Tag Archives: Carl Stewart

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!

Beating Burton in the Cup

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

Cathcart, Capoue and Britos

When the draw was made for the third round of the cup, there was a twinge of regret that we hadn’t been drawn away to Burton, as it would have been a new ground.  But a Saturday 3pm kick-off at Vicarage Road made a very pleasant change.  I arrived at the West Herts just before it opened, in time for the guvnor to open the interior door for Don, offer him his usual (tea with milk and two sugars) and have it delivered to the table before I’d ordered my pint.  These celebrities, don’t know they are born.

Team news for this game promised to be interesting.  Would Walter opt to put out an inexperienced team and rest the remaining first team players or would a better performance and (hopefully) a win be worth risking further injuries?  In the event, the only change that wasn’t enforced by injury or illness was the inclusion of Cathcart in place of Prödl (although it is likely that Pantilimon would have made an appearance even if Gomes had been well).  It was very pleasing to see Brandon Mason given a start after his substitute appearance against Spurs.  The starting line-up was Pantilimon; Kaboul, Cathcart, Britos; Kabasele, Capoue, Doucouré, Mason; Sinclair, Ighalo; Deeney.  Former Watford men, Lloyd Dyer and Lee Williamson started for visitors.  It was also great to see Ben Watson back on the Watford bench.

Celebrating Kabasele's goal (and Mason's assist)

Celebrating Kabasele’s goal (and Mason’s assist)

We had opted for a change of scene for this game, swapping our seats in the Rookery for a place in the SEJ stand.  Our seats were low down and right next to the Watford dugout, which was a little distracting while having the extra attraction of a good view of Nigel Clough (for whom I have had a very soft spot for many years).

Watford’s first attack of the game came through Mason who beat a defender on the wing to go on a run and put in a cross which was caught by the Burton keeper, McLaughlin.  Watford’s injury curse continued as, following a clash of heads with Britos, Cathcart was unable to continue and, with only a quarter of an hour on the clock, was replaced by Prödl.  Being close to the dugout, so we got to see first-hand the time taken to prepare the top knot (which isn’t meant as criticism, I find it rather fetching and it was done while he was receiving instructions).  Burton threatened with a cross from Dyer, but it was an easy catch for Pantilimon.  Watford took the lead through a lovely move as Mason played a one-two with Deeney before putting in a terrific cross that Kabasele stabbed home.  I think that the goal calmed a lot of nerves both on and off the pitch.

Deeney waiting for Brayford's throw

Deeney waiting for Brayford’s throw

Watford had a decent chance to increase the lead as Capoue played a through ball to Ighalo who played a quick one-two with Deeney before executing a trademark scoop and shooting just over the bar.  Burton had to make a substitution just after the half hour mark as Ward replaced the injured Miller.  The visitors had a great chance to equalize just before half time as a cross was punched to Ward on the edge of the box but Capoue was on hand to block the shot.  The Frenchman then went on a counter attack ending with a low shot that was saved by McLaughlin.  The first card came at the end of the half with Naylor booked for pulling Ighalo back as he tried to escape.

There was an atmosphere of satisfaction in the home stands at half time.  It was pleasing to have the lead and there had been some good signs, especially going forward.

 

Celebrating Sinclair's solo effort

Celebrating Sinclair’s solo effort

The visitors started the second half well and had the first chance as a Flanagan cross was headed just wide of the target by Varney.  Sinclair had a chance with a shot from inside the area, but it was straight at McLaughlin.  Another Flanagan cross flew across the face of the goal just missing the outstretched boot of Harness.  At the other end, Capoue’s shot from distance flew just wide of the target.  Watford’s second substitution came on the hour as Kaboul was replaced by Brice Dja Djédjé making his first appearance for the Hornets, having been injured since his transfer from Marseille.  There was a long stoppage after Varney went down following a clash with Pantilimon.  It looked nasty as the Burton man was stretchered off wearing an oxygen mask.  I hate to see players carried off, I hope he makes a rapid recovery.  He was replaced by Akins.  Watford were two goals to the good on 77 minutes as Sinclair went on a run at the Burton defence before unleashing a shot that beat the keeper.  The goal was doubly gratifying as it seemed to make the game safe for the Hornets as well as giving an example to some of his team mates just to shoot if you get a sight of goal.  There was a great chance for a third as Capoue played a through ball to Sinclair who found Ighalo running in to the box, he scooped the ball on to his right foot and shot, but it was blocked by the keeper’s legs.

Djédjé takes a throw-in

Djédjé takes a throw-in

Watford had another decent chance as a corner was cleared to Mason, he played a square ball to Djédjé who shot over the target.  Due to the long stoppage for Varney’s injury, there were 8 minutes of time added on, which gave Sinclair a chance to go on another run towards goal but this time McLaughlin was equal to his strike.  There was just time to give youngster Carl Stewart a debut as he replaced Sinclair after what seemed like an age waiting for a break in the game.  He is the 60th player from the Watford Academy to make an appearance for the first team (the third in the past week).

The final whistle went on a very pleasing win for the Hornets as, while Burton had their moments, it had been a comfortable afternoon.  Mason certainly took his chance, with some great runs down the wing and was clearly delighted with his assist.  I hope that we see a lot more of him.  Doucouré had another good game in the midfield and Capoue had his best game for some time.  Sinclair played well and was clearly buoyed by his goal and our first sight of Djédjé was very promising indeed.  After weeks of doom and gloom, it was lovely to have a post-match discussion with so many positives to reflect on.  Next week’s visit by Middlesbrough will be very interesting indeed.

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.

Swans Way

The pre-match line-up

The pre-match line-up

When the draw for the third round of the FA Youth Cup matched us with Swansea, I contemplated the day trip to Llanelli until I found out it was a 7pm kick-off and changed my mind.  But then Steve, our resident South Wales Hornet, came to my rescue with an e-mail offering to transport me from Swansea to Llanelli and back, even though he lives a couple of miles from the ground.  What a Gent!

On my arrival in Swansea, the weather was surprisingly pleasant, but as we set off for Llanelli the forecast rain was just starting to fall and, by the time we arrived, it was persistent with a nasty swirling wind.

Prior to the match, Chris McGuane,  the Academy head,  came and had a chat with us and expressed the hope that it would be better performance than last year when the U21s came away with a win on penalties that owed much to the goalkeeping of Dan Wilks (now with St Mirren).  Steve and I felt like quite the celebrities as the tannoy announcer congratulated us on battling the M25 and M4 to get there (actually, I had a lovely train journey from East Berkshire) and Liam from the media department at WFC came over for a chat and then recognized us on Twitter.

The starting line-up was Ammann, Young (c), Rowan, Stevens, Kyprianou, Makaka, Stewart, Lewis, Martin, Obi and Folivi.  Swansea’s starting line-up was unsurprisingly packed with Welsh surnames.  They even had a Dylan Thomas.  The announcer informed the crowd that Watford were unbeaten in 6 games and that Swansea had won the last 7, so we were in for a competitive game.

Celebrating Obi's goal

Celebrating Obi’s goal

Watford started well.  A lovely cross-field ball from Folivi reached Martin, but he couldn’t control it.  Folivi broke into the box and crossed but it was headed out.  The resultant corner was headed wide by Kyprianou.  Watford took the lead in the seventh minute after persistence by the Watford forwards forced a corner from which Kyprianou’s initial shot was cleared as far as Obi whose shot from the edge of the area took a deflection and flew over Lewis Thomas in the Swansea goal.  Swansea tried to break back immediately as Dylan Thomas broke into the Watford box but was harried by Rowan and Kyprianou who came away with the ball.  Copp tried a shot from distance that was wide of the near post.  Then a Copp free kick was headed goalwards by Fallon, Ammann got a hand to keep it out, but there was a whistle for an infringement.  Swansea threatened again as a shot from Gilchrist flew just over the bar.  The conditions were getting worse and the ball must have been very slippery as a shot from distance from Copp was spilled by Ammann who gathered it at the second attempt.  This had been a good spell from Swansea and the Watford boys were having to resort to some clumsy challenges to stop them, which led to Kyprianou being booked for a foul on Fallon.  The home side were justly furious that the referee pulled play back when Jones had continued the run on goal.

Folivi takes a corner in the driving rain

Folivi takes a corner in the driving rain

On 24 minutes, Swansea won a penalty as Jones was tripped in the box.  He took the spot kick himself, but Ammann guessed the right way and pulled off a great save.  Watford mounted a rare attack but Folivi’s cross bobbled to Obi whose shot was deflected clear.  Swansea were not to be denied for long as Jones broke down the wing and crossed for Fallon to shoot past Ammann.  It has to be said that the home side deserved to be level at this stage.  Swansea’s next chance was a free-kick from Copp that flew over the wall and was easily gathered by Ammann.  Watford were also making chances as Lewis crossed for Obi whose shot was parried.  Martin then played a ball out to Folivi on the left but his cross was too high for Obi.  There had been constant complaints from the Swansea bench about Watford’s fouls on James and, finally, Young was booked for a rather robust tackle.  Obi received a pass from Folivi in the box, but there were two defenders on him and the ball was put out for a corner.  Watford had a good chance to take the lead just before half time as Folivi fed Martin whose shot was blocked on the line.  Instead it was Swansea who took the lead as Jones rode a tackle and beat Young who, being on a card, didn’t risk making a tackle, before slotting the ball past Ammann.

At half time, the weather was absolutely filthy and there was no sign of the Watford substitutes, although warming up would have been a misnomer for a kick-about in those conditions.

Kyprianou and Obi line up to take a free kick

Kyprianou and Obi line up to take a free kick

Watford made a lively start to the second half as Obi exchanged passes with Folivi before hitting a shot that drifted past the far post.  Watford made their first substitution just before the hour mark replacing Kyprianou with Otudeko.  Swansea threatened to increase their lead as a shot from James was parried by Ammann before being cleared.  There was a dangerous looking scramble in the Watford box which required the ball to be hooked off the line twice in quick succession.  From a corner, another Swansea shot had to be cleared off the line by Folivi.  Swansea got their third goal on 69 minutes as a cross found James running in behind the Watford defence where he hit it past Ammann.  It was a lovely goal and really no more than the home side deserved.  Watford tried to break back straight from the restart, but Lewis hit a poor shot wide of the near post.  Then Stevens gave the ball away to James but, thankfully, the Swansea man’s shot was poor.  Watford’s second substitution saw Cook replacing Makaka.  Swansea’s Lewis made a threatening run down the wing, but his cross was cut out by Rowan.  A Swansea corner was cleared as far as James whose shot was over the target.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

Watford tried to cut the deficit as first a shot from Dennon Lewis was blocked and then a Folivi shot from the bye-line was blocked at the near post by keeper Thomas.  Swansea’s first substitution saw Maric replace Lewis.  Watford threatened again as a free-kick from Folivi found Martin whose shot was wide of the target.  Otudeko crossed for Dennon Lewis whose header was repelled, he followed up with a cross which was punched clear.  Swansea made a couple of last minute substitutions replacing Fallon and James, both of whom had given the Watford defence a torrid time all evening, with Dyson and Griffiths.  The Watford youngsters deserve credit for continuing to battle into injury time as first a shot from Otudeko was blocked, then an attempt from Martin was also blocked before the follow-up from Stevens was caught by Thomas.

It was a disappointing exit from the cup for the young Hornets, but Swansea were deserved winners on the night.  The lads looked gutted as they left the field.  I hope that they appreciated the two eejits in yellow applauding them off.  It may have been a cold wet night, but I enjoy watching the youngsters play and was very glad of Steve’s company and his kindness that made it possible.

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.

Goalless at the Stones

The teams enter the field

The teams enter the field

We’ve had a good relationship with Wealdstone in recent years, although I still feel guilty about the way they were treated during the ground share.  But that was in the Petchey years and he also screwed us, so the behaviour was not out of character.  This pre-season game had been billed as a Watford development squad, but Dave Hughes’ squad was to be augmented with a couple of first team players.

Don, Trond and I were in the disabled area, so well placed to see who arrived to occupy the VIP stand (if there is such a thing at Wealdstone) as they had to walk past us.  I was impressed to see Gino Pozzo arrive with Gianluca Nani.  Marco Cesarini was the next to walk past us, so I said hello and he shook my hand and introduced me to his wife and children.  I had failed to notice that he was followed by Beppe and the first team coaches, all of whom shook our hands.  We had become an unofficial welcoming party.

Pre-match handshakes

Pre-match handshakes

The starting line-up was Bond, Young, Doherty, O’Nien, Johnson (c), Brown, Tapoko (trialist), Smith, Jakubiak, Rosenthal and Fabbrini.  Former Watford youngsters Jonathan North and Elliott Godfrey started for Wealdstone.  There was a nice gesture from the excellent tannoy announcer who welcomed Smith and O’Nien back, both having been there on loan in recent seasons.

There was an early scare for the visitors as McGleish came in on the blind side of Johnson but, fortunately for us, his shot was wild and flew over the bar.  The same player threatened again soon after, cutting the ball back to Pigden, but Young was on hand to snuff out the danger.  Fabbrini had already been knocked over a couple of times, with no sympathy from the ref, when, in the 11th minute, he went down with a squeal of pain, holding his head.  He disappeared into the dressing rooms with the physio and we were playing with 10 men for 8 minutes.  Wright had a great chance to put the home side ahead, but his air shot gave the Watford defence time to clear the ball.

Smith and O'Nien

Smith and O’Nien

Watford’s first chance came as Smith got on the end of a low cross from Rosenthal, but his shot was wide of the far post.  Rosenthal was the next with a chance for Watford but his low shot from distance was easy for North to gather.  A forward run by Fabbrini was stopped rather brutally on the edge of the box, but the referee waved play on.  Rosenthal tried another shot from distance, but this time it flew over the bar.  On the half-hour, Mills took a free-kick for the Stones that was heading for the top corner until Bond leapt and turned it over the bar.  Then Collins broke into the box but Johnson was on hand to block the shot.  At the other end, O’Nien took a free-kick that flew just wide of the target.  With 5 minutes of the half remaining, Bond was blocked as he attempted to reach a free-kick, which fell to McGleish who shot over the bar.  Wealdstone continued to look for the opening goal as an excellent long pass reached Wright who cut it back to Okimo whose shot was repelled by a diving header from O’Nien, McGleish’s follow-up needed a smart save from Bond to keep the game goalless.  The last chance of the half fell to Rosenthal who, again, saw a shot from distance fly over the bar.  As the teams left the field Johnson and Bond were arguing with the referee.  The lino had missed some calls and the ref had been a little harsh on Fabbrini (yes, really), but I hadn’t seen anything that justified the apparent level of their complaint.  Certainly, Wealdstone had been the better of the teams in the first half.

Bond ready for anything

Bond ready for anything

The first chance of the second half went Watford’s way, but Fabbrini’s shot from distance was soft and didn’t trouble North in the Wealdstone goal.  We held our breath as Collins was tripped in the box, but the referee had been reluctant to blow up for fouls, which was to our advantage on this occasion as he waved play on.  On the hour, a Wealdstone corner was met with a header that flew over the bar.  Then Fabbrini broke through and was tripped, the ball broke to Jakubiak in the box but he couldn’t quite control it so his first shot rebounded off North, his second attempt beat the keeper but was cleared before it reached the goal.  Soon after, a free-kick from Doherty just cleared the crossbar.  That was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Mahlondo Martin.  Jakubiak found space in the box but could only shoot wide of the near post.

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

Fabbrini was fouled yet again with nothing given by the officials.  I thought it was my yellow-tinted spectacles that provoked my sympathy until the Wealdstone fan behind us commented on the unfairness of the decisions.  At this stage Fabbrini was replaced by Folivi and, as he immediately walked to the dressing room, was followed by Sannino walking through the stand the two of them having a lively conversation.  On 72 minutes, Carl Stewart replaced Smith.  Jakubiak went on a great run and unleashed a shot, but North was equal to it.  The final Watford substitution saw Dennon Lewis replacing Tapoko, the trialist, who had a decent game in the midfield.  Martin had a good shot saved by Carter, who had replaced North in the Wealdstone goal.

Young defending

Young defending

With 10 minutes remaining, Lewis latched onto a ball over the top and passed back to Jakubiak who had a great chance to win the game, but shot just wide.  The final action of the game was a free-kick from O’Nien which was just over the bar, so the game ended goalless.  It had been a lively contest and Watford definitely had the best of the second half with Jakubiak a constant menace to the Wealdstone defence.

Despite the lack of goals, it had been a lovely evening to watch football and I was impressed to see Gino Pozzo in attendance, as well as Nani, Sannino and all the coaches, supporting the Development Squad.

Bowing out of the Youth Cup

The teams emerge

The teams emerge

Another day, another match.  After our trip to Yeovil, we were back at the Vic to see the U18s take on Liverpool in the 5th round of the FA Youth Cup.  I was pleased to see that the club had again produced a programme which included player profiles and photos from the previous round.  The players also emerged from the tunnel to Z-cars, so they were exposed to the ‘big match’ experience, which I think is important.

The starting line-up for Watford was Dan Wilks, Jazzi Barnum-Bobb, Josh Doherty, George Byers, Jorell Johnson (c), Alfie Young, Kurtis Cumberbatch, Ryan Hope, Alex Jakubiak, Tom Rosenthal and Mahlondo Martin.  The Liverpool team was Ryan Fulton, Connor Randall (c), Joe Maguire, Jordan Williams, Lloyd Jones, Jordan Rossiter, Harry Wilson, Cameron Brannagan, Ryan Kent, David Trickett-Smith and Sheyi Ojo.  Prior to the game, the steward in the disabled area told us that the Liverpool team had cost £35M with one player costing £6M on his own.  I hear something similar every time we face Premier League opposition at this level and it serves to emphasize the gulf that exists between clubs even in the Academies.

Jorell Johnson clears

Jorell Johnson clears

Liverpool started the game brightly and created an early chance as Brannagan broke on the right wing and crossed for Trickett-Smith whose header was straight at Wilks.  Watford also provided an early test for the opposition keeper as, from a corner, there was a header down to Rosenthal whose shot was blocked but Jakubiak latched on to the ball skipped around the defender and unleashed a shot that Fulton had to drop smartly to push around the post.  A ball over the top for Liverpool found Kent offside in the area.  Then Rossiter shot wide from the edge of the box.  As I was sitting in the disabled area in the Lower Rous and only the Upper Rous was open, I had no idea how many fans were in attendance, but it was great to hear the 1881, complete with drum, singing their

Liverpool line up a free kick

Liverpool line up a free kick

hearts out just above me.  Liverpool won a free kick on the edge of the Watford box as Kent was tripped.  There was a lot of jostling in the wall as Trickett-Smith seemed to be doing jumping jacks in front of the Watford defenders.  In the event, the free kick was hit low and Wilks got down to save it.  In the next Liverpool attack, Johnson was on hand to head a cross from Maguire clear.  Wilson then tried a shot from the right, but Wilks was equal to it.  Watford had struggled to get out of their own half, so it was great to see Rosenthal go on a run down the left skipping around a couple of tackles but his cross was wasted as there was no Watford player in the Liverpool box.  One of the joys of being at games like this is that you can hear some of the exchanges on the pitch.  At this point we were treated to the ref telling one of the young reds, “I suggest you stand up and shut up.”  If only this were still possible with their senior colleagues, the behaviour on the pitch would be so much better.  Liverpool were soon on the attack again through Ojo who cut the ball back but it bounced off Brannagan and out of play.  For the home side a lovely cross found Cumberbatch marginally off-side.  Just before the half hour, Liverpool had the best chance of the game so far as Maguire broke into the box and cut the ball back to Brannagan whose

Alfie Young and George Byers

Alfie Young and George Byers

shot required a good save from Wilks to keep the game scoreless.  A lovely Watford move saw Byers and Rosenthal combine to play Jakubiak in, but the pass was just too far in front of the forward and Fulton got to it first.  Then Kent beat Barnum-Bobb to get in a shot that was headed clear by Johnson.  Trickett-Smith met the corner with a header that hit the side-netting to the relief of the Watford faithful.  At the other end, Rosenthal played a great ball to release Jakubiak but again Fulton came out and gathered it just on the edge of his area.  Liverpool continued to attack the Watford goal.  First Kent had a shot that curled wide.  Then Wilks spilled a cross from Ojo but Doherty was on hand to clear.  Maguire broke again and played in Kent who turned and fed Trickett-Smith whose shot dropped straight into the Wilks’ arms.  Liverpool finally made the breakthrough on 40 minutes as Randall reached the bye-line and cut the ball back to Trickett-Smith who swept it past Wilks.  The Watford defence had done well in frustrating the visitors, but the goal had been coming.  Doherty was the first player to be cautioned.  It seemed a bit harsh from my vantage point as it looked as though Randall had run into him.  The last action of the half was another low free-kick by Liverpool, but Wilks gathered it easily.

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

Before the start of the second half, Jakubiak was out early for an extra warm-up.  Liverpool’s first attack of the second period saw Maguire cutting the ball back in the box, but Doherty was on hand to kick it into row Z.  Six minutes into the half, Watford made their first substitution with Kurtis Cumberbatch making way for Dennon Lewis.  The substitute was immediately involved, playing a through ball to Jakubiak who was sadly offside.  For the visitors, Wilson tried a shot from distance that Wilks gathered at the second attempt.  Then Byers released Jakubiak who beat a defender to get in a shot that was deflected for a corner.  Watford’s second substitution was Carl Stewart for Ryan Hope.  On

The defence standing strong

The defence standing strong

the hour, Wilks did well to deny Trickett-Smith, sticking a leg out to block his shot, the forward hit a follow-up that was cleared.  Trickett-Smith then turned provider, finding Wilson on the edge of the box who juggled the ball before shooting well over.  A ball from Young released Jakubiak who cut the ball back to Rosenthal but his shot was wide of the near post.  On 72 minutes, Bobson Bawling replaced Tom Rosenthal.  Liverpool’s first substitution saw Ryan Kent replaced by Jerome Sinclair.  With 10 minutes to go, Liverpool scored a second as Trickett-Smith found Randall on the right, he cut the ball back to Wilson who shot past Wilks in the Watford goal.  The game became a bit scrappy as the players tired.  Young stopped Ojo escaping by pulling him over and was lucky to escape a caution.  Barnum-Bobb did earn a booking for taking Maguire down.  Liverpool’s final substitution was Trickett-Smith for Pedro Chirivella.   In the last five minutes of normal time, Rossiter made a late, high tackle on George Byers which earned him a deserved booking. 

Preparing to defend a free-kick

Preparing to defend a free-kick

After treatment, Byers tried to limp off while supported on both sides but couldn’t put any weight on his right foot so another coach came on to help carry him off.  It looked a nasty injury so I was happy to hear today that he was just badly bruised.  Having already used all of our substitutes, we finished the game with 10 men.  In the last minute of normal time Brannagan outpaced the Watford defence, although he looked offside to me, and, with Johnson closing in, he shot over the bar.  The lino indicated a corner, but I didn’t think the defender got a touch.  There were 4 minutes of time added on.  Wilson released Sinclair who was denied by Wilks diving at his feet, but the ball broke and Sinclair poked it goalwards but, thankfully, it rolled wide.  Wilks was the hero again as he stuck out a leg to block another shot from Sinclair.  The final action of the game saw Rossiter poke the ball wide from distance.

Dan Wilks

Dan Wilks

Sadly, this ended the U18s involvement in the youth cup.  Liverpool had dominated the game and were worthy winners, but the Watford lads had played well and worked their socks off and should be very proud of their efforts.  Watford captain, Jorell Johnson, looked gutted at the end, but the lads received enthusiastic applause and encouragement from the 1923 in attendance who will have gone home impressed with the next generation of Watford players.