Tag Archives: Michael Folivi

Wimbledon Prevail at Kingsmeadow

Neal Ardley and Marco Silva make their way to the dugouts

In contrast to the warmth and bright sunshine that we enjoyed during the Woking game, I arrived in Kingston to cool temperatures and drizzle for the short walk to Kingsmeadow.  A number of the City ‘Orns had been put off meeting at the ground due to the advertised beer festival for which the tickets were advertised at £17.  In fact, all of the bars at the ground were open and, if you wanted the odd drink at the beer festival, there were tokens available, so I was able to avail myself of a lovely pint (or two) of Rosie’s Pig.  I had forgotten about the German theme of our last visit and, in particular, the oompah band, until the men (and one woman) in lederhosen appeared and struck up.  To be fair, there wasn’t a lot of oompah going on and I enjoyed the entertainment.  The German theme continued with the offerings at the burger van.  Miles Jacobson (fresh from a trip to Japan, the sole purpose of which seemed to be to import sake kit-kats) recommended the krakuer, a wurst infused with cheese, which is as good and as bad as it sounds.

Preliminary team news had focussed on the players who were out through injury and the fact that we were unlikely to see many of the new signings.  Sure enough, the starting line-up was Gomes; Janmaat, Prödl, Britos, Holebas; Watson, Doucouré; Success, Capoue, Berghuis; Okaka.

We took up a position on the terraces quite close to the dugouts.  When Marco Silva appeared, he was given a very enthusiastic reception from the Watford fans.  It was gratifying to see that Neal Ardley was greeted in an equally warm manner.

Proedl on the ball

Watford had an early chance as Doucouré went on a run before finding Capoue whose chip cleared the crossbar.  Then there was an early display of petulance from Holebas as he failed to keep a ball in play.  It was oddly endearing and indicated that we were back.  Jose was then serenaded with Colin and Flo’s song “He always wins the ball, he never smiles at all.”  I’m sure he loved that.  Especially when it was followed by “Jose, give us a smile.”  Back to the football, Wimbledon were on the attack, but Barcham’s shot cleared the crossbar.  The home side very nearly made the breakthrough as, from a Francomb corner, a glancing header from Taylor rebounded off the post.  Down the other end a cross reached Doucouré at an awkward angle so he could only head it away from goal.  There was a better opportunity as a Holebas free kick was cleared to Capoue who lashed it wide. Then Britos met a Watson corner with a decent header that was blocked by the Dons keeper, Long.  Watford should have opened the scoring from a lovely free kick by Holebas, but Long pushed it clear, so we reached half time goalless.

Watford made three substitutions at the break with Janmaat, Britos and Success making way for Dja Djédjé, Kabasele and Amrabat.

Challenging at a corner

Those who were late leaving the bar after half time (no names mentioned) returned completely oblivious to the fact that Wimbledon had scored two goals in the first five minutes of the half.  The first came as a cross from Taylor was turned in by McDonald.  The second came after a mistake in midfield allowed Barcham to escape and cross for McDonald to score his second.  Watford hit back as Holebas crossed for the ever reliable Watson, who beat the Dons keeper.  Watford then had a great chance for an equalizer as Berghuis played the ball back to Capoue who shot just wide of the target.  On the hour, Silva substituted the goalkeeper as Gomes made way for Bachmann.  The goal action continued at the Wimbledon end as a close range shot from Amrabat was blocked, it fell to Okaka who, under a challenge, was unable to bundle it in.  Then Amrabat played a through ball to Dja Djédjé who crossed for Watson whose shot was blocked, as was the follow-up from Capoue who immediately appealed for handball, but the referee was having none of it.  There was a great chance for an equalizer as a throw from Holebas was headed on by Okaka to Berghuis but the header was just wide of the target.  The Dutchman was not to be denied, though and, with 13 minutes remaining, he met a cross from Dja Djédjé with a pin-point header to level the score.

Daniel Bachmann

Capoue should have put the visitors in the lead as Amrabat found Dja Djédjé on the overlap again, he crossed for Capoue who appeared to kick the ground so failed to test the keeper.  Wimbledon then tried a shot from an angle, but Bachmann was able to push it over the bar.  Watford had a golden chance as Doucouré found Capoue with a lovely pass but, with the goal at his mercy, the Frenchman hit his shot straight at the keeper.  Soon after, Etienne made way for Folivi.  The home side had a great chance to snatch the winner as Appiah found himself one on one with Bachmann, but the keeper prevailed  Sadly, the home side were not to be denied, Watford failed to clear a cross, Antwi’s shot was blocked only for the ball to fall to Egan who hit a low shot past Bachmann to secure the victory.  There was only time for 16 year-old Lewis Gordon to replace Berghuis for the Hornets before the final whistle went.  I heard some boos in the away stand …. at the end of our first pre-season game.  As so often, I ask myself, who are these people?

Okaka and Doucoure after the goal from Berghuis

The post match conclusion was that it had been an entertaining game that had raised a number of questions.  Ben Watson didn’t put a foot wrong but, with the influx of midfielders, would he be on his way or is there still a place for his presence as a defensive midfielder.  The hope from our party was that there is.  Capoue was his usual mixture of brilliance and frustration, if only the former can outweigh the latter, we will all be happy.  But the main topics of discussion were the full backs and the strikers.  We have made a number of impressive signings in this transfer window, but we still need bolstering in those departments.  The discussion of possible strikers to bring in seemed rather hopeful and I dreamed of a young Blissett lurking in the wings.  No doubt the Pozzos will bring in somebody that I have never heard of and let us hope that it is someone who can make a sustained contribution.

I’m unable to make the trip to Austria for the games there, so my next opportunity to see the Hornets will be the trip to Villa.  It will be very interesting to see what changes have been made to the line-up by then.

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!

A Spirited Performance Spoiled by Defensive Lapses

The teams emerge from the tunnel in Stoke

The teams emerge from the tunnel in Stoke

Memories of the recent dreadful performance at Vicarage Road against the Potters and the capitulation to Spurs on Sunday meant that I set off on my journey to Stoke with no hope of any pleasure to be gained from the evening’s entertainment.  But the afternoon started rather well, as I unexpectedly encountered a friend at Euston so we spent a very pleasant journey chatting about our various activities over the Christmas period.

The designated pre-match pub (for the two of us) had signs on the doors indicating that it was home fans only.  However, a previous visit had shown that they did not enforce this terribly strictly.  This was very pleasing as the real ale, the food and the atmosphere were all first class and it was no surprise that it was soon populated with familiar faces from our travels.  We decided to take the bus to the ground which, due to traffic, seemed to be within touching distance of the stadium lights for quite some time before we were dropped off.  Once in the ground, I donned my Watford regalia (scarf, shirt and socks) and was wrapped up warm at a stadium notorious for being cold at the best of times.  The pre-match flag wavers around the ground were not kitted out in Stoke uniforms, but appeared to be a random selection of local children in colourful coats and bobble hats which was rather nice.

Kabasele and Kaboul

Kabasele and Kaboul

Team news was that Mazzarri had made three changes from Sunday with Cathcart and Ighalo replaced by Britos and Kabasele, and Behrami, who was rumoured still to be carrying an injury, taking the place of the (presumably more severely) injured Amrabat.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Kabasele, Britos; Doucouré, Guedioura, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Deeney.  The chants in the concourse prior to the game were all about parking the bus.  Whatever the tactics, we needed to see a far more committed performance than on Sunday.

The news that Behrami was starting, injured or not, had me punching the air and that reaction was justified as soon as he took the pitch as he was immediately organizing and harrying the players.  We really miss him when he is not there.  But the first chance of the game fell to Stoke as Crouch headed wide after a corner.  Watford’s first shot came from a Guedioura free kick that was repelled to Holebas who, unfortunately, launched his effort over the bar.  The home side were almost gifted a goal due to a misunderstanding between Behrami and Prödl, who went for the same ball then left it for each other allowing Allen to sneak in and feed Arnautovic who went on a dangerous run into the area where he was stopped by a great tackle from Britos.

Capoue and Guedioura line up a free kick

Capoue and Guedioura line up a free kick

The first card of the game went to Diouf who stopped a break from Holebas by pulling him to the ground.  A great header from Kabasele reached Prödl who battled his way into the box, but his shot flew harmlessly across the front of the goal.  There were loud appeals from the away stand for a penalty as a cross from Kabasele appeared to be handled in the box, but the referee waved play on.  There was a scary moment for the Hornets as a header from Crouch was parried by Gomes and ricocheted off Behrami back in the direction of the goal before it was finally cleared.  At the other end, there was a gilt-edged opportunity for the visitors as a lovely through ball from Holebas reached Doucouré in space but, instead of going for goal, he hesitated before cutting the ball back to Guedioura and the chance was lost.  I was becoming increasingly frustrated at this point as the lads seemed to be determined to score the perfect goal when taking a shot would at least give us a chance of scoring.  With four minutes to go to half time Behrami, who had been limping for a while, went down in need of treatment.  On a number of occasions this season, it has taken far too long for the substitute to get ready to replace an injured player.  In this instance, Ighalo was stripped and ready on the touchline before Behrami had left the field, only for Valon to turn around and come back on leaving Odion to return to the bench.  Just as it appeared that the game would reach half-time goalless, the Watford defence fell asleep at a corner and Shawcross was given the freedom of the area to finish past Gomes.  It was almost the last kick of the half as the whistle went straight after the restart.  I braced myself for the crowd’s reaction to this setback and was very pleased that as the players walked towards the tunnel, which was in the corner in front of us, they were greeted by loud, encouraging applause and chants of “Watford FC.”

Guedioura 'assisting' Holebas at a corner

Guedioura ‘assisting’ Holebas at a corner

The goal felt like a real kick in the teeth after a very even half in which my major criticism of the team was that they were reluctant to shoot when getting a sight of the goal.  With all the injury woes, the players didn’t deserve that.

As expected, Ighalo replaced Behrami at the start of the second half which began brilliantly for the visitors as Doucouré unleashed a terrific curling shot that Grant did really well to keep out of the net.  Sadly, Watford were two goals down a couple of minutes later as a routine cross into the box was inexplicably missed by Prödl and Crouch, lurking behind him, had an easy finish.  The crowd’s frustration started to build in the away end.  Their ire was particularly provoked by the corner routine that consisted of a second player standing just in from the touchline, but playing no role in the delivery which was launched straight into the box.  I can only assume that the tactic was designed to draw defenders out of the box, but the single defender standing just outside the box didn’t seem to create any advantage that would outweigh the presence of another Watford head to meet the corner.

Folivi joins his team mates waiting for a corner

Folivi joins his team mates waiting for a corner

In contrast to the reaction on Sunday after conceding, Watford heads did not go down and they were making every effort to pull a goal back.  From a free kick, Capoue played a short ball to Guedioura whose powerful shot was blocked.  Then Kaboul played a through ball to Deeney who crossed for Ighalo, but the Nigerian’s shot was into a group of Stoke defenders.  Each side made a substitution at the half way mark in the second period with Afellay replacing Diouf for the home side and Sinclair coming on for Guedioura for the visitors.  With 20 minutes to go, there were chances at both ends as a decent free-kick from Holebas had to be punched clear by Grant and then a lovely shot from Stoke substitute, Afellay, curled just wide of the near post.  Stoke had a great chance of a third as a cross was headed down by Crouch to Walters, but Gomes smothered the shot.  Watford then had a couple of great chances of their own as Capoue’s corner was met with a header from Sinclair that was cleared off the line, Capoue sent the ball back in to the box and this time it was headed just wide by Prödl.  Then a punched clearance from Grant was headed down by Deeney to Igahlo whose shot was disappointingly weak and easily saved.  Mazzarri’s final change saw Folivi come on in place of Prödl.  In the times that I have seen Folivi play for the U18s and development teams, I have enjoyed watching him, so was delighted to see him make his debut for the first team, although it was under very difficult circumstances.  From pre-match songs about parking the bus, the travelling faithful were now extolling the benefits of having four strikers on the pitch.  Sadly it wasn’t to lead to a change in fortunes in front of goal.  The final chances of the game fell to the home side as Walters got the wrong side of Holebas and bore down on goal before Gomes made an excellent save to deny him.  From the resulting corner, Shawcroft fired wide.

Folivi leaves the pitch after his debut

Folivi leaves the pitch after his debut

There was disappointment at the final whistle.  Unusually Mazzarri applauded and waved to the crowd as he left the pitch, although the position of the tunnel right in front of us was likely the prime reason for this.  The players looked despondent but many of them showed their appreciation by giving their shirts to some of the travelling fans.  The post-match reaction among those that travelled was generally positive.  The team had picked itself due to the dearth of fully fit players.  Mazzarri also admitted that he had played Behrami knowing that he wasn’t fully fit but, assuming that it doesn’t mean a lengthier lay-off for the player, it was a gamble worth taking as he brings leadership and organization to the midfield that has been lacking in recent weeks and he ran his socks off.  Doucouré was also a different player when in the position that he was expecting to play, and he fashioned Watford’s best chances of the game.  The disappointing thing was that, yet again, we were punished for a couple of defensive mistakes.  No tactical game plan can overcome a lapse in concentration.  Still, we asked for a reaction after the Tottenham game and we certainly got what we asked for as there was no lack of effort among the players on show.

We now have a couple of weeks to regroup as it is likely that the Burton game will see more of the youngsters given a chance.  We have some tricky fixtures coming up, so both players and supporters need to band together to get through this sticky patch.  With the transfer window open, hopefully we can bring some players in to make up for some of the longer term injuries.  But I truly believe that a positive support from the stands is an essential element and it is the only thing that the fans can do to help the team so let us all make this our new year’s resolution.

The U21s Start their Season at Clarence Park

Jakubiak and Ovenden waiting for a corner

Jakubiak and Ovenden waiting for a corner

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

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

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

Lining up to defend

Lining up to defend

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

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

Belkalem bandaged after the clash of heads

Belkalem bandaged after the clash of heads

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

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

Young Blades Win at the Vic

The captains meet before kick-off

The captains meet before kick-off

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

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

Lining up the defence

Lining up the defence

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

Bernard Mensah

Bernard Mensah

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

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

Palace Give the Youngsters a Harsh Lesson

Welcome to Imperial Fields

Welcome to Imperial Fields

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

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

Jakubiak prepares to take the first penalty

Jakubiak prepares to take the first penalty

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

Lewis takes a free kick

Lewis takes a free kick

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

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

Waiting for a corner

Waiting for a corner

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

Folivi takes a corner

Folivi takes a corner

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

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

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

No Shame in Defeat at St Mary’s

Pre-match formalities

Pre-match formalities

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

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

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

Folivi waits to take a corner

Folivi waits to take a corner

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

Celebrating Mensah's goal

Celebrating Mensah’s goal

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

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

An attacking corner

An attacking corner

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

Byers and Mensah line up a free kick

Byers and Mensah line up a free kick

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

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.