men.  With the game being changed to Friday evening for television, it also meant that most fans attending had to take time off work and possibly find accommodation for the night due to the lack of public transport home after the game.  In these circumstances, when a refereeing  decision has such an impact on the outcome of the game, you feel doubly cheated.  Let’s hope that we can take this anger into next week’s game.

Watford’s Youngsters Crush Leeds

The teams take the field

The teams take the field

This evening was my first visit to the Upper GT stand since the commemorative posters were put up.  Each one of them evoked memories that brought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.  But tonight was about the future.  The starting line-up included the permitted three overage players plus an overage goalkeeper and was Gilmartin, Doherty, Savic, Young, Martin, O’Nien, Byers, Murray, Mensah, Ranegie and Fabbrini.  Apparently Savic is a Serbian triallist.  Among the crowd, it was lovely to see David Hughes back to see the youngsters that he used to train.

As the teams emerged from the tunnel the ref decided that they should face the SEJ stand for the respect handshakes.  This benefitted their non-playing team mates and the benches, but meant that they had their backs turned to all the paying punters.

Much amusement after Mensah scored the third

Much amusement after Mensah scored the third

The visitors started brightly but Watford took the lead in the fourth minute.  Luke O’Nien, fresh from his goalscoring exploits for Wealdstone against home town club, Hemel, advanced to the edge of the box and as Don was yelling “Not from there,” belted it into the top corner.  A couple of minutes later Fabbrini went on a great run and passed to O’Nien whose shot from the angle was pushed out by the Leeds keeper, Grimes.  From our viewpoint, the corner appeared to have been headed the other side of the post, but Grimes emerged with the ball that he had retrieved from the net and the lino signalled that Doherty had scored.  It wasn’t all Watford, Leeds had a chance to reduce the deficit when a clearance came back to Stokes but Gilmartin was behind his shot.  Then Phillips got on the end of a cross from Dawson but headed over the target.  Murray played a one-two with Fabbrini, his shot from an angle bounced off the inside of the far post, Skelton’s attempted clearance hit Mensah and flew in to put Watford three goals up after 21 minutes.

O'Nien after scoring his second goal of the night

O’Nien after scoring his second goal of the night

Watford’s fourth came 15 minutes later as Fabbrini released Martin whose cross was met by Ranegie, his shot was blocked but the ball fell to O’Nien who made no mistake for his second goal of the night.  The fifth came soon after as Fabbrini hit a lovely curling shot into the top corner.  The first booking of the evening went to Purver of Leeds for clattering O’Nien, who was proving to be a menace.  In the dying minutes of the half, Leeds tried to strike back as Stokes broke clear and unleashed a shot but it was over the target.  It had been a tremendous half of football by the young Hornets who had hardly let the visitors have a sight of the ball, played some lovely passing football and been clinical in their finishing.

Fair play to the Leeds team, then, for coming out and having a go in the second period.  They had a shot in the first minute of the half, but Parkin’s shot was blocked by Gilmartin.  Booker was the next to have a go, his shot was blocked and fell to Parkin whose strike was easily caught by Gilmartin.

Traillist Savic

Traillist Savic

At the other end, Murray tried a curler from distance but it flew past the far post.  Parkin continued to threaten as a low cross was cut out by Doherty.  A lovely Watford move finished with a low cross/shot from Martin which Grimes pushed around the post.  The second Leeds booking went to Parkin, again for a tackle on O’Nien.  This had been a good spell for Watford, but Leeds were still pressing as a shot from distance from Skelton flew high and wide.  Watford made their first substitution just after the hour mark with triallist Savic, who had a decent game in the centre of defence, making way for Rowan.  Watford’s sixth goal came soon after as Ranegie ran into the box, held off the defender and shot into the roof of the net.  Watford made another change with Lewis coming on for Martin, so Mensah moved to the left.  I take full responsibility for the Leeds consolation as I commented that we might have won this game just before Phillips won a tackle and advanced into the box before playing the ball back to Dawson who beat Gilmartin.  Watford continued to threaten the Leeds goal as Fabbrini passed to Lewis who picked the ball up at the corner flag and did really well to keep it in and beat the defender to get in a low cross, but nobody could apply the finishing touch.

Congratulations for Ranegie after scoring Watford's sixth goal

Congratulations for Ranegie after scoring Watford’s sixth goal

A Murray free-kick into the box reached Ranegie, but he got under the header and it looped over the bar.  At the other end, Phillips had a free header from a cross to the far post but directed it into the side netting.  Watford’s final substitution saw Folivi come on for Fabbrini.  Gilmartin had to drop to save a low shot from Leeds sub Mulhern.  With 10 minutes to go, Watford were down to ten men as Mensah limped off.  O’Nein, who had so often been on the wrong end of Leeds tackles, got his own back and was booked for taking down a Leeds player as he tried to break.  Leeds hadn’t given up and a looping cross was headed goalwards by Mulhern but Gilmartin was there to gather the ball.  Ranegie was booked after complaints from the Leeds players that he had used an elbow.  Mulhern had been a constant danger since he came on, so it was a relief to see his cross/shot tipped over by Gilmartin.  Leeds earned another booking as Phillips was penalised for taking Lewis down as he attempted a break.  In time added on there were chances for both sides as, first, Folivi tried a shot from distance that was easy for Grimes then Mulhern came for a header, but the challenge of Gilmartin ensured that he directed it over the bar.

So, an impressive win for the youngsters but the visitors certainly deserved great credit for not giving up despite being 6-1 down.  Finally, thanks must go to Dave, the steward in the Lower GT disabled enclosure who was beyond helpful in ensuring that we got out of the stadium with the minimum of effort.

Young Hornets Defeat the Baby Robins

Watford starting line-up

Watford starting line-up

Monday evening saw Watford visiting Bristol City for the second preliminary round of the Under-21 Premier League Cup.  Since it was a fairly easy journey down the M4 after work, I decided to make the trip.  The beauty of attending games like this is that you can park right outside the ground and take your pick of the seats, mine being a rather nice padded effort on the half-way line in the “premium” section.  I was paying for my seat but there was some confusion among those in front of me who had complimentary tickets, but were still asked to pay a pound to get in.  The explanation was that this was because it was an FA Cup game.  How odd.

Despite being an U21 competition, the rules state that you are allowed to field up to three overage players and an overage goalkeeper, which meant starts for Gilmartin, Cathcart and Smith.  The only academy scholar to start was Alfie Young.  The City team was a mix of U-18s and U-21s.  Watford’s starting line-up was Gilmartin, Doherty, Hoban, Cathcart, Young, Murray, Smith, Byers, Ikpeazu, Mensah and Jakubiak, which looked very strong on paper.

Mensah and Murray prepare for a free-kick

Mensah and Murray prepare for a free-kick

Watford started well.  Mensah had a shot saved in the early minutes.  He then won a corner which was taken by Murray and met by a flying header from Jakubiak which went wide of the target.  For the home side, a short corner was played to Hall on the edge of the box but he also powered his shot wide.  Morrell beat the Watford defence but shot over the bar.  Ikpeazu dribbled along the top of the box to get into shooting position but his shot was weak and easy for the City keeper.  Doherty intercepted the ball and played it out to Smith who played a chip into the box, but Ikpeazu couldn’t reach it.  The home side had a good chance to take the lead with a free-kick on the edge of the box, but Morrell’s set piece was headed wide by a Watford defender.  At the other end, Cathcart tried to release Mensah, but the through ball was just too heavy.  Jakubiak was the next to threaten, but his shot flew across the goal.

Uche Ikpeazu

Uche Ikpeazu

The home side took the lead on 18 minutes as the Hornets failed to clear a low cross which travelled the width of the box to reach Wynter who knocked it past Gilmartin much to the disappointment of the half dozen Watford fans in attendance.  A cross by Horgan was put out for a corner by Cathcart.  Young lofted a ball into the box but it was gathered by Richards with Ikpeazu closing in.  Morrell tried a curling shot but it was straight at Gilmartin.  Ikpeazu managed to break through the City defence, but mis-controlled allowing Richards to gather.  A free kick from Mensah was hit straight into the keeper’s arms.  Watford had a very good spell of possession but chances were at a premium as every forward run was met by a resolute defender.  On 39 minutes, Watford equalized with a lovely shot from Mensah that he curled just under the crossbar.  The goal was particularly appreciated by Bernard’s girlfriend and her pal who were sitting in front of me.  City could have hit back almost immediately as a dangerous ball was played through to Horgan, Gilmartin came to meet him leaving the goal exposed but, fortunately, the shot drifted wide.  In the dying minutes of the half, Murray played a pass out to Mensah who curled a cross into the box, but it was just too far in front of Ikpeazu for him to shoot.  At the other end the ball fell to Hall in space in the box, but his volley was ambitious and well off target.  The last action of the half was a Watford free-kick in a dangerous position, but Murray’s delivery was disappointing, flying well over the bar.

Byers, Smith and Gilmartin defending a corner

Byers, Smith and Gilmartin defending a corner

Mensah had started the second half limping after being clattered a few times in the first period, so he was soon replaced by Dennon Lewis.  City threatened as Hall crossed and Burns and Horgan leapt to head the ball but it eluded them both.  Doherty played Ikpeazu in, he did really well to beat the defender, but his shot was easy for the keeper.  At the other end, Hall had a shot deflected wide by Cathcart.  From the corner, Vyner headed over the bar.  For the visitors, Connor Smith played a clever back heel to Jakubiak, but the youngster’s shot was saved.  On 70 minutes Cathcart was replaced by Charlie Rowan.  Jakubiak really should have put the visitors in front as he beat the keeper, but the ball bobbled so he found himself with his back to the open goal and tried a back heel that agonizingly rolled wide of the far post.  At the other end, a powerful shot from Morrell flew wide of the near post.  Ikpeazu, who was playing his first game since a long injury lay-off had grown into the game and did well to skip into the box evading a couple of challenges but his shot was blocked by a defender.

A defensive wall

A defensive wall

Ikpeazu then played a through ball to Jakubiak, but the City keeper narrowed the angle so he shot just wide of the target.  In a rare second half attack for the home side, Horgan played the ball through to Hall but Gilmartin was out to block and the flag was up anyway.  Horgan threatened again with a shot that was just wide.  Ikpeazu was crowded out as he went for goal when he probably should have passed to Lewis who was in space.  An injury to Last forced City to make a substitution with Mafuta the replacement.  Watford continued to press for the winner but a Murray free-kick eluded Ikpeazu.  Then Lewis played a cross that was missed by everyone in the box.  City also had a late chance with a corner that was headed over the bar.  The final action of normal time was another Murray free-kick that Ikpeazu failed to connect with.

The goal celebration following the penalty was a blur

The goal celebration following the penalty was a blur

The home side dominated the opening exchanges of extra time as Horgan found Fry who was closed down before he could shoot.  Gilmartin pulled off an excellent save to a shot from distance by Mafuta.  For the Hornets, Ikpeazu broke into the box, beat a defender but overplayed the ball and it rolled through to the keeper.  Substitute Ronan got on the end of a corner but hit his shot wide.  Watford’s final substitution saw Folivi replacing Jakubiak.  Burns was blocked by Doherty on the edge of the box earning the Watford man a yellow card.  Then Gilmartin had to drop to save a low shot from Horgan.  City had a great chance to take the lead early in the second period of extra time as a shot from Morrell cannoned back off the crossbar, the follow-up from Horgan was saved.  But it was Watford who went in front soon after as Ikpeazu was bundled over in the box.  He stepped up to take the penalty himself sending the City keeper the wrong way to break the deadlock.

Connor Smith

Connor Smith

The home side could have broken back almost immediately as Mafuta hit a belter of a shot that Gilmartin did well to keep out.  City made a late substitution replacing Fry with Mattis.  Batten was booked for a foul on Folivi as the Watford man attempted to break.  Watford set up a defensive rearguard for the final minutes, but City were hopeful of taking the game to penalties as Burns went down in the box but the referee was no more convinced than I was of the merits of the penalty shout and the visitors emerged as winners.

We’d made heavy weather of it having the lion’s share of possession without making it count.  Hoban had an impressive game in the centre of defence notable for his encouragement of the younger players.  Mensah’s goal was a peach and Ikpeazu grew from a slow start to really take hold of the game once Mensah went off and he deserved his goal for his perseverance.  All in all, a good evening’s entertainment.

Watching the U21s in Llanelli

Welcome to Llanelli

Welcome to Llanelli

A couple of weeks ago, when I booked my train tickets for the trip to Llanelli, travelling to support our U21s in the cup had seemed like a fun idea.  Yesterday, as I explained to colleagues why I was taking today off, I questioned my sanity.  My arrival in Llanelli didn’t do anything to lift my mood.  Having passed the grandeur of the Liberty Stadium on the train, the area outside Llanelli station looked positively second rate and the walk up and down hills through housing estates made me wonder where I was going to end up.  However, when I finally reached Stebonheath Park, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s a lovely little ground.  I was also happy to see the Watford team coach as confirmation that I was in the right place. As I entered the ground, I saw three other fans

The stand at Stebonheath Park

The stand at Stebonheath Park

walking around the perimeter.  When I caught up with them, I was delighted to see that that one was Robin, a friend from WML, who introduced me to Steve, another WML stalwart, and his friend, Jane, who is a Swansea fan.  As Bernard Mensah is a friend of Robin’s family, I asked if the youngster would be missing out due to his appearance on Saturday and was pleased to be told that he would be playing.  Another pleasant discovery was that the seats in the stand were yellow and red, surely a good omen.

When the team was announced, it was a young group without the permitted overage player.  I believe the oldest in the squad was 19.  The line-up, 1 to 11, was Wilks, Barnum-Bobb, Doherty, Byers, O’Nien (c), Kyprianou, Cumberbatch, Hope, Ikpeazu, Mensah and Martin.  Tom Rosenthal was on the bench, so we were joined in the crowd by Rocket Ronnie.

Pre-match greetings

Pre-match greetings

We had an early scare as Cumberbatch gave the ball away, Bray interchanged passes with Lucas but fortunately his shot went into the side netting.  Soon after, Swansea threatened again as Meade went on a run down the wing where he was stopped by a foul from Doherty.  He took a low free kick, which was diverted over the bar by Ikpeazu.  Then Swansea launched another good break, Sheehan put in a decent cross, but Jones headed it back across goal when it looked easier to score.  On 15 minutes, Watford’s youngsters had their first attack of note as Ikpeazu robbed Shephard, but his cross was cut out.  Swansea were immediately on the offensive as a cross from Donnelly was knocked wide by Bray.  Then Sheehan played a through ball to Bray who found Donnelly in front of goal.

Defending a set piece

Defending a set piece

He looked certain to score, but just tapped the ball towards goal and Wilks gathered safely.  Donnelly turned provider as he fed Jones, but his shot was gathered easily by Wilks.  On 24 minutes, Martin went on a run down the wing and found himself boxed in close to the bye-line with two defenders on him.  Somehow he managed to flick the ball into the box, it reached Ikpeazu, who had his back to goal and was unable to get into a shooting position.  Then Martin lost out to Bray in midfield, he advanced and whipped in a dangerous looking cross which was cut out by O’Nien.  Just before the half hour, a through ball was played to Donnelly running into the box, but Wilks dived at his feet to

Waiting for a goal kick

Waiting for a goal kick

gather the ball before he could shoot.  Soon after, a chance fell to Loveridge who shot just over the bar.  With 8 minutes to half time, Byers gave the ball away to Donnelly, Kyprianou pushed him over to stop the attack and was booked for his trouble.  Jones put the resulting free kick wide of the target.  We had our best chance of the half as the clock reached 45 minutes.  Ikpeazu was through on goal, but was being pulled back, which put him off and his shot went harmlessly into the side netting. So, we reached half-time goalless.  Swansea had had most of the play and the majority of the chances, but our defence had done well, particularly Wilks.  During the interval, we met Alan Cozzi in the tea bar, who confidently predicted a draw with us nicking it on penalties.

Hope on the attack

Hope on the attack

At the start of the second half, Swansea were immediately on the attack and a dangerous cross was headed off the line.  On 50 minutes, O’Nien just failed to cut out a ball to Donnelly whose shot was brilliantly kept out by Wilks.  Then Sheehan broke into the box, but Barnum-Bobb did a great job in dispossessing him and averting the danger.  Next Mensah was on the attack with a run down the left wing, but his shot was across the area and did not test Davies in the Swansea goal.  Watford were having a decent spell of possession and the next attack was a lovely passing move that culminated in a shot from Ikpeazu straight at the keeper.  Loveridge for Swansea then had a shot from distance that went over the bar.  The next incident that went in my notebook was a Swansea player being penalized for a foul on Ikpeazu.  This may not seem worthy of note but, for those that

O'Nien sharing a joke with Mensah

O’Nien sharing a joke with Mensah

haven’t seen Ikpeazu play, he’s a big gangly lad and referees seem to pull him up unfairly, particularly in 50-50 situations.  I think this was the first time I’d seen him win a free-kick.  Just before the hour, a Swansea corner was headed up by Doherty and Wilks had to punch it over.  Soon after, we won a free kick wide on the right, Doherty shot for goal and Davies had to stretch to keep it out.  On 65 minutes, Swansea should have been ahead.  First a shot was cleared off the line by Ikpeazu.  In the follow-up, Donnelly was fouled and the ref pointed to the spot.  Loveridge stepped up to take the penalty.  He hit it to Wilks’s right, but the young keeper dived and kept it out.  The resultant corner was poor and Watford launched a promising counter attack, but a pass through to Martin was short and the chance was gone.  On 69 minutes, Swansea had another corner that was met with a point blank header from Donnelly, but Wilks stood tall and blocked the chance.  Soon after, Ikpeazu was replaced by Rosenthal.  Young Tom’s first contribution of note was to break forward and be taken down by Lucas, who was booked.  On 78 minutes, a quick Swansea attack finished with Donnelly hitting an audacious chip goalwards catching Wilks off his

Rosenthal and Mensah

Rosenthal and Mensah

line.  Fortunately for us, the ball bounced wide.  Then Donnelly broke again but Wilks pulled off a great save to deny him.  On 81 minutes, Bray was replaced by Gorre.  Swansea’s last chance of normal time fell to Loveridge whose cross was easily gathered by Wilks.  Watford pressed for a winner in the last couple of minutes.  First a shot from distance by Hope was kept out by Davies.  Then, the final action of the game when Mensah went on a dangerous run, but his cross was cut out.

Huddle before extra time

Huddle before extra time

Extra time in the Bristol Rovers game had been a worry as the lads all looked out on their feet.  Today, they looked a lot fresher and eager for the extra period, while I congratulated myself on remembering to book a late train home.  In the second minute of extra time, Gorre tried a shot from distance that went well wide.  Then Mensah went on a run and dinked past two players before Shephard took him down and earned a yellow card.  On 102 minutes, Watford hearts were in their mouths as a dangerous ball into our box was almost turned into his own net by O’Nien.  Soon after, the dangerous Donnelly sent a glancing header wide.  Mensah had taken a knock in the first half of extra time and looked likely to be replaced at the break.  He started the second period, but was soon replaced by Bawling, who was named on the teamsheet as Alfred.  Surely Bobson Bawling isn’t actually an Alfred!  O’Nien was then booked for kicking Jones as he ran past.  The only attempt on goal in the second period of extra time was a cross from Sheehan that Donnelly nodded wide.  There was a final substitution as Joseph Jones replaced Meade, but the tie was to finish goalless and go to penalties.

Watford took the first penalty as our captain, Luke O’Nien, stepped up but skyed his kick (0-0).  It was heartbreaking for the lad, who had performed brilliantly during the game.

Blurred celebrations

Blurred celebrations

Gorre took Swansea’s first spot kick, putting it to Wilks’s right as the young keeper went the wrong way (1-0).  Doherty was up next and his shot went in off the crossbar with one of the Swansea crew by pitchside jokingly asking for goalline technology to prove that it had crossed the line (1-1).  Alfei stepped up next and put his penalty to the keeper’s left, just past Wilks’s stretching arm (2-1).  Hope hit a very cool penalty straight down the middle (2-2).  Donnelly hit his penalty to the right of the keeper with Wilks going the wrong way (3-2).  Martin hit a lovely penalty high to Davies’s left (3-3).  Then, with Robin shouting at Dan to go to his right, Loveridge hit a penalty to the keeper’s left and Wilks dropped to save it (3-3).  Byers hit a lovely penalty to the keeper’s left with Davies going the wrong way and we were ahead with only one spot kick remaining (3-4).  Lucas stepped up to take the penalty and the Watford contingent was delighted to see it end up behind the goal.  On the balance of play, that was cruel for the Swansea boys, but the defensive heroics, particularly by the wonderful Dan Wilks, meant the Watford youngsters were through to the final 16.

At the end of the game, we applauded the lads off, although they were soon back out for a warm down.  Bernard Mensah came over to talk to Robin, so I was introduced and the lad gave me a hug and thanked me for coming to support them.  As we walked around the pitch to leave the ground, we were chatting about what an enjoyable game it had been when we saw the Watford players all running in our direction.  I was confused as the tunnel was the other way, then I realized that they were coming over to us and each of them, along with David Hughes and the other coaches, shook our hands and thanked us for being there.  Luke O’Nien apologized for missing the penalty, but said he would step up and take another if necessary, a good leader as well as a great little player.  The lads were all beaming and so was I.

Early this morning, I wondered why I was taking a day off work to travel to Wales for this game.  After an enjoyable afternoon, with good company, watching a competitive game in a lovely little ground and seeing the reaction of the boys at the end, I have to say it was a day well spent.