Tag Archives: Charlie Rowan

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!

Mazzarri Braves the Wilds of Woking

Troy and Don discussing pre-season

Troy and Don discussing pre-season

I know that a lot of people have no interest in pre-season friendlies, but I love them.  It is a chance to catch up with old friends, get familiar with current players’ new hair styles and have a first look at any new players.  It is also a chance to watch your team in a game when the result doesn’t really matter, so you can just enjoy yourself.

When I checked Woking FC’s website for directions to the ground, I was a little perturbed to see a statement in bold text stating that, for personal safety reasons, they recommended that ‘unaccompanied women and children’ did not attempt the 15 minute walk from the railway station to the ground but took a taxi instead.  I pondered the danger while remembering walks back to hotels in Burnley and Doncaster after evening games and decided that I would take my chances in Woking.

I am pleased to say that my walk through leafy Surrey passed without incident and, on arrival at the ground, I heard my name called and turned to see Dee and Mike who had just arrived.  When we passed through the turnstiles we spotted Don, Trond and Gavin and all was right with the World.  Prior to kick-off, Don and co. were joined by Troy Deeney who Don quizzed about the pre-season tour.  Troy was not playing because of a knock but said he’d done three training sessions that day.  As always, he was very willing to chat and pose for photos.  One guy asked if he was going to stay.  “I’ve just signed a new contract, what more can I do?”

Poke saving from Britos

Poke saving from Britos

Before the teams were announced, I wondered how many players I would recognize, but the starting line-up contained no newcomers and no new hair styles as Gomes, Nyom, Britos, Hoban, Anya, Capoue, Suarez, Berghuis, Amrabat, Ighalo and Vydra, lined up in a 3-5-2 formation.

We were stationed in the large stand behind the goal that Watford attacked in the first half and, after a quiet start to the game, there was suddenly a flurry of activity in front of us as Britos twice met Berghuis corners with headers, the first of which was cleared off the line, the second saved by the Woking keeper, Poke.  Suarez then tested the keeper with a volley from distance which required a decent save to deny the Spaniard.  Ighalo was the next to threaten from a corner, but I watch goalbound headers from Ighalo more in hope than expectation, so was not surprised to see Poke make the save.

Congratulating Berghuis on his goal

Congratulating Berghuis on his goal

The Hornets took the lead on 20 minutes as Anya cut the ball back to Berghuis whose shot took a deflection and ended up in the back of the net off the gloves of Poke.  It had been all Watford to this point so it was slightly irritating when the home side equalized soon after.  They won a free kick in a dangerous position, Gomes got his hand to the initial shot, but the loose ball was turned in.  I must admit that, at the time, I was rather distracted by the beautiful Red Kite that was soaring over the field, I hope that the same was not the case with the Watford defence.  The visitors had an excellent chance to regain the lead as Ighalo played a one-two with Capoue but his shot was well over the target.  The pitch had been cutting up rather badly so we were then treated to the sight of Capoue on groundsman duty, replacing the divots.  Les Simmons would have been impressed.  Ighalo tried to meet a Berghuis cross with a spectacular shot and missed completely.  In the last minute of the half, Woking had another free kick in a dangerous position but, with no Kite to help, it missed the target.

Suarez, Hoban and Britos

Suarez, Hoban and Britos

The start of the second half saw six substitutions with Arlauskis, Guedioura, Watson and Oularé coming on and a first chance to see Doucouré and Sinclair in Watford shirts.  Sinclair made a lively start as he turned in the box and forced a save before heading a cross from Anya over the bar.  Then Doucouré had a chance with a shot from distance.  Mazzarri made further substitutions during the half with Holebas coming on for Amrabat and Hoban replaced by Success.  The enthusiasm to see the young Nigerian play was slightly tempered by the fact that he was wearing Lloydy’s no 12 shirt (sob!)  Arlauskis was called into action to deal with a cracking shot from Kretzschmar that he parried with both hands.  An assured save that was in contrast to much of his performance.  His tendency to come charging out of goal to intercept balls that the defence is already dealing with was not doing my delicate nerves a lot of good.  Late in the game Britos made a great saving tackle that prevented a goal opportunity for the home side.  Soon after, the final substitution saw the Uruguayan replaced by Charlie Rowan.  The last action of the game was a weak shot from Thorburn that was easily saved by Arlauskis and the game ended in a draw.

Oulare and Doucoure

Oulare and Doucoure

It had been a game of two halves.  The first had been very enjoyable with Watford peppering the Woking goal and being frustrated by a combination of a decent performance from Poke and the 11 men lined up to stop them.  It was a shame that we didn’t make more of the chances, but it was a good run out.  In contrast, the second half was scrappy featuring a number of players who had only met the previous Monday and it showed.  Of the new players, Sinclair looked lively and fashioned a couple of chances.  Doucouré also showed up well, although a few times when he appeared to have an opportunity to shoot, he passed to Success instead.  The Nigerian was given less time to impress and, given that the overall performance was somewhat chaotic when he came on, it was difficult to form an impression.  It was lovely to see Tommy Hoban back in action.  Ighalo and Vydra were both in frustrating mode, although Ighalo had the better of the chances that were created.

As we left the ground, the players who had played in the first half were milling around the car park.  It was a chance for photos with a group who were all on good form.  Ighalo was in a particularly good mood, although his footwear was decidedly dodgy particularly as it was in Luton colours.  After a while, the second half team emerged to get on the team bus.  Last to emerge was Mazzarri, who I was surprised to see surrounded by stewards although a “Welcome to Watford” was greeted with a smile and “Thank-you,” which was repeated by the man that was identified as his translator, just in case I hadn’t understood the first time.

And so the build up to the new season starts.  Who knows what joys and sorrows we have to come, but I am really looking forward to finding out.

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.

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.

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.

Stone the Crows

Garden Walk

Garden Walk

In the Herts Senior Cup there is an expectation of nice local (to Watford) fixtures but drawing Royston meant a journey to the opposite end of the county.  I work 30 miles from Watford, so it was a bit of a shock to the system when, after picking Don up, I entered Garden Walk into my sat nav to be told that I still had another 35 miles to go.

Having called Royston Town and been assured that there was a disabled parking space available (and hoping it hadn’t been nabbed by someone else), I pulled up to the gates at Garden Walk and knocked.  I was greeted by a quizzical look from the steward who then kindly directed me to a parking space right by the club house.  His only request was that I leave a space next to me.  When I looked, I saw that the disabled space was next to the President’s, so the space was duly left.

The 'respect' handshakes

The ‘respect’ handshakes

When we arrived, the players were warming up and, while queuing at the tea bar, I turned to see a yellow-shirted player returning to the dressing room.  I did a double take when I realized it was Diego Fabbrini.  Now these foreign players are all very well, but how will they do on a cold Tuesday night in Royston?  We were about to find out.

The starting line-up was a nice mixture of youth and experience:  Gilmartin, Kyprianou, Doherty, Smith, Rowan, Hoban, Fabbrini, Byers, Lewis, Murray and Martin.

There was an early scare for the Hornets as Gilmartin came to catch a free-kick, was impeded and dropped the ball which was, thankfully, cleared off the line.  Watford immediately launched a counter attack which finished with Fabbrini tumbling in the box.  I couldn’t help laughing, but Diego soon redeemed himself.  His next action was to cut the ball back for Byers to shoot, but the Royston keeper, Ron Yates (yes, really), saved.  Byers broke into the box again passing to Lewis whose shot was parried to safety.  It wasn’t all Watford as a cross from Watters was headed out for a corner.  Lewis got on the end of a cross from Murray heading it goalwards but, again, Yates was equal to it.  Lewis then turned provider cutting the ball back for Smith to shoot but the shot was blocked.

Watford defend a corner

Watford defend a corner

Royston won a corner and Gilmartin had to stretch to push the ball clear.  Then a ball was played over the top to Fehmi who shot wide of the near post.  A cross field ball released Fabbrini, but he couldn’t find room for a shot.  Royston took the lead in the 18th minute as a cross from Bradshaw was headed home by Fehmi.  This provoked chants of “Championship, you’re having a laugh” from the home fans.  Watford tried to hit back immediately but Lewis failed to connect with a decent cross from Smith.  The equalizer came on 26 minutes as Martin did well to keep the ball in on the left touchline, he released Lewis who beat his marker for pace before crossing to Fabbrini who, with his back to goal, found time to turn and bury the ball past Yates.  Two minutes later, the Hornets were ahead as Fabbrini hit a lovely shot from the edge of the area.  Royston had a couple of chances to break back as Fehmi tried a shot from distance that hit the side netting, then Bradshaw put a shot well over the bar.

Fabbrini congratulated after scoring

Fabbrini congratulated after scoring

Lewis connected with a Byers free-kick, but his header was weak and straight at Yates.  Watford had a great chance to increase the lead but the Royston defence was resolute in blocking shots from Lewis and Martin before Murray’s shot was put out for a corner.  The visitors continued to threaten as Lewis broke forward with Fabbrini in close attendance but the attempted through ball was cut out.  So the visitors reached half time a goal to the good.  It had been an enjoyable first half with some lovely football from the Watford team, all of whom were working hard on a very heavy pitch.

At half time, there was an eerie atmosphere in the ground as the entire crowd (apart from Don and I) disappeared into the clubhouse and there was no music was playing over the tannoy.  Heaven knows why we decided to stay outside as it was bitterly cold.  But I feared that, if I ventured inside, I wouldn’t want to return for the second half.

Royston's turn to defend

Royston’s turn to defend

Royston had the first chance of the second period as substitute, Ingrey, shot over the bar.  Normal service resumed as Murray broke forward and fed Fabbrini whose shot was blocked.  Murray then launched a cross which flew over the head of the leaping Lewis.  For the home side a free kick from Fehmi was headed clear by Hoban.  A cross by Lewis to the far post was hooked clear.  On the hour, Folivi replaced Murray for the Hornets and Lockett came on for Watters for the Crows.  The indefatigable Fabbrini went on another run before passing to Martin whose shot was blocked.  Folivi played a short corner to Smith who returned the ball and Folivi hit a lovely shot that required a terrific save from Yates to keep it out.  A follow-up shot from Rowan was deflected over the bar.  It wasn’t all Watford as a cross from Dobson was hit goalwards by Ingrey but blocked.  Then Lewis fed Folivi whose shot was blocked.  With 15 minutes remaining, Stevens, who had replaced Kyprianou for the Hornets five minutes earlier, was booked for a foul on Dobson.  Bradshaw hit a hopeful shot straight into Gilmartin’s arms.  There was danger for the Hornets as Dobson broke into the box and unleashed a great strike that Gilmartin pushed over the bar.

Nothing will pass Fabbrini and Murray

Nothing will pass Fabbrini and Murray

At the other end, Fabbrini and Martin combined to feed Folivi whose shot was blocked.  With 5 minutes remaining, Martin pulled Dobson down just outside the box.  Fabbrini did an effective job as the only man in the wall, “intimidating” Dobson into curling the free kick wide of the far post.  Endacott fell under a challenge in the Watford box, his claims for a penalty were given short shrift by the referee who may have been lynched if he took the game to extra time.  Watford continued to press with a Martin run into the box where he played a square ball to Fabbrini who shot wide of the target.  Diego wasn’t to get his hat trick, but he did have a hand in the third goal, exchanging passes with Folivi who shot past Yates to seal the win in the last minute of the game.

Too often in these games, we have fielded an Under 18 team which has been beaten by the physical strength of the men fielded by the opposition.  The team fielded last night was a nice mix of youth and experience that continued to play lovely passing football in difficult conditions.  Royston certainly had their chances, but the Hornets were worthy winners and Fabbrini was a revelation on a cold night in Royston.

As Don and I came off the A1M a car came up beside us at the lights on the roundabout and sped off on green.  I noted that it had an Italian number plate.  When I caught up at the next set of lights, I glanced over to see Fabbrini in the driving seat of the least flash footballer’s car that I have seen since Jay DeMerit had that old mini.  Not for the first time that evening, my opinion of Diego went up a notch.

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.