Tag Archives: Connor Stevens

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.

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.